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Thursday 2 December 1999
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Prohibitory orders promulgated along Narmada site at Kevadia

Section 144 effectively forestalls Shetkari Sangh plan to perform human-chain, kar seva on December 4, 5

By Our Special Correspondent

GANDHINAGAR: The Gujarat government on Wednesday issued prohibitory orders under Section 144 of the Criminal Procedure Code along the Narmada dam to ensure no harm was done to any structure of the Sardar Sarovar Project at Kevadia. Minister of state for home Haren Pandya said the orders, issued by the Narmada district magistrate would take immediate effect.

The order bans the assembly of more than four persons in a wide swath along the dam for a fortnight.

Announcing the imposition of orders shortly after the weekly Cabinet meeting, Narmada development minister Jay Narayan Vyas told newspersons this in effect, put a ban on the kar seva on December 4 and 5 announced by Shetkari Sangh leader Sharad Yadav.

The prohibitory orders have effectively forestalled a proposal by the kar sevaks to form a human chain and lift water bucket-by-bucket to pour into the Narmada canal, Mr Vyas said. "We had told them their purpose would be better served if they carried out their kar seva on the Narmada river further downstream to highlight how a vast volume of water was going into the sea, unutilised," he asserted.

However, Mr Vyas said, Mr Joshi had remained adamant during talks with the government and "seemed hell-bent on continuing the kar seva despite everything as he considered this his personal objective." Mr Vyas felt had the farmers carried out kar seva at the river instead of at the dam site, it would not amount to contempt of Court.

Branding the kar seva "politically-motivated," Mr Vyas said, although the Congress party did not seem to have a clear-cut directive, important leaders including Sanat Mehta, Urmilaben Patel and Satyajitsinh Gaekwad had expressed solidarity with the programme. Others like Amarsinh Chaudhary and CD Patel were restrained. "All pro-Narmada voluntary agencies, except the one led by Chunibhai Vaidya, have declared their opposition to the kar seva," Mr Vyas claimed.

"If Mr Joshi wants to carry out kar seva he should do it against the Madhya Pradesh government which has been preventing Narmada oustees from coming to Gujarat to relocate," Mr Vyas said. "Or, he perform kar seva against Narmada Bachao Andolan which has been spreading all types of canards at the international level about the dam."

The minister felt the kar seva could have been carried out at places where the canal was currently being dug so that work, currently under way in different parts of the state, could be completed at an early date. "He would do well to organise the digging of ponds in villages to conserve rain-water that simply drains into the sea," Mr Vyas pointed out.

Work on the canal 263 km from Radhanpur would commence in January 2000, Mr Vyas said adding, the canal would now be diverted towards Kutch and Saurashtra. Claiming that the Centre had extended financial and legal support to the Narmada project "like never before," he said, the kar seva would in fact prove counterproductive for the project itself.

Mr Vyas said, as a result of the state government's "restrained attitude" and its compliance with the Supreme Court directive, so far the Narmada project had been able to rope in such major successes as:

* Bringing in Japanese machinery, lying idle since 1992, for the powerhouse at the Narmada dam;

* Tax-free bond scheme for the Narmada project on the lines of the Konkan Railway project, leading to collection of Rs 1,700 crore during the first 10 months of 1999;

* Central sanction of Rs 1,200 crore under the accelerated benefit programme;

* Supreme Court verdict on further elevating the dam height from 85 metres;

* Disbanding the fact-finding committee at the prime minister's initiative. The committee was formed by ex-Union minister Vidya Charan Shukla and revived by Maneka Gandhi and;

* Ensuring the World Commission on Dams did not come to carry out a "hearing" on the dam.

Chief Minister Keshubhai Patel admitted to newspersons here on Wednesday that he had accepted the invitation of Shetkari Sangh leader Sharad Joshi to visit the Narmada dam site in case Nationalist Congress Party leader Sharad Pawar also visited it. "I had promised I would come provided Mr Pawar visits the site," Mr Patel said pointing out that the issue had come up during his talks with Mr Joshi in Vadodara.

In the chief minister's view, Mr Pawar's visit would have meant a visit by the leader of a party that is partner in the Maharashtra government. Significantly, the BJP government now considers the kar seva as an NCP-Congress ploy to hijack the pro-Narmada sentiment in Gujarat. Mr Pawar ultimately never visited the dam site.

The Economic Times


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