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Thursday 13 January 2000
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NBA march turns out to be a damp squib

The Times of India News Service

BHOPAL: The Narmada Bachao Andolan's much-touted ``do-or- die'' march, led by Booker prize winning novelist-turned environmentalist Arundhati Roy, in protest against the ongoing Maheshwar hydel project near Jalod in Khargone district, turned out to be a damp squib on Tuesday.

Barely 350-400 NBA activists (with a fair amount of foreigners) turned up at the dam site against the original threat of deluging the area with protesters and ``capturing'' the dam.

Collector of Khargone district Bopal Singh told The Times of India News Service that though Roy and her supporters were arrested by the police under Section 151, CrPC, produced before the executive magistrate and released on bail on Tuesday evening, the NBA activists were still camping at a semi-constructed building, temporarily being used as a jail near Maheshwar.

Roy, however, left the place after she was bailed out along with others. The others refused to go back to their villages till their queries on the project were answered in writing.

Singh, who was leaving for Maheshwar from Khargone to persuade them to expedite their departure, said it was strange that questions concerning rehabilitation of those who stood to lose their land and the project cost were being put to him instead of the state government and the dam's promoters. However, what was apparent was the total lack of any popular backing for their campaign this time. ``Most of the activists are outsiders, some coming from Maharashtra,'' he said.

A documentary film-maker Rajiv Shah said from Maheshwar over phone on Wednesday that the NBA activists had given fiery speeches and threats. Some, standing on the edge of a 30-feet pit near the construction site, threatened to jump into the Narmada in case they were evicted.

He said about 300-400 NBA activists had spent the early hours of Tuesday at Pathrad, a ``pro-NBA'' village, from where they decided to ``attack'' the dam site in groups. Boats and tractors (owned by NBA-supported landlords) were accordingly commissioned. The district administration, said Shah, allowed them to enter the area, quite obviously on orders not to take any repressive measures. ``But as the day progressed, anybody could see that the dharna and intended fast-unto-death was all smoke without fire.'' The foreigners, he said, were enjoying themselves by visiting local tourist sites.



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