Pictures © Friends of the Narmada
19th June 2000
OGDEN COMMIT TO TALKS ON NARMADA DAM AT ANNUAL MEETING PROTEST
Meeting with Maheshwar Dam Protestors: Senior Ogden Officials Commit to Talks with NBA, Affected Communities
New York-based Ogden Corp. has agreed to talk with affected community representatives before investing in the controversial Maheshwar Dam on India's Narmada River. In March this year, Ogden Corp. signed a Memorandum of Intent to take a 49% shareholding in the 400 megawatt Maheshwar dam, in partnership with the Indian textile company S. Kumars.
Patrick McCully, Campaigns Director of International Rivers Network, said "While we welcome Ogden's commitment to talk to local communities, they should have done this before signing the memorandum with S.Kumars. If Ogden carries out talks in good faith they will realise that the project can only be built by violating the rights of affected people."
The Maheshwar Dam will displace over 35,000 people in 61 villages. No comprehensive resettlement plan exists and no acceptable replacement land is available for those who would lose their fertile riverside fields. Electricity generated by the dam would cost four to five times more than power currently generated in the state of Madhya Pradesh. Contractors at the dam site are reportedly using illegal child and bonded labor.
Intense local opposition to the project has resulted in numerous dam site occupations, marches, rallies and hunger strikes which despite mass arrests and beatings at the hands of police have forced long delays in project construction. Local opponents are part of the Narmada Bachao Andolan (NBA, or the Save the Narmada Movement), which has for more than a decade been struggling for the rights of dam-affected people throughout the Narmada Valley.
Ogden's commitment to talks was made at a meeting with a delegation from a protest held outside their annual shareholders meeting in New York on June 14. The protest was called by three U.S.-based organizations, the Narmada Solidarity Coalition of New York, the Friends of the Narmada, and International Rivers Network.
Protestors held placards saying "Stop Ogden Corp! Save India's Narmada River!", "Dam Ogden's Cash Flow!" and "Og-Den of Thieves". They also handed out copies of a letter to Ogden shareholders compiled by International Rivers Network which supports the NBA's demand that Ogden should immediately withdraw from the project.
Ogden Corp. Senior Vice-President, Kent Burton, and head of Ogden's Asia Division, Ashish Sarkar, promised the protest delegation they would start multilateral talks by August with all "stakeholders" of the Maheshwar project, including the NBA and members of all affected communities. The protest delegation included Venu Govindu of the Friends of the Narmada, Sheila Ghose and Chandana Mathur of the Narmada Solidarity Coalition of New York, and Smitu Kothari of Lokayan, an India-based organization.
Mr Burton assured the delegation that human rights and environmental considerations would not be disregarded by the company, and that they were committed to pursuing a democratic, transparent process in their involvement in the project. Mr Burton said that Ogden had already defined a "kill date" - a date when they would withdraw if their stated commitments to social and environmental principles are not satisfied.
A number of international investors have already pulled out of the Maheshwar project citing social, environmental and economic concerns. These include San Francisco engineering giant Bechtel, Oregon utility PacifiCorp, Dutch Bank ABN-Amro, and two German utilities, VEW Energie and Bayernwerk.
Despite Ogden's statements, the NBA remains skeptical of the company's intentions. Ogden has failed to reply to three separate letters from the NBA and an Ogden team recently visited the dam-affected area along with project developers S.Kumars without contacting the NBA. The team's visit was interrupted by NBA supporters in local villages who made them listen to the complaints of hundreds of affected people and showed them the poor quality land being offered as a replacement to the fertile lands to be submerged. The Ogden team did not answer questions about the cost of electricity from the dam and the availability of land for rehabilitation.
Critics also point to Ogden Corporation's poor environmental track record in the U.S. with its solid waste disposal and incinerator units.
Narmada Solidarity Coalition of New York - firstname.lastname@example.org
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