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July 30, 1999
Medha's life is too important, says Digvijay
Onkar Singh in New Delhi
Madhya Pradesh Chief Minister Digvijay Singh said today that his government has noted Medha Patkar's threat to take jal samadhi (commit suicide in the riiver waters) if work on the Narmada Dam is not stopped.
"My government is very touchy on matters relating to human life. Her life is too important for us and we would try to persuade her not to carry out her threat," he said at a hurriedly convened media conference at the Press Club of India, New Delhi.
Stung by the nationwide publicity about author Arundhati Roy who left for Indore on Thursday to rally for the valley, Singh had come armed with documents and relevant material to brief reporters about the steps his government has taken to help displaced people.
He admitted that Roy's entry has electrified the anti-dam protest. "Time and again we have emphasised that most of those who have been affected by the construction of the dam have already been rehabilitated. In Village Jal Sindh, which is now the focus of attention, 47 families would be affected by the raising of the height of the dam from 90 metres to 95 metres as permitted by the honourable Supreme Court of India. Twenty-one families have already been shifted. The rest who are directly involved in the anti-dam protests are refusing to take the compensation.
"I understand that it is not easy socially for someone who has been living at a particular place for years to relocate himself elsewhere. But there is little that I can do about it. We are going by the order of the apex court," he said.
Asked what his government would do if Patkar decided to go ahead with her threat, Singh said she had undertaken a fast unto death twice. "While on one occasion she agreed to end her fast, we had to use force the second time as her condition had become serious. If she decides to go ahead with her plan then we will have no alternative but to prevent her by force," he added.
Later, in an informal chat with rediff.com, where the focus turned to the forthcoming Lok Sabha election, Singh said he was confident that the Congress would get more than 200 seats.
"I have heard about the BJP statement that they would shoot out the entire Congress for a paltry 99 and would not even let us complete a 100. Let me assure our friends in the BJP that the story might just be the reverse. While the Congress party will score a double hundred, it is the BJP that may fail to score a century," he said.
And how would the Congress fare in his home state where Madhavrao Scindia is shifting his constituency from Gwalior to Guna and Arjun Singh is refusing to contest?
Singh said the state has always held these two leaders in great esteem. "We are with Arjun Singh. If he decides not to contest then we cannot force him to do so. Scindia's original constituency was Guna only, but since his mother used to contest from there he had come to Gwalior to fight Atal Bihari Vajpayee. Now his mother is not contesting. So he is going back to Guna. As far as the Congress fortunes in Madhya Pradesh are concerned, let me assure you that we will do 200 per cent better than last time," he said.
He denied the allegations that his government had not been paying attention to the minorities in the state. "Minorities in Madhya Pradesh are as secure as they should be. We have been looking into their problems. We are looking into the longstanding demand for making Urdu the second language," he said.
In response to a question as to what his poll plank would be, he said the Congress would emphasise the stability factor and expose the misdeeds of the present BJP-led government. Kargil of course would be the major issue.
"The people of India have a right to know the whole truth about the Kargil fiasco. The BJP government has a lot to explain and we must know what the Vajpayee government was doing when the intruders were sitting on the heights of Kargil hills. My government has paid Rs 1 million to the family of each solider who laid down his life for the country. In addition to that we have given a job to one member of the family."
He denied that the culprits in the Preeti Srivastav case were roaming free. "All the suspects are in jail and they have been denied bail. My government would ensure that justice is done," he said.
The chief minister admitted that the Chambal ravines were fast expanding, but his government was taking remedial measures. "Earlier we had World Bank projects going on in Chambal. Those schemes were not good enough. We have now started people-oriented schemes. In the small ravines we have started developmental schemes. In the deep ravines we are planning to go in for rice cultivation," he said.
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