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Sunday 19 March 2000


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Patkar, Roy clash with minister on Narmada

Parul Chandra

The Times of India News Service

THE HAGUE: The protest may not have been as dramatic as when two streakers disrupted the inaugural proceedings of the Second World Water Forum meeting here on Friday to protest against the construction of the Itoiz dam in Spain. But, noted author Arundhati Roy and `Narmada Bachao Andolan' leader Medha Patkar made themselves heard during a session that saw Gujarat's minister for Narmada project, Jay Narayan Vyas, hold forth on the need for the dam. While the two sides tried to counter each other's facts, at times the arguments seemed to degenerate into a battle of verbal one-upmanship.

So much so that Roy and Patkar accused Vyas of lying and he responded in equal measure. While the two maintained that Vyas had once called the SSP project a ``death noose,'' a visibly irritated Vyas dismissed the accusation as ``nothing but utter lies.'' At another point, Vyas told Roy, `` You write novels and say houses are scattered like peanuts. It is a one-sided story.'' He asked Roy, `` Why don't you have one tribal representative?'' To which Roy retorted, `` You're the minister, not I. You should have brought them.''

Patkar hadn't planned to participate in the deliberations of the six-day forum meeting and ministerial conference which has scores of water specialists, experts, politicians and bureaucrats participating. But she did when she learnt about the Indian government's plans to put up a forceful pro-dam presentation. As for Roy, she said came ``to counter the pro-dam propaganda and hear what they had to say.'' Also to ``see what power smells like'', adding, `` it stinks.''

Setting the tone for the combative discussion was Vyas himself who, armed with a detailed slide presentation, drew attention to the acute drought conditions in Gujarat, the lack of surface water availability (but for the Narmada) and the sinking water table level which in turn was causing fluorosis. Lending strength to Vyas was Union water resources secretary, Z Hasan, who said the rehabilitation package of the government was being improved and would be implemented properly.

Roy responded later by telling Vyas: `` For heaven's sake, first sort out the miseries you've created or at best stop being critical. For the greater common good, why don't you say you have no money for the dam.''

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