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SARDAR SAROVAR
THE MAHESHWAR DAM
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NBA Press Note                                                 4th April 2000

Maheshwar dam affected demonstrate at American Embassy against Ogden Energy Group's involvement in the dam Project : U.S. business interests cannot be allowed to violate human rights in the Narmada valley

Two hundred people affected by the Maheshwar Project being built in Madhya Pradesh on the river Narmada demonstrated at the American Embassy today. They were demonstrating against the Memorandum signed during and as part of President Clinton's recent visi t to India, by the Ogden Energy Group - a power utility from the U.S expressing its intent to invest 49% of the equity of the controversial Maheshwar Hydro - Electric Project. In a memorandum to be sent to Mr. Bill Clinton through the U.S. Ambassador at N ew Delhi, the affected people called upon U.S. president Clinton to comprehend the destructive implications of the Maheshwar Dam and putting the human rights of the people of India over the interests of American business - review and reverse this catastro phic investment decision. They said that Mr. Clinton will have to accept the responsibility of the violence and the repression as well as the systematic denial of the livelihood and human rights of the affected population that is likely to intensify with the investment of the U.S. power utility.

The controversial and destructive Maheshwar Project is a big dam being built on the river Narmada which will affect the lives and livelihoods of nearly 40,000 people of 61 villages of Madhya Pradesh whose lands and homes will be partially and fully submer ged by the dam. This Project which has no irrigation component has a proposed installed capacity of 400 MW .Yet the actual average firm power of the Project will be only 65 MW. Moreover while the Maheshwar dam will generate power for only 1- 1.5 hours a d ay for 8 months of the year, this power will be one of the most expensive in the country yet with the levellised tariff at point of production being Rs.6.52 and the cost of peaking power being Rs.9.65 per kWh. Clearly when the power reaches the consumer , its cost will be anywhere between Rs. 12- Rs. 15 per kWh - a prohibitively expensive tariff that will put this power out of reach of any domestic, agricultural and industrial consumer in the country.

It may be noted that the Maheshwar Project has a chequered history since its inception. The Project which was originally with the Narmada Valley Development Authority of Madhya Pradesh was transferred to the Madhya Pradesh Electricity Board in 1989. The p roject was privatized in 1994 and was handed over to the private promoters S.Kumars . Since then four private multinational companies have entered and left the Project. Of these three companies - the Pacgen company of the U.S , and Bayernwerk and the VEW Energie of Germany quit from the Project in 1998 and 1999 directly because of the strong popular resistance on the ground as well as deep flaws with the rehabilitation and economic aspects of the Maheshwar Project.

Soon after the news of the proposed tie-up between Ogden Energy Group and the S.Kumars was reported in the daily newspapers a couple of months ago, the Narmada Bachao Andolan and the affected people of the Narmada valley wrote to the Ogden group expressin g their disquiet about the proposed investment and pointing out that the Project is of no real public utility to the people of Madhya Pradesh because of the prohibitively high cost of power. They also pointed out that in the last three years, the Project authorities have not been able to show the affected people a single square inch of cultivable land which they are legally required to do before commencing on any work on this Project.

The affected people wrote to Ogden asking that no decisions about the investment should be taken without representatives of the company actually visiting the affected villages. On receiving no answer, nearly 300 newly elected Panchayat representatives of the affected area at the village, Janpad and District levels sent the Ogden Energy Group a resolution opposing the Project.

However without any Ogden representative having visited the affected villages or spoken to the affected people or members of their organisation - the Narmada Bachao Andolan, the company went ahead to sign an agreement for investment into this destructive Project on the 23rd of April of this year, displaying their deep contempt for and indifference to the interests of the thousands of affected people.

After signing the memorandum of intent in New Delhi, the senior Vice-President of Ogden Mr. Kent Burton visited the Maheshwar dam site by helicopter on the 24th of April. As the affected people learnt about his arrival they gathered at the damsite protest ing and giving slogans against the Project. Of the affected people who had gathered, four representatives then met him and confronted him with the reality of no agricultural land for rehabilitation as well as the problem of prohibitively expensive power t o be produced by this Project. They pointed out that the Project was being sought to be pushed ahead with the offers of only cash compensation for the affected people - a clear violation of the state rehabilitation policy and the conditions of the statuto rily required Environmental clearance and other agreements and contracts. Mr. Burton had no answers to any of the questions that the people asked and declined their offer to visit the affected villages stating that he had no time. However, he later tried to visit Village Jalud where the reception was so hostile that they did not even get down from their cars.

It is surprising therefore that on reaching America even as 124 organisations from 27 countries led by U.S. environmental group International Rivers Network wrote to Ogden to leave this Project, Ogden said in a press statement that although he was met by some protesters, most affected people who he met were 'pleased and appreciative' of the Project. He also said that steps would be taken towards resolving the issue in the interests of the affected families. He denied the charge of the affected people tha t the power to be produced by this project would be prohibitively expensive.

The people of the valley invite and challenge the Ogden Energy Group and concerned U.S. officials along with independent members of the Press to visit the valley, publicise and demonstrate the rehabilitation plans and the actual availability of land and s how how the power from this hydro project would be cheap or accessible to the common people of India.

The Narmada Bachao Andolan expresses shock not only at the contemptuous attitude of the Clinton led US administration and the US multinational -Ogden Energy Group , but also at the subservient attitudes of our democratically elected state and Central gove rnments and their unholy haste in trying to tie up finances for this destructive Project that will mean pauperization not only for the directly affected people but also for all energy consumers in Madhya Pradesh.

It may be noted that on the 23rd of March along with the agreement between the Ogden and S.Kumars , the Madhya Pradesh state government also signed an escrow agreement with Ogden that will guarantee the payment of nearly 6000 million Rs. annually to the p rivate producers along with an assured return of 16% on equity ,for the next 35 years whether the expected amount of power is produced or not. This money will be transferred automatically from the state treasury to the account of the private producers und er this agreement . Since the Madhya Pradesh Electricity Board does not have the required financial position to make this annual payment it is proposed to do away with the welfare scheme of free single- point connections for the poor , subsidized electric ity for the irrigation sector as well increase the tariff throughout the state substantially. This will mean a sharp decrease in the agricultural and industrial production as well as darkness in the homes of common people. This is especially incomprehensi ble because the Madhya Pradesh government had responding to the popular movement in the valley constituted a Task Force Committee to review the Project in 1998. At the end of long deliberations lasting 8 months , the Task Force had submitted a report whic h detailed cheaper and better power alternatives to the Maheshwar Project

The Narmada Bachao Andolan reminds the elected governments of this country, the U.S. administration as well as the Ogden Energy Group that it was this same movement of the peasants and the tribals of the valley that in 1993 compelled the largest internati onal financial interest - the World Bank to withdraw from the Sardar Sarovar Project. In 1998 and 1999, it compelled 3 multinational companies to withdraw from the destructive Maheshwar Project. Narmada Bachao Andolan and the affected people of Narmada Va lley expressed the firm determination not to allow any profit seekers to loot the public treasury and pauperise the common people of this free country. It expresses its resolve to stop the destructive Maheshwar Project even in the face of increasing repre ssion, and frauduIent claims and double speak from the concerned companies and governments.

Chittaroopa Palit,    Alok Agarwal