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The Hindu on : Medha Patkar's charges against Narmada basin States

Online edition of India's National Newspaper on
Friday, April 20, 2001

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Medha Patkar's charges against Narmada basin States

By Gargi Parsai

New DELHI, APRIL 19 Social activist, Ms. Medha Patkar of the Narmada Bachao Andolan, today charged with the Narmada basin States of Gujarat, Madhya Pradesh and Maharashtra of committing ``contempt of Supreme Court'' by not rehabilitating and resettling the Sardar Sarovar Project (SSP) displaced people before coming to the Narmada Control Authority (NCA) for raising the height of the dam further.

On the eve of the meeting of the Narmada Control Authority's sub- committee on Resettlement and Rehabilitation (R & R) here tomorrow to consider raising the height of the dam in Gujarat, Ms. Patkar asked the NCA to do a actual ground assessment of the claims made by States, "instead of accepting rehabilitation on paper''. The R & R sub-committee is chaired by the Secretary, Ministry of Social Justice and Empowerment under Ms. Menaka Gandhi.

Ms. Patkar said the NCA did not have the wherewithal for assessing and monitoring the rehabilitation claims. First it should equip itself and do a first-hand assessment of the ground reality before considering raising the height of the dam, which at this stage would be violative of the Supreme Court order and of the Narmada Water Disputes Tribunal.

``Even at 80 metres height of the dam, where construction had been stopped by the Supreme Court, displaced tribals and villagers have not been rehabilitated. How can the height then be raised further to 90 metres that the States want?'' She said the height of the dam should be brought back to 80 metres at which point the Supreme Court had ``prima facie'' ordered a stay on construction.

She said Madhya Pradesh has declared openly it has no land to rehabilitate people. The Government is offering cash compensation to people. 3,500 families face submergence this monsoon in Madhya Pradesh alone, where 33,000 families are to be affected by SSP.

The Maharashtra Government has issued ``threatening notices'' to 1,500-2,000 families facing displacement saying that on a particular date in May Government trucks will come and throw them out of their premises which will be submerged this monsoon. The Collector in Taloda district was forced by NBA to admit to flawed paper notices and has ordered issuance of fresh notices after proper inspection of the actual availability of land.

She said people facing displacement from such large dams cannot be rehabilitated with land. They either disappear with cash or the Government has to stop construction of such mega projects.

Ms Patkar faces a contempt of court charge along with writer, Ms. Arundhati Roy and lawyer, Prashant Bhushan, coming up for hearing on April 23. After the apex court's judgment to raise the height of SSP to 90 metres, when the trio was on a dharna and trying to submit a memorandum to the Court and to get a Review Petition admitted (which was not allowed), a lawyer came to the protest site to chide them for speaking out and later went and filed a FIR at Tilak Marg police station to alleging that Ms. Patkar had used abusive language against him and threatened to have him beaten up. Ms. Patkar said it was a pity that while the contempt of Court by State Governments goes un-noticed, the court picks up a case with a fictitious FIR for proceeding with contempt charge against them.

Ms. Patkar asserted that the allegation was not only false but they have never used violence in their struggle of 16 years and believe in non-violence, both as means and ends of the struggle. ``We have respect for judiciary. At the same time we feel it is our right and duty to speak up against wrong and anti-people judgments which affect the life and livelihoods of people. We do not fear going to jail. We are happy, the apex court has invited us in on April 23 to present our case.''

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