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The Hindu on : Damming the protests

Online edition of India's National Newspaper on
Sunday, April 29, 2001

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Damming the protests

Tension continues to grip the Tehri Dam site in the wake of the latest protest against the project. J. P. Shukla reports.

THE TEHRI dam project has once again become the scene of confrontation between the administration and anti-dam activists, this time over the Government's failure to properly rehabilitate those displaced. Irate agitators had forced a halt to the construction activities for three weeks from March 31. Then the authorities' stance hardened. Those on a sit-in strike near the construction site were taken into custody and work was restarted.The crisis, however, seems far from over as tension continues to grip the dam site.

The administration now seems to have got an upper hand deriving its strength mainly from an order passed by the Nainital High Court which gave specific instructions to resume work on the project. The construction company had moved the High Court pleading that it was suffering heavy losses due to disruption of work by the agitators. The environmentalist, Mr. Sunderlal Bahuguna, who has been consistently opposing the project, pleaded before the Court that explosives used for blasting at the project site were creating environment hazards.

The High Court in its decision on April 20 asked the Government to resume work and also not to undertake mining activities around the project site.

In a pre-dawn swoop on April 22, police took into custody nearly 50 agitators from their camp. Taking shelter behind the Court order the District Magistrate threatened to use force if the villagers failed to leave the area to allow construction to resume.

The arrest of their colleagues apparently had a demoralising effect on the agitationists who have been trying to regroup in batches and revive the agitation. The might of the administration, however, has proved superior, especially after Mr. Bahuguna himself was arrested on April 24. There were reports of small groups of protesters still trying to keep the agitation alive but they were apparently fighting a losing battle. Most of those arrested have been shifted to jails in Hardwar and Tehri and that has left the agitators at a strategic disadvantage.

The Government has already suffered huge losses due to the delay in the execution of the project. The cost of the scheme, originally estimated at Rs. 195 crores, has already gone up to Rs. 6,000 crores. The private construction company claims that when work is stopped it loses about Rs. 1 crore a day. Contract terms entitle the company to realise such losses from the Tehri Hydro Development Corporation (THDC). The total losses for the Government during the three-week agitation by protesters was estimated at about Rs. 100 crores.

The construction company and unscrupulous THDC authorities may thus have their own vested interests in work being stalled. Ultimately it is not they but the public exchequer which is forced to bear the losses, social welfare groups point out.

Dam authorities have already raised doubts about the completion of construction at the main dam by 2002. That means power generation may take place at Tehri only after 2004.

Most vocal among the agitators have been those who do not want to lose their business advantages in Tehri town.They have already received compensation for their displacement, but shifting out from Tehri means loss of an established business and that they are not ready to accept. Most of the displaced have already been paid compensation and given alternative land. The rehabilitation package has, however, failed to satisfy everyone.

The oustees felt that the alternative sites provided were too far from Tehri. The State Government had provided them land near Pantnagar in Udhamsingh Nagar in the Terai area. It would be difficult for them to settle in the plains, the oustees pleaded.

Mr. Bahuguna's support to the cause of the oustees had strengthened their position. With his arrest that strength has gone. Now prohibitory orders under section 144 of the Cr. PC have been imposed around the dam site. Mr. Bahuguna, detained in a guest house at a nearby town, is reported to have begun a hunger strike. If his condition deteriorates, the authorities will have more worries.

Construction at the dam site, meanwhile, goes on uninterrupted.

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