DECCAN HERALD Thursday, September 7, 2000

NBA holds massive rally in Bhopal


Around one thousand tribal men and women from the submergence zone of the Sardar Sarovar project in Madhya Pradesh grilled Chief Minister Digvijay Singh for over one-and-half-hours on Tuesday. Narmada Bachao Andolan (NBA) leader Medha Patkar compered the question-and-answer session.

Though the chief minister refused to promise anything to them, saying that the matter was sub- judice (pending in the Supreme Court) but that the government would do whatever is possible for it to help the oustees, the tribals returned charmed by the chief minister, who also hosted dinner for them.

The NBA also organised a big rally in the city. Ms Patkar said the government is using police to make the residents of the submergence zone accept compensation for their land. In violation of the Narmada Water Dispute Tribunal Award, the compensation is being given in cash. ''The award clearly specifies that land- for-land will be the exclusive mode of compensation,`` she said. ''We will not allow the dam to be built an inch higher than its present height of 88 metres,`` she declared.

Ms Patkar said that Madhya Pradesh simply did not have the land to compensate the project oustees. She said that the government, under a 'secret agreement` had decided to lower the height of the dam from 455 feet to 436 feet. ''When the rally reached the chief minister's residence, Ms Patkar was invited for talks with Mr Singh. She, however, insisted that she and the tribals jointly hold talks with the chief minister. After countless arguments and counter- arguments, the chief minister agreed to meet all the rallyists.

''It was the biggest delegation ever,`` said an officer of the chief minister`s secretariat. The chief minister`s interaction with the rallyists began at 11.30 p.m., and lasted till 1 a.m.

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