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The Hindu on : NBA leads villagers' protest against Maheshwar dam

Online edition of India's National Newspaper on
Wednesday, December 01, 1999

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NBA leads villagers' protest against Maheshwar dam

By Our Special Correspondent

NEW DELHI, NOV. 30. More than 500 people including peasants, dalits, kevats and kahars affected by the Maheshwar dam being built on Narmada in Madhya Pradesh were joined by noted writer Arundhati Roy in their protest against the funding of the dam by German companies. The protesters, who are here on a three-day dharna at Rajghat, today protested at the German Embassy here.

The people who face displacement by the dam, which has been privatised by the MP Government and is being funded among others by Siemens, are here to press their demand for withdrawal of the foreign funding. A group of protesters submitted a memorandum to the German Embassy officials here, Ms. Roy told The Hindu. She herself has just returned from Germany and U.K. where she delivered a series of lectures against big dams.

The protesters from Maheshwar are also agitating the Indian environmental and techno-economic clearances for the project in view of a report by the Ministry of Environment confirming violations.

According to Ms. Chittaroopa Palit of the Narmada Bachao Andolan, the Maheshwar project will affect around 40,000 people in 61 villages in the region, submerging hundreds of acres of fertile land, irrigated black cotton soil, scores of sand quarries and a rich river economy. The dam is a hydro-electricity project with no irrigation potential.

Although the project will have a proposed installed capacity of 400 MW, the average firm power will be only 82 MW, and power production in the eight non-monsoon months will not be more than one-and-a-half hours a day. Yet, the cost of power from this project will be prohibitively high - an average of Rs. 6 to Rs. 8 per unit, with the cost of peaking power being Rs. 8 to Rs. 10 per unit at the point of production, she said.

The project was privatised in 1994 and handed over to S. Kumars who, even prior to the financial closure, inflated the project costs by five times from Rs. 465 crores to Rs. 2000 crores in the course of just five years.

In the last four weeks the people of Maheshwar area have undertaken an extensive postcard campaign against the project. Seventy-six per cent of the total capital outlay for the project comes from foreign sources, mainly German. In April this year, during the course of a 21-day fast by oustees and members, two German utilities - Bayernwerk and VEW Energie - which altogether would have contributed 49 per cent of project equity, withdrew from the project declining to be a party to environmental and human rights violations, Ms. Palit said.

She said the German Hypovereinsbank, however, was preparing to give the Maheshwar project a loan of Rs. 523 crores to facilitate Siemens to supply equipment to the project. They have also applied to the German Government to guarantee the loan.

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