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Press Release 12 April 1999

Indefinite Fast by Narmada Dam Oustees Commences
Firm Resolve to Fight Till the End

After 5 days of dharna (sit-in) by hundreds of farmers, labourers, tribals, kahars, kevats from the areas to be affected by the construction of the large dams on the Narmada and her tributaries, as the state Government of M.P. continues to maintain a stony silence on the long standing demands of the people, the Narmada Bachao Andolan has began an indefinite fast at the dharna site as Roshanpura Chowk in Bhopal. The seven people who have decided to stake their lives for the fight against destruction and for justice in the Valley by sitting on the indefinite fast are : Gopibai Patidar of village Pathrad, Reshambai Bharud and Daulat Bharud of Village Behagoan, Sitabai of village Nagawa and Reshambai of Bhatiyan, all from villages affected by the Maheshwar dam, Barsingh Barela of Veda dam project affected area and senior activist of the Andolan Chittaroopa Palit.

The tribals and farmers to be affected by the Maheshwar, Maan, Upper Veda, Lower Goi, Bargi and Sardar Sarovar dams have been sitting in dharna in Bhopal since the 7th April 1999 protesting against the large scale uprootment of people and destruction of the environmental, social and cultural fabric of the Narmada Valley due to the construction of the large dam projects. The project affected people have been demanding a complete review of the projects and implementation of the recommendations of the Task Force set up by the State Government of M.P. itself last year.

It may be recalled that early last year, the Government of M.P. had set up a Task Force consisting of senior officials, NBA representatives and independent experts to critically examine the Narmada Valley Development Project (NVDP) consisting of the 30 large dams, 135 medium dams and 3000 `small' dams. The Task Force was to also give a framework of the possible alternatives for the use of the water and energy resources of the Valley. The Task Force submitted its main report in January 1999, and a separate report on the Maheshwar Project earlier in November 1998. The Main report indicates very serious problems with the rehabilitation of the likely oustees, and says that a number of viable alternatives exist which need to be explored. The report on Maheshwar Project had recommended a re-examination of the cost benefit/viability of the project and to proceed only if it was found viable. Even in such a case, the Task Force had recommended that the feasibility of rehabilitation be completely established before going ahead with the project.

In light of this, the affected people have been demanding that the work on the Maheshwar Project be stopped immediately as also the completely illegal direct purchase of submergence land that bypasses all requirements of rehabilitation. They are also demanding that a full cost benefit analysis be taken up immediately as recommended by the Task Force. Work should proceed only if this finds the project viable, and the project authorities are able to develop a rehabilitation master plan based on the policy of land for land, land for `landless', rehabilitation of people with `other' occupations - based on actual land availability and not hypothetical land availability.

In case of the Sardar Sarovar Project, the Government of M.P. should accept the reality that there is no land to resettle the affected people - either in M.P. - as shown by the joint land surveys carried out by NBA and Government representatives. The NBA has pointed out that 54% of the command area of the Maan Project, 73% of that of Jobat project and a significant portion of the Veda project are already irrigated. In such a situation, the Maan and Jobat project, under construction since years, should be canceled and the remaining portions of the command areas be provided with alternative methods, as discussed in the Task Force. This is imperative as the projects have not been able to carry out the proper resettlement of the affected people and in this monsoon many families in Maan will face submergence of their lands and houses without any resettlement. Large dams such as Veda and Goi projects where construction has not yet began, should be totally stopped and alternatives implemented.

The Andolan also demands that the construction on the Narmada Sagar dam - the largest and one of the most destructive of the Narmada project, must be immediately stopped. Similarly, the illegal distribution of cash compensation in lieu of land-for-land in the area must also be stopped and a compete review of the project undertaken.

Regarding the Bargi project, decisions of the Rehabilitation Committee appointed by the State Government must be immediately implemented.

In July 1998, the provisions of the Rehabilitation policy made in the framework of the Award of the Narmada Tribunal were diluted by the State Government to facilitate cash compensation in lieu of land-for-land. These dilutions must be canceled with immediate effect. All the projects must be reviewed also in view of the serious seismic activity in the Narmada Valley.

Since the M.P. Government has not responded to these serious issues raised by the Narmada Bachao Andolan including the implementation of the Government's own Task Force recommendations, even after a series of discussions, demonstrations in the Valley, the people were forced to come to Bhopal and have been sitting on dharna since 7 April 1999. Even after so many days, when the Government did not respond to the people's actions, the people have no choice left now but to intensify their agitation and hence the launch of this indefinite hunger fast.

Shripad Dharmadhikary