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Saturday, April 24, 1999
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Sardar Sarovar Project: Maneka team abruptly recalled
By Gargi Parsai
NEW DELHI, APRIL 23. The three-member team of officials set up by Union Welfare Minister, Ms. Maneka Gandhi, to assess the rehabilitation and resettlement of people displaced by the Sardar Sarovar Project, was abruptly recalled after it visited parts of Jhabua, Dhar and Khargone districts, where the displacement will be maximum.
After taking a stand to have the affected sites inspected by the team of joint secretaries drawn from the Welfare and Rural Development Ministries, Ms. Maneka Gandhi, backed out. Attempts by The Hindu to talk to her on the issue, were futile. The team was constituted following a massive dharna by oustees from the three riparian States outside Shastri Bhavan led by the Narmada Bachao Andolan (NBA) on April 8. The team comprised three joint secretaries. Mr B.S. Parsheera and Mr Dharmendra Deo are from the Ministry of Welfare and Mr P.S. Rana is from Ministry of Rural Development. Interestingly, the team flew to Indore on April 10. It visited parts of Jhabua, Dhar and Khargone and returned the next day. Speaking to The Hindu, Mr Rana confirmed that the team had visited some sites, but he declined to elaborate further.
It is understood that the team was recalled after the Prime Minister, Mr Atal Behari Vajpayee, apparently prodded by the Gujarat Government, said that a Rehabilitation Grievance Committee had been set up in Gujarat (for Gujarat only) which had to give its report.
(The Committee has since submitted its report in the Supreme Court, which is hearing a petition filed by the Narmada Bachao Andolan seeking stoppage of construction till a full review of cost-benefit analysis and rehabilitation and resettlement is done. The Court has recently in an interim order permitted raising the height of the dam to 85 metres.)
The position stated by States in the court is contrary to ground reality and needed to be verified, which is why Ms. Maneka Gandhi had set up the three-member team, as her Ministry has to oversee rehabilitation and resettlement of oustees.
But more misleading than Gujarat and Maharashtra, is the ``double-speak'' by the Madhya Pradesh Chief Minister, Mr Digvijay Singh, who seems to be following the policy of running with the hare and hunting with the hound. At one time he says he doesn't have the land to rehabilitate thousands of people who will be displaced by the SSP and several medium and minor dams to be constructed on Narmada and that he was willing to forego some power benefit to reduce displacement of people. Then his Government brutally lathicharges a peaceful demonstration of the NBA at Bargi/Maheshwar.
Last fortnight, the Digvijay Government filed a separate suit in the Supreme Court seeking ``status quo'' on the height of the Sardar Sarovar dam to prevent massive displacement. Yet, yesterday in Bhopal, his administration unleashed police repression and outraged the modesty of tribal women demonstrators seeking rehabilitation.
To top it all, earlier this week the Chief Minister himself visited the Magsaysay Award winner, Baba Amte, here in New Delhi and avowed that he will fight tooth and nail the raising of the height of dam. But that is what political double-speak is all about.
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