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'The dam could have averted Gujarat's worst drought'

Jai Narayan Vyas

Celebrating today's Supreme Court judgement, Gujarat's Minister for Narmada Jai Narayan Vyas tells Ashim Chaudhury that Narmada will do to Gujarat's economy what Bhakra did to Punjab and Haryana

New Delhi, October 18

Gujarat Minister for Narmada Jai Narayan Vyas today said that work on completion of the Narmada dam will resume tomorrow. Jubilant over the Supreme Court judgement, he said it "Clears all ambiguity and defines responsibility on concerned authorities. We know now what to do."

He felt that the Grievances Redressal Authority (GRA) would be the best check on the government to ensure that all environmental and rehabilitation conditions were met. He was particularly happy that the Prime Minister has been designated the final arbiter in case of any dispute arising.

The biggest challenge ahead for the minister was rehabilitation. "It is not a question of funds," he said. "Even if we need Rs 500 crore, that is not a problem.
It is a humanitarian issue, needing a holistic approach. Even when you have to shift houses in the same city
it is such a huge problem. You can imagine how traumatic it must be to be lifted from one's roots and moved to a new place."

Some 10,000 people have already been rehabilitated. Another 22,000 people will be displaced in the event
of the dam reaching a full height of 138 m.

"The international community understands our
stand much
better now"

On drawing his attention to the fact that the Maheshwari dam oustees, who had been rehabilitated in Gujarat, were beaten up and sent back, the minister first claimed that they were not actual oustees.
Later, saying these were isolated incidents, he
conceded, "the process of change has always met
with some resistance."

Reacting to the report that the Narmada Bachao
Andolan (NDA) leader Medha Patkar would continue
with her agitation and not "allow another inch" to be added to the present height, the minister said, "The law and order machinery of Gujarat would take care of that." Describing Patkar's decision as "ridiculous", Vyas said, "First they petition the court and as long as it suits them it's fine. It is clear now they have scant respect for the process of law."

Vyas was emphatic that there would be no international criticism. "I don't care for international criticism," he
said. "The international community understands our
stand much better now," he said, reeling out a list of international names whose support he had enlisted.
He also debunked the India Country Study report,
which says that big dams contributed to raising agricultural production by only 10 percent. "I don't know how they reach such hypothetical conclusions, all I can say as a farmer myself is that nothing is more beneficial to a farmer than water."

Clarifying that he was not against small projects, he
said that they were like supplementary vitamin pills,
"We cannot live on a diet of vitamins alone." Justifying
his stand, the minister explained how the several thousand check dams in the state had failed to collect water due to scant rains. On the criticism against big dams he said, "There are good dams, not so good dams, and bad dams." Narmada, he claimed, belonged to the first category.

"It will do to the Gujarat economy and that of India
what Bhakra did to Punjab and Haryana," he said. The minister added, "Those who are talking of human rights should know that the farmer also has a human right to earn his livelihood." According to Vyas, Narmada would save the farmers from total dependence on rain.

Unwilling to quantify the losses incurred because of
the work being held up, he said that had the dam been ready by now, the most severe crisis of drought in
Gujarat could have been averted. The minister felt that
the dam was critical to Gujarat as the state stood on
the edge of the desert. The dam would prevent the
desert from encroaching, as was happening in the
Kutch and Saurashtra regions.

Hedging a question on the environmental costs of the dam, the minister chose to speak of the environmental benefits instead. Referring to the recent farmers
agitation against power tariffs, the minister said tha
t one third of the power that people consumed is
utilised in drawing underground water, sometimes as
low as 1700 ft. "The dam will not only save this power consumed, it will also save the depleting water table,"
he said.

According to the Vyas, 90 percent of the concrete
work on the dam had already been completed, at a
cost of Rs. 10,500 crores. Another Rs 1000 crore
would be needed, mainly for completion of the 67,500
km long canal network, one of the largest in the world. Though not short of funds, the minister also hinted that public bonds would be issued next year to raise money for completion of the dam by June 2002.

Sonia Gandhi
Chhota Rajan

Sushmita Sen

strologer Uma Shankar Shukla
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a weekly health
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