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Tuesday Oct 10 2000
Narmada dam is now a bridge between Gujarat & MP

AHMEDABAD
GUJARAT and Madhya Pradesh, which have been at loggerheads over the construction of a dam on the Narmada river, have joined hands to counter opposition to the project.

On a recent visit to Gujarat, Madhya Pradesh Chief Minister Digvijay Singh said the two states should jointly counter the activists of the Narmada Bachao Andolan (or Save Narmada Campaign) who oppose the construction of the dam.

“Thank you,” was the prompt response of Bhupendrasinh Chudasma, chairman of the Sardar Sarovar Narmada Nigam Ltd, which is constructing the dam. “Your stand is positive and for the good of the common man,” he said in a letter to Singh.

The Narmada project was launched in 1979. It envisages the construction of 30 large, 135 medium and 3,000 small dams on the Narmada river, which originates in Madhya Pradesh and empties into the Arabian Sea after flowing through Maharashtra and Gujarat.

The NBA says 44,000 families will be displaced by the project — 35,000 in Madhya Pradesh, 4,000 in western Maharashtra and 5,000 in Gujarat. The NBA has focused its opposition on two of the dams — at Maheshwar in Madhya Pradesh and the Sardar Sarovar dam in Gujarat.

The Maheshwar dam, it says, will affect 2,200 families as it will submerge 1,100 hectares of agricultural land spread over 61 villages. The Sardar Sarovar dam, the NBA says, will affect 9,000 families in Maharashtra and Gujarat.

Gujarat and Madhya Pradesh have been at loggerheads over the height of the Sardar Sarovar dam. The original height was to have been 128 metres. Madhya Pradesh wanted this lowered so 81 metres so that fewer people were displaced.

The height currently stands at 85.3 metres and construction work has been halted as the dispute is being heard in the Supreme Court. The Sardar Sarovar dam was to have cost Rs. 64.08 billion when work started in the late 1980s. The cost has now swelled to Rs. 370 billion. Each day’s delay escalates the cost by Rs. 80 million.

NBA is spearheading the antidam activities on the ground that the project entails shifting hundreds of thousands of people living in the Narmada valley as their villages will be submerged once the dam is completed.

Noted social worker and Magsaysay Award winner Medha Patkar leads the agitation against the dam. The agitation has brought several big names to the NBA fold from across the country. They include celebrity author Arundhati Roy, who has raised the issue at several international forums, including the Cannes film festival earlier this year.

In his letter, Chudasma referred to irregular rain patterns in Gujarat and Madhya Pradesh to make the point that the scarcity of drinking water was becoming acute in many parts of the two states. He said they need to plan a joint nation-wide program to fight against NBA and the “environmental lobby” that opposes development activities.

Chudasma also acknowledged the differences between the two states on the height of the Sardar Sarovar dam, as also on the resettlement and rehabilitation of what are termed the project-affected persons. “But we can sit across the table and sort out those problems. Gujarat is ready for this, I assure you,” Chudasma wrote to Singh.

Singh’s deputy, Jamuna Devi, is to lead a rally of the PAPs at Badvani in Madhya Pradesh on Tuesday. She says she plans “to expose” those who are obstructing the resettlement and rehabilitation of the project-affected persons.

The four states that will benefit from the Narmada project - Gujarat, Madhya Pradesh, Maharashtra and Rajasthan are also squabbling over their liabilities and their share of project benefits. Gujarat claims that Maharashtra and Madhya Pradesh owe it millions of rupees as their share of the project cost.

At one stage, Prime Minister Atal Behari Vajpayee had offered to “mediate” but stepped back following strong protests from Madhya Pradesh.

The Gujarat government has offered what it claims to be an attractive R&R package for the project-affected persons. The package was even cited by the World Bank, though the lending institution later withdrew the aid it had committed to the project, citing environmental concerns.

Thousands of PAPs have accepted the package. Thousands of others say they would prefer submergence to the package. NBA has pointed out several lacunae in the R&R package and its implementation. — IANS
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