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November 13, 1999


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The Rediff Interview/ Jayanarayan Vyas

'What has the NBA done to promote the cause of thirsty people in north Gujarat and Saurashtra?'

What issue brings bitter rivals former Gujarat chief minister Shankarsinh Vaghela and present CM Keshubhai Patel together? The controversial Sardar Sarovar Project. Battling the anti-Narmada dam activists is Jayanarayan Vyas, Gujarat's minister for major irrigation and Narmada development.

Ever since he was appointed to the post in Patel's ministry, Vyas has been a vociferous advocate for the dam all over the world. "If the dam is not constructed there will be displacement of nearly 10 million people," he says.

Interrupting his busy schedule in Bombay, Vyas spoke to Rediff On The NeT's Syed Firdaus Ashraf.

The Sardar Sarovar Project will be completed in two years. How do you feel about it?

I am happy that the project is restarting after a gap of six years. After a long spell of argument in the courts, the honourable Supreme Court has given us the order to restart work on the dam. I feel glad that along with the construction of the dam, the rehabilitation of people is taking place at an equal pace. I am confident about the rehabilitation process and I have always looked at this from a humanitarian viewpoint. We shall see that the oustees are rehabilitated in the best manner.

The Narmada Bachao Andolan complains that the displaced people have not got proper rehabilitation.

In case there is a flaw, there is a grievance authority for the oustees. And that has been created under the Supreme Court's direction. If they feel injustice has been done to them, they can go there. It is wrong to say that the rehabilitation work is not going on properly.

Why are you not showing off those who are happy with the resettlement?

The NBA is bringing only some oustees who are unhappy in Madhya Pradesh. They are not showing the people who are very happy with the rehabilitation. So, this is a very unfair comparision.

Is it the Madhya Pradesh government's responsibility to see that the project does not get bad publicity?

All the four states -- Gujarat, Madhya Pradesh, Maharashtra and Rajasthan -- are bound by the tribunal award. I would expect Madhya Pradesh to co-operate and they have stated that they will do it.

Why is the anti-dam movement getting more publicity than pro-dam supporters?

As a government, we have to be responsible. We cannot take steps like the anti-dam protestors do. Secondly, the anti-dam protestors had the support of the overseas environment lobby with whom we cannot deal. Now we have decided we are going to show the world that the dam will benefit the people of western India. Also, we never went to the media, so we did not get any publicity. But you will see a change now because we are approaching the media too.

Can you state that there will be no danger to the environment after the dam is constructed?

Absolutely not! We have planted almost 78 trees for every tree destroyed. We will also see some wildlife sanctuaries come up after the dam is constructed. Most importantly, after the dam is constructed, the water problem of Gujarat will be solved. So that too is pro-environment. By doing all this, we will stop the advancement of the desert in north Gujarat and Saurashtra. So, there is no question of being against the environment.

How will it benefit Gujarat?

It will benefit all the four states -- Gujarat, Madhya Pradesh, Maharashtra and Rajasthan. In Gujarat 8,215 villages will get drinking water. Barmer and Jalore districts in Rajasthan will get water to irrigate 75,000 hectares. Maharashtra will get lift irrigation water for 37,500 hectares. Besides that Gujarat, Madhya Pradesh and Maharashtra will get hydel power.

What is more important is that the western grid which provides electricity to Goa, Madhya Pradesh and Maharashtra is in a problematic condition. And that creates a power crisis. The quality of hydel power will be good for this grid. There are multiple benefits which will do good for the country. In a true sense, this is a national project.

So you think there is no harm in displacing thousands of people for the project's sake?

Displacement is a problem. But we are rehabilitating the oustees. In fact, at many places the oustees feel they are much better off compared to their earlier position. Their personal income has increased, they have started owning tractors. They are living in pucca houses.

But there are many people who are unhappy.

The larger the system, the larger the layers of inefficency. There may be some inefficiencies, but an independent authority is looking at us. If there is any lacunae, we will be directed to correct it. You tell me what has the NBA done to promote the cause of thirsty people in north Gujarat and Saurashtra? Or for that matter to promote the cause of small scale industry in Madhya Pradesh and Maharashtra whose production suffer for want of electricity?

Why is the Gujarat government more vocal than the other governments?

Basically, we are the implementing authority. We have been responsible for investing Rs 95 billion (Rs 9,500 crores). We shall have to invest more. We are more vocal because about a crore of people in Gujarat will not survive unless water is imported from outside.

The Japanese had withdrawn their turbines from the project. What made them return?

They have come back and already shipped two sets of turbines. They have sanctioned a loan too. As far as the World Bank is concerned, I have collected more money in ten months than the entire aid from the World Bank. I told the World Bank president in 1992 that by being involved in the project they will do more service to the people of India than withdrawal. But they withdrew because of pressure from different environmentalists.

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