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The Hindu on : A fistful of salt

Online edition of India's National Newspaper on
Wednesday, August 18, 1999

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A fistful of salt

Sir, - ``A fistful of salt'' by Ms. Devaki Jain (TheHindu, Aug. 11) brilliantly points out the real significance of the Narmada Valley struggle. It is a fact that a large proportion of our population fails to understand the language and meaning of popular movements. The struggle in the valley is not a movement, led by some environmentalists or by urban `elite' as alleged by Ms. Omvedt (TheHindu, Aug. 4 and 5), or by other critics. Years before the so-called people stepped on the soil of the Narmada Valley, women from the villages travelled to the capital of our country with their feeble voice and strong determination to assert their rights over the land and life. Ms. Medha Patkar was with them not as their leader but as one among them. Time and she have clarified that the struggle embodies not just the question of one river, one dam or a specific group of people, but it is a war against several forces that slowly strangle the mind and lives of the people of our country. The sad thing is that the vast majority of us are totally unaware of the ramifications of the current events and their future implications. Be it the bomb or the Monsanto seeds or the patent laws, without deep reflection or efforts to understand the writing on the wall, we come out with support to the destructive processes of the ``industrial version of development'' as a ``necessary and inevitable agent of social change.''

If the country cannot rely on the facts and figures brought to light by the NBA or the report of the five-member group constituted by the Government of India in 1993, the apex court can independently probe the matter utilising the expertise of any number of competent persons. Years ago, the World Bank had done exactly the same in appointing a team to conduct an independent review of the project. In their letter to the then President of the World Bank, the team members had stated, ``We have travelled throughout the Narmada Valley, to villages and relocation sites, the upstream area, the command area and the downstream. We also visited Kutch and other drought-prone areas of Gujarat... and have come to the conclusion that the Sardar Sarovar Projects, as they stand, are flawed and the resettlement and rehabilitation of all those displaced by the projects are not possible under the prevailing conditions. As Ms. Devaki Jain has rightly pointed out, if the struggle in the hamlets of the Narmada Valley dies out, it will be the forerunner of the death of democracy and the process of negotiations of justice through public action. The struggle has to go on. We have to keep it alive at least for the sake of our sweet dream of a just society.

K. John Thommas

Irinjalakuda (Kerala)

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