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The Hindu on : Fact-finding panels on SSP to be setup

Online edition of India's National Newspaper on
Friday, January 05, 2001

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Fact-finding panels on SSP to be setup

By Mahesh Vijapurkar

MUMBAI, JAN. 4. Maharashtra Government was today persuaded by the anti-Narmada dam activist, Ms. Medha Patkar, to set up a panel to report within two months whether the State would indeed benefit from the inter-State Sardar Sarovar Project as was originally made out. It also agreed to constitute another panel which would look into the gaps between official information and the reality on rehabilitation.

Knowledgeable sources, however, say this exercise could be a bid by Ms. Patkar to force the Government to open up a new point for driving a wedge between the neighbours, Maharashtra and Gujarat. Maharashtra has already agreed to the raising of the height of the Sardar Sarovar dam upto 110 metres - the Supreme Court has allowed up to 90 metres now - and its future construction would depend on ``new facts''.

But Mr. Vilasrao Deshmukh, Chief Minister, says he is not ``opening up a Pandora's box'' by agreeing to the demand to find out the truth. ``She is an agitator and we always listen to them.'' Nor did he think he was raising doubts about the Government's commitment to the project.

At a meeting between Ms. Patkar and the Government, it was agreed that she would suggest some names for inclusion on the panel. Its report would be out in two months.

Ms.Patkar has been here, holding a dharna right on the doorstep of the Secretariat though it is banned, and meeting ministers one after another, demanding that those who are affected by the dam in Maharashtra be given priority help. She has been saying the State's averments before the Supreme Court were misleading and incorrect. The setting up of the new panel to look at the variance between official information and ground reality on non- availability of land for rehabilitation, stems from this claim.

According to Mr. Deshmukh, Ms. Patkar, for instance, told him that Maharashtra would get no water from the project and there were even doubts about its getting a 27 per cent share in the electricity to be generated by the project. In such an event, why go ahead with the commitment to the project on faulty assumptions? Mr. Chagan Bhujbal, Deputy Chief Minister, chipped in: ``We believe there are changes in the project. Consequently, would we get what we have been assured?''

Neither of them would concede that it was too late in the day to seek out whether, after Maharashtra's commitment to the project and averments before the judiciary, the projections of economic gains made initially matched the costs, social and financial, when the project was approved. ``The Government also needs to have updated assessments,'' is all Mr. Deshmukh would say at a press conference. ``She tells us that many issues remain and we want to assess that.'' ``We are convinced that we would gain by the project but she says we will not. What can be better than setting up a fact finding committee?'' Mr. Deshmukh said.

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