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Updated 02:00 IST[Late CityMonday, August 30, 1999, New Delhi
 

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Opinion 
 

Saving Narmada valley
(Devaki Jain)

I was interested and educated by the article Threat of terrorism, by K. F. Rustamji (Aug 5). While he has quite rightly drawn attention to the threat arising from the failure of the criminal justice system in India, I want to call attention to another threat which is simmering and which should be defused immediately. As is now well publicised, a whole number of villages in the Narmada valley mainly in Madhya Pradesh and Maharashtra could be submerged any day if the Gujarat government does not relent from its rock like position that it will build the dam and open the sluice come what may. I have just come back after participating in the rally which turned out to be a long march, (more in the style of Vinoba Bhave and his padyatra of the Bhoodaan-Gramdaan movement) — which started in Pathrad and went on through Maheshwar, Anjad, Nisarpur, Kakrana — all the way to Jalsindhi at the edge of Madhya Pradesh, Dhomkerr in Maharashtra and to Neemgawan — a village across the water from Jalsindhi in Madhya Pradesh, where Medha Patkar has her mobile home.

I have never seen such rich and well cultivated agricultural land located in perhaps the most beautiful river valley in the world. I have also never seen whole villages and townships, and when I say whole I mean the entire population including children and old people, youth, men and women packing the lanes, alleys, roads, roofs, mountains, slopes, whether it is at 3 p.m. under the burning sun, or at 1 in the night without lights to listen without a single distraction to the visitors such as the extraordinary Arundhati Roy on the issues raised by large projects, the issues raised by the benefit costing of investment. There is an extraordinary congealment of mass that has taken place in the Narmada valley with their one-point demand that they be allowed to stay on their land and their complete determination not to budge even if the water is released. It seems to me that if the river is allowed to rise and there is a mass submersion not only of the lands but the people, it will definitely lead to civic unrest.

It will release terrorism in what was one of the most peaceful green valleys that I have ever seen where there is a sense of well-being in the population. There is so much intelligence, awareness and political strength that damning them by ignoring their might and call for justice, will lead to the creation of militancy not a farewell to arms but an invitation for armed resistance.

We talk of a goal of well-being especially food security and clean environment. We talk of reservation of natural resources. We educate our children to watch mountains, respect trees, not pollute waters. If the water is allowed to rise in this particular valley all this talk will be completely negated and the youth and children will learn from it that trees, land, soil have no friends amongst the powerful lobbies which can overpower peaceful public interest demands. They will learn from it that “each to himself and the devil take the rest” is the only code of conduct that works. There are three states involved and while Madhya Pradesh has been at least willing to listen to its people, and Maharashtra has not strongly objected to the people’s call; Gujarat, where there are not as many stakeholders in the sense of people and their land that will be submerged, but stakeholders in Kutch, who expect water from the Sardar Sarovar some day, are nullifying this valuable experience. The needs of the people of Kutch for water can be met by new technological methods of water sourcing. We will be able to draw water perhaps from Narmada itself and give it for relief to the people of Kutch, who will be safer if they don’t open the gates to gun-running militancy in the region — a virus and a destabiliser that has already hurt the people of Bihar and the north-east so badly.

I hope through your columns I would be able to raise the voice of people and ask them to join in the effort to persuade the people of Gujarat and those that support the construction of the dam, that their happiness and well-being can be provided in a less destructive and dangerous way. We have shown great ability in mobilising ourselves into one nation and being charitable and generous in response to the calls of the “Jawans”, who were at Kargil. It is time now for us to turn our attention to the people who are also battling for their lives in the Narmada valley as courageously as the soldiers at Kargil, willing to make the supreme sacrifice for saving South Asia’s most fertile land and calling attention to injustice.


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