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The Hindu on : Medha Patkar plans fast from today

Online edition of India's National Newspaper on
Sunday, July 04, 1999

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Medha Patkar plans fast from today

By Kalpana Sharma

MUMBAI, JULY 3. The protest movement against the Sardar Sarovar Project (SSP) and other dams on the Narmada enters a new phase tomorrow with the announcement that Ms. Medha Patkar of the Narmada Bachao Andolan (NBA) and others will go on a silent hunger strike at Domkhedi in Maharashtra.

Ms. Patkar and supporters of the anti-dam movement have been making their way to Domkhedi, which is the submergence zone of the SSP, since June 20 when the NBA launched its satyagraha. Groups of project affected persons have undertaken a Jeevan Yatra on foot and by boat, mobilising people in 16 villages along the Narmada Valley.

The NBA fears that with the raised height of the dam, to 88 metres, the backwater effect after the rains will submerge as many as 50 to 60 villages in Maharashtra, Gujarat and Madhya Pradesh. The people living in these villages have not been rehabilitated. Many families have come back to their villages as they were dissatisfied with the resettlement sites. Still others usually do not move everything and live between the two places until it is certain that their villages will be submerged.

Although there have been protests almost every year during the monsoon, for the last four years these had been suspended as the case filed by the NBA against the project was being heard in the Supreme Court and construction activity on the dam had come to standstill. With the court's interim ruling permitting construction on the project to begin again and allowing the height of the main dam to be raised to 85 metres and the flanks to 88 metres, the situation has altered in the valley. Although the Supreme Court has reserved its final judgment pending the report of the one-man Justice P. D. Desai committee on resettlement, the additional height has already raised apprehensions in the valley.

This year, the NBA has also raised the scope of its struggle by enlisting people such as the Booker Prize winning author, Ms. Arundhati Roy. Ms. Roy has not just donated her royalties from her book ``The God of Small Things'' to the NBA, but she has also been speaking in different parts of the country on the issue of large dams. This followed her essay ``The Greater Common Good'' which was published in two magazines and has now been released in book form by India Book Distributors (IBD). She is expected in Mumbai on July 5 and 6 as part of her speaking tour.

Apart from Ms. Roy, the NBA is enlisting a high-profile group from India and abroad to join a ``Rally for the Valley'' from July 29 to August 5. The group will travel by road, on foot and by boat from Maheshwar to Jalsindhi and hopes to draw media attention to the anti-dam campaign.

The last time the NBA had launched such a high profile campaign was in 1989 when it led a march to the site of the dam. The two week-long stand-off between supporters of the dam on the Gujarat side and the anti- dam protesters at Ferukwa had received world- wide publicity. The consequence of this struggle was the decision of the World Bank, which then was still committed to funding the project, to set up an independent review headed by Mr. Bradford Morse. The Morse Committee report ultimately led to the cancellation of the last tranche of the World Bank's funds to the project.

The NBA promises to come out more dramatic steps on July 12. It may be recalled that in 1993, after the cancellation of World Bank funding, when the NBA got no decision or response from the Central Government, it had also launched a protest fast. The NBA supporters had formed a ``Samarpit Dal'' which was prepared to drown itself in the rising waters of the Narmada. As a result of that threat, and the subsequent arrest of Ms. Patkar and followers by the Gujarat Government, a review committee was set up by the Central Government. The final judgment in the case is now awaited.

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