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© Asian Age
Dated : 10 January 2000
Arundhati returns to Narmada tomorrow for do-or-die stir

Bhopal: Activists backed by celebrity author Arundhati Roy are stepping up a campaign against a major hydro-electric project in the Narmada river valley just as it approaches financial closure. The Narmada Bachao Andolan has decided to intensify its "direct action" against the 400-megawatt Maheshwar Hydro-Electric project as part of its decade-old campaign against multi-purpose projects in the Narmada valley. Booker Prize-winning author of The God of Small Things Roy will lead the "direct action" at the Maheshwar dam site in Madhya Pradesh from January 11 in what has been described by NBA activist Chitraroopa Palit as a "do or die" move.

Last monsoon Roy made headlines as she led the "Rally for the Valley" under which NBA activists toured areas facing inundation on account of the dams put up across the Narmada river. Social activist Baba Amte and Medha Patkar, who have been prominently associated with the NBA, however, do not figure in the announcement related to the "direct action" on Maheshwar. But there has been no dilution in the stringent attacks from NBA on the project promoters - S. Kumars and the Madhya Pradesh government. Palit said the cost of the Maheshwar project has been inflated from Rs 4.6 billion to around Rs 22 billion in the last five years. "In order to guarantee payments to this project the Madhya Pradesh government will be forced to cut the subsidy to the irrigation sector and single point connections of electricity to the poor will have to be disconnected," she alleged.

Palit also recalled that the state government had in 1998 set up a task force which recommended that all project work must be stopped pending a reassessment of its economic viability. Unlike in the past when they have met criticism from activists with a muted response, project authorities have this time joined issue with the NBA. In a written statement, the company termed all NBA allegations "baseless." Project authorites accused the NBA of thwarting the development of the Nimar region. "Contrary to the claims of the NBA, the Maheshwar project will improve the living conditions of the people in the region through a very structured rehabilitation and resettlement programme," a company spokesperson said. The company also pointed out that the NBA is unnerved by the progress made by the project authorities in the field of R and R and has resorted to wild allegations. "Every time the NBA makes a statement it is factually incorrect. Their figure of 40,000 people getting displaced is far from the truth," the spokesperson said. The war of words will only heighten the drama that usually accompanies celebrity protests. Arundhati Roy made a facile transition from being a successful author to that of a frontline activist last year, and the same glare will follow her as she lands in the Narmada valley this time. (India Abroad News Service)