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Press Release 20.04.99

Foreign Companies withdraw from Maheshwar Project : Leaving Bleak Future

Team from Independent Agency investigates, finds violation of Human Rights

The controversial Shree Maheshwar Hydro Electric Project received a big blow following the withdrawal of two multinational companies, Bayernwerk and VEW Energie. The project was to have 76% foreign investment of which these two companies were to invest 49%. Earlier an American MNC PaCgen had refused to invest in the Maheshwar project.

As part of the Narmada Valley Development Project, the Maheshwar Hydel Power Project was to be made on the Narmada river at Jalud village in Khargone district. If the 400 MW project is constructed it will submerge 61 prosperous villages in Nimad. Earlier this project was awarded to Madhya Pradesh Electricity Board but due to the paucity of funds to built such a project, it was later awarded to a private textile company S.Kumar's. S.Kumar's had then involved foreign companies in the project. Narmada Bachao Andolan (NBA) has been fiercely resisting the project over the last two years because of the absence of a rehabilitation plan for the affected people and other issues. Today's refusal by the foreign companies to invest in the project validates the issues raised by NBA regarding this project.

According to the press release by a German People's organisation, Urgewald, Mr. Joachine Adams, Chairman of the VEW Board has announced, "VEW is now not a part of Maheshwar project and nor does it wish to become a part of it". A representative from Bayernwerk stated, "Our agreement with the Maheshwar Hydel Power Corporation is over. Only if the project authorities plans to give land for land and also fulfills all other conditions laid down by the Narmada Award and state rehabilitation policy, can we consider a fresh involvement". It is to be noted that the Madhya Pradesh government has not been able to implement the provision of land for land according to the rehabilitation policy for the displaced in any of the dams under the Narmada Project, leaving the oustees and displaced with no option but to oppose and agitate against the destructive large dams.

Seimens, another German company was to invest 17% in the project on the condition that the turbines necessary to the project and generators would be purchased from them. This investment was to have the approval of HypovereinsBank and depends upon the export guarantee to be given by the German government. Since the new government in Germany has decided to give special importance to social, environmental and other issues before giving this kind of guarantee, the involvement of Seimens also seems doubtful.

Thus the German MNCs have decided to distance themselves from the Maheshwar project as they see the seriousness of rehabilitation and resettlement among other issues related to the Maheshwar Project. NBA welcomes the people's friendly decision by the foreign companies. The Andolan believes that it is because of the fierce struggle put up by the Maheshwar project that the truth about the project is out and these companies have had to withdraw from the project. This is a major victory for the Andolan. In this context the Andolan demands that the project promoter company S.Kumar's should also understand the realities concerning the project and withdraw from it. The state government should implement alternative means of generating power as recommended by the task force constituted for the review of the Narmada Projects so as to put a stop to the destruction in the valley.

The report of Urgewald, a well known Environment and Human Rights Organisation in Germany, based on its visit to the Maheshwar Project affected area, has found serious violations of human rights. According to Heffa Schuking, leader Urgewald, the organisation visited 10 sites/villages in the affected area and had talks and interviews the villagers. She had long discussions with S.Kumar's and members of MPEB. She states, "What we found on the ground was a total lack of credible resettlement planning and a complete lack of land available for rehabilitation. This is indeed alarming if one considers that the project has been in the pipeline since 1978 and will displace over 20,000 people".

One of the most sobering incidence related in the report is the investigation teams visit to the resettlement site for Jalud, the first village behind the dam. The report describes how the resettlement site was established on lands, that already belonged to a community of Harijans and Adivasis. In spite of the fact that these community had land titles, their lands were illegally bulldozed and confiscated by the project authorities. "The project is thus creating a spiral of displacement far beyond the actual submergence zone". The report also raises the question of the economic viability of the Maheshwar project. Referring to the prosperity of the submergence zone, the investigation team concludes that a cost-benefit analysis based on the true costs of replacing the lands and livelihoods of these communities, it is our final conclusion that the project could no longer be considered economically viable. Ms.Schuking, declaring that the project is clearly unacceptable hopes that the government of Madhya Pradesh will consider it anew.

Meanwhile at the instructions of the Chief Minister, his Secretary Shri. Gopalkrishnan, and the Bhopal District Collector, Shri.Iqbal Singh Bais visited the venue of the dharna this afternoon. They informed that tomorrow afternoon when Baba Amte, the father figure of the Andolan comes to Bhopal, the Chief Minister would discuss the issues of the Narmada Project with him and others of the Andolan at the venue of the dharna.

On the site of Dharna site, the situation is becoming tense on the ninth day of the hunger strike, for the health of all the 7 fasters are deteriorating steadily leaving great concern. Despite this the enthusiasm of all the hunger strikers and others -farmers, adivasis- in the dharna site is going strong and busy with speeches, bhajans, songs, etc.

Alok Agrawal,
Narmada Bachao Andolan