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NBA losing support in
Madhya Pradesh

Deputy Chief Minister Jamuna Devi claims that the
NBA is acting against the wishes of the villagers
and is coming in the way of development,
reports Sangeeta Madan

Bhopal, October 18

Madhya Pradesh Chief Minister Digvijay Singh's deputy Jamuna Devi has opened a front against the Narmada Bachao Andolan (NBA). The state's reaction to the NBA has always been ambivalent. When it started 15 years ago, the MP government gave it a lot of support and the NBA was able to acquire fishing and cultivation rights for the oustees of the Bargi dam project. Then there was a thawing of relations for a long period, before the present Chief Minister Digvijay Singh started using the NBA to fight his battle against the Gujarat government on matters of compensation and resettlement. Matters deteriorated once again when last year he asked Medha Patkar to let the private sector Maheshwar project go ahead without any agitation, which she refused.

The SC judgment today has to be seen in this light when judging the reaction in the state from where the river originates and completes more than two third of its course. "The NBA has achieved nothing concrete in the last five years. Now it is a matter of prolonging their struggle for personal glory," says deputy chief minister Jamuna Devi, who is now heading an agitation against the NBA.

Her main grouse is that the NBA is preventing the tribals from taking their compensation and is forcibly keeping them involved in the agitation against their wishes.
"They are a modern-day version of Nathuram Godse
who, for his own belief, killed the father of the nation. These people are killing the development of the nation
for their own beliefs,'' she says. She recently organised
a rally of 15,000 tribals in Badwani, the home of NBA struggle in MP.

The population
here has now become a major supporter of the various projects of the Narmada valley in the hope that their water crisis may be resolved

Alok Agarwal of the NBA, however, claimed that most people in the rally were
outsiders and that Jamuna
Devi did not understand the finer points of the Tribunal's awards and was therefore misleading
the tribals. He claimed that not
a drop of water would be given to MP if the project was completed.
His contention that the MP government has not acquired a
single acre of land to resettle the oustees is correct. Digvijay Singh concedes: "There is no arable land left in the state where they can be settled. In fact that is our main grouse with the Gujarat government. My contention is that they should resettle the oustees because we
don't have any land.''

But Digvijay is not averse to the idea of the dam itself. His only demand is that the final height should not be 455 feet but 436 feet. He believes that more than 20,000 families will not require alternative settlement if the dam height remained at 436 feet.

But even after 15 years of struggle, during which the
NBA has achieved commendable things like rights for oustees, a better compensation package and an awareness for the environment, the public view
somehow seems to be veering towards completion of
the project. The theory of 'greater common good'
appears set to prevail at the cost of 40,000 families
who will be displaced when the height of the dam is raised to its full.

The unprecedented drought conditions that exist in
most of the valley today and the perpetual shortage of water in areas just off the main Narmada tract have caused a drinking water crisis. Tube wells have become deeper every year and over-exploitation of ground water resources has rendered huge areas at some distance from the river without water.

The population here has now become a major supporter of the various projects of the Narmada valley in the hope that their water crisis may be resolved. This year's prevailing drought has also transformed this population
of farmers and urban dwellers alike into a unit supporting the dams and thus opposing the NBA.

What is also significant is that the number of years of agitation has taken its toll on villagers. They are sick
and tired of the status quo situation. They cannot leave their land because there is no alternative on offer and
the cash compensation seems inadequate. A good 50 per cent has come round to the view that if sufficient cash is offered they will migrate on their own and be done with the whole thing. Most people of the 11 villages displaced by the Maheshwar dam have done that and have begun a new life elsewhere, however miserable
but not as uncertain as it is in the valley. Some are
also disillusioned with the jamboree that the NBA has become with periodical dramas and change of dramatis personae from Nana Patekar to Arundhati Roy
actually doing very little for their cause except
creating awareness.


Sonia Gandhi
Chhota Rajan

Sushmita Sen

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