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The Hindu on : Looking at the real water crisis

Online edition of India's National Newspaper on
Saturday, March 04, 2000

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Looking at the real water crisis

IN THE relatively short span of time between the Manibeli declaration (calling for a moratorium on World Bank funding for large dams - July, 1994) to the Maheshwar struggle now, the Narmada Bachao Andolan (NBA) and its leading light, Medha Patkar, have travelled a long, if slightly different, course. The `temples of modern India' extracted a huge price, social, economical and environmental, which has been more often than not, glossed over. The dispute is not between the urban needs and the rural aspirations; it has more to do with class differences.

``In many ways, the real struggle is not between cities and villages (to reap the benefits from a project). It is a poor versus rich struggle really. The contest is between the haves and the have-nots,'' emphasises Medha Patkar. ``Within cities we see that as less than 15 per cent of the people corner as much as 85 per cent of resources, including water ,'' she adds.

``Even in the meet we had on Wednesday, no one really talked about consumption. That is the basic issue. How much water is available for the rest of the population,'' she asked.

``The NBA is very much considering the issue of urban water needs to that of rural requirements. One way of looking at the entire issue is like this: what will you do with the cities if you do not build dams. We cannot of course demolish cities. We have to take care of cities as well. The World Commission on Dams feels that dams are required,'' she adds.

Medha Patkar was here, in what some thought of as an unfamiliar role. ``We were always for discussions and open dialogues. Strangely, this has taken a long time happening,'' she says. Medha and her colleagues have been trying to get the Government to talk; to participate in issues of mutual concern.

Her colleagues - Prof. S. Parasuraman, the South Africa- based senior advisor of the WCD and others - were at pains to explain that her role as an militant-activist had nothing to do with her being Commissioner of the World Commission on Dams. That she kept the Commission informed of her activities.

She was in Chennai in her capacity as a World Commission on Dams Commissioner to participate in a stakeholders meet (the affected, NGOs, investors, developers, lending agencies and the Government) to discuss the draft India country report on large dams. The draft contains chapters and summaries written by a group of experts - Prof. Nirmal Sengupta of the MIDS, Mr. R. Rangachary, formerly with the Central Water Commission, Mr. Ramaswamy R.Iyer, a former Water Secretary, Mr. Pranab Banerji and Mr. Shekhar Singh of the Indian Institute of Public Administration, New Delhi.

``It is only a draft report. On the basis of discussions here and in New Delhi, it is hoped that this draft can be revised and finalised. The idea is to include as many viewpoints as possible. We are reaching out to various stakeholders. This is a different exercise in policy making,'' she says.

Has she entered the Commission with a value neutral frame of mind or is she carrying her ideological baggage along ? ``Umpteen theorists, researchers' scientific studies have concluded that a certain amount of subjectivity will be part of an individual. In any kind of enquiry you cannot be neutral. We do not want anyone to be neutral in that sense since then we will not reach anywhere. We bring in our values,'' she says.

By R. K. Radhakrishnan

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