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The Hindu on : NBA invited to debate dam

Online edition of India's National Newspaper on
Monday, June 05, 2000

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NBA invited to debate dam

By Manas Dasgupta

GANDHINAGAR, JUNE 4. Gujarat is keen to alter the impression that it is shying away from a debate about the Sardar Sarovar Project.

Instead of confrontation on the streets, the latest official thinking seems to be to engage the project's opponents in a debate and to ensure speedy implementation of the ``lifeline of Gujarat''.

The Gujarat Chamber of Commerce and Industry (GCCI), which raised many an eyebrow with its invitation to the Narmada Bachao Andolan leaders, Ms. Medha Patkar and Ms. Arundhati Roy, for an ``open debate'' on the dam, has also received support from an unexpected corner - the Gujarat Lok Samiti leader, Mr. Chunibhai Vaidya, known for his strong pro-Narmada views.

The GCCI, which usually maintains cordial relations with the party in power, would not have taken the unexpected step without the tacit approval from the Chief Minister, Mr. Keshubhai Patel.

The Minister for Major Irrigation and Narmada affairs, Mr. Jaynarayan Vyas, has so far maintained a studied silence on the invite to Ms. Patkar and Ms. Roy who are treated as a personae non grata by the Government.

BJP's objections

Despite the objections raised by the BJP State unit general secretary, Mr. Gordhan Jhadafiya, - that the BJP would prevent the NBA leaders from ``setting foot on the soil of Gujarat'' - the Chamber is confident that the debate would be held in Ahmedabad if the NBA leaders agree. The NBA's Baroda office, the GCCI claimed, has already acknowledged receiving the invitation but has not indicated a suitable date for the two leaders to visit Ahmedabad for the debate.

The proponents of the Narmada project seem to be gaining strength from what they claim is the ``weakening'' of support for the anti-dam forces at the national and international fora.

Mr. Vyas has claimed international support during his presentation on the dam at the recent World Water Forum at The Hague despite attempts by Ms. Patkar and other anti-dam forces to counter his arguments. The Supreme Court's interim order allowing further construction of five metres of the main dam is also taken as a positive sign of the legal opinion going in favour of the State.

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