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Medha leads NBA activists into
storming environment ministry

Demanding an explanation from as to how the construction
of the Sardar Sarovar Dam was allowed without a valid environmental clearance, reports
Rahul Ogra

New Delhi, December 14

About a hundred Narmada Bachao Andolan (NBA) activists, led by the indefatigable Medha Patkar, laid siege to the Ministry of Environment and Forests (MEF) at 10:45 am today. The activists were demanding an explanation from the authorities as to how the construction of the Sardar Sarovar Dam was allowed without a valid environmental clearance since 1990.

They cited the minority judgement of the Supreme Court of India, given by justice S P Bharucha on Oct 18, 2000, in which it is clearly noted that no comprehensive environmental impact assessment has been carried out till date by concerned authorities in the affected area. The activists argued with the Environment Secretary J Krishnan, that this being the case, even the extent and the nature of the ecological losses is not known, leave aside the effective mitigation of these impacts in the upstream, downstream and command areas of the project.

In this memorandum,
they demanded
an immediate review of the verdict, an early hearing of the
NBA's review petition and also appealed for
a public hearing
in the Narmada
valley itself

Amrita Patwardhan, an NBA activist, said, "The Narmada Sagar Project is going on unhindered in what is a clear contravention of legal procedures. In 1994 a law was formulated clearly stating that public clearance is needed for all such projects from the ministry and also from the sub group on rehabilitation of displaced persons. "We have seen no such clearances till now," she says, adding, "Even for the supposed clearance given to the Sardar Sarovar project for
restarting work in 1987, the government could not produce any written document as proof."

Talking about the possible fallout on the environment of the Narmada Valley, veteran NBA activist Vimal Bhai, who also represents the National Alliance of Peoples Movements (NAPM), said, "Apart from 13,000 hectares of forest land rich in flora and fauna lost due to the inundation caused by the reservoir and the rest cleared for rehabilitation, Sardar Sarovar Project is also going to have
a devastating effect on the ecology of the downstream and upstream areas."

Explaining this further, he says, "The dam, by stopping the flow of the river, will lead to a progressive salinisation in the upriver areas rendering the land infertile. In addition to this there will be waterlogging in the command area upstream, leaving an adverse impact on the region's ecology."

" I don't see how the project can be given a clearance while several environmental studies are still pending. Allowing of further construction under such conditions would amount to a blatant violation of the ministry's conditions and requirements. They are making a mockery of their own guidelines," says Vimal Bhai with an expression of disgust on his face.

Yesterday, over 350 tribal and peasant representatives held a peaceful demonstration in front of the Supreme Court of India and had submitted a memorandum to the Chief Justice Anand. In this memorandum, they demanded an immediate review of the verdict, an early hearing of the NBA's review petition and also appealed for a public hearing in the Narmada valley itself in order to make the judiciary more accountable to the people and give it a humane face. That was before the police swung into action and arrested the demonstrators.

Today, in addition to the siege, around 200 NBA representatives also held a dharna at Parliament Street and expressed their sankalp (strong resolve) not to leave their homes and hearths, notwithstanding the threat of submergence. Medha Patkar, the gritty leader of the Narmada Bachao Andolan, was leading the protestors herself.and submitted a memorandum to the Lok Sabha Speaker Mr Balayogi highlighting the plight of the displaced valley people. Later speaking to presspersons Medha said, "We are here because the Supreme Court of India has let us down. We had some hope from the judiciary, because we thought that no body or tribunal is sacrosanct, and above the lives and aspirations of the people. Our hopes have been belied."

Replying to a question, "Where will the Narmada Movement go from here on?" She said, "One thing that became clearly evident in our interaction with the representatives of the MOEF during our siege, was that no one in the ministry has any knowledge of the ground realities in the valley. We are going to insist that there must be a lot more field visits by officials to the region and, more face-to-face meetings with the real sufferers."

"We will request the President of India to visit the Narmada valley. We are also going to question him about how he is allowing the tribals of the area to be divested of their lands and drowned in their own areas, as he himself has formed a committee of governors under the leadership of P C Alexander (Governor of Maharashtra) to safeguard the rights of tribal people in the country," she said.

Medha adds finally, in a steely note of determination, "We are never going to consider the judgment as a fait acompli. The Madhya Pradesh government has recently accepted on affidavit that there is no land for rehabilitation in the state. There is no provision whatsoever for rehabilitating over 3500 families affected by the dam and a comprehensive rehabilitation plan for the remaining 30,000 families is yet to see the light of day."

"As such, our battle to see that justice is done will go on. This is not an acid test for the Narmada bachao movement alone but also for the countless other Jan Andolans (people's movements) in the country. Therefore, even the NAPM will have to be more active to see that the rights of the underprivileged in the country and its ecological diversity is not bartered away to foreign consumerist agencies like the World bank, who are hell bent on pushing such projects at any cost."

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