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NBA Press Release                                 16th August, 1999


The Narmada Bachao Andolan expresses shock at reports in the press today that a building under construction in the site proposed for the resettlement of village Behgaon to be submerged by the Maheshwar Hydro-Electric Project was allegedly demolished by 100, mask clad unknown persons on the night of August 13, 1999. It strongly refutes the PTI report that holds the NBA responsible for this as completely false, unsubstantiated and baseless. It notes that even the report of the local police administration through the statement of Additional SP Shri.Vijay Suryavanshi does not mention any involvement of the NBA nor mentions any incident of the beating and stripping of Rehabilitation officers. It refutes the PTI report as unfortunate and as attempt to portray a false picture of the NBA as a group of thugs and vandals.

Village Behgaon is one of the 61 villages in the fertile plains of Nimad in Madhya Pradesh fields, homes, livelihoods and communities will be destroyed and submerged forever by the Maheshwar Hydro-Electric Project. The affected people of the area have been waging a strong and peaceful struggle against this destructive Project for the last 2 years, under the aegis of the NBA. The commitment to peaceful struggle and discipline and the iron strength of the movement may be judged by the fact that on the 31st of July, 1999 in a program held at village Pathrad during the Rally for the Valley, around ten to twelve thousand Maheshwar Project affected people sat in the pouring rain for several hours, as many have been noted by numerous supporters, and representatives of the local, national and international press present on the occasion.

It may be noted that the above mentioned site for the resettlement of Behgaon is situated in a low lying area. Much of it was flooded during this monsoon by an adjoining stream that drains into the Narmada, even without the dam construction. Obviously, once the dam is built and the reservoir rises, the fate of this resettlement site will be like those of the 22 resettlement sites for the Bargi dam oustees which were submerged as well in the Narmada waters along with the submergence affected villages a decade ago. Moreover, the said site has land only for house plots and has no agricultural land at all, which is required to be given to the oustees, as per the Rehabilitation Policy of the Madhya Pradesh government for the oustees of the Narmada Projects as well as the implementation and Rehabilitation Agreements signed by the Project promoters S.Kumars and the Madhya Pradesh government. The people of the area have given several memorandum to the local government official stating those issues and asking for the cancellation of the site.

Clearly, the site is not appropriate for the resettlement and rehabilitation of the Behgaon people. However, instead of identifying and allocating cultivable land, the promoters S.Kumars and the district administration have been coercing the affected people to give their lands for cash in lieu of land. The people of the area had given several memorandums to the local government authorities on this issue, but have received no response.

The Narmada Bachao Andolan has enormous support among the Maheshwar dam affected people and have consistently raised the issues of the lack of cultivable land for rehabilitation and the complete of the rehabilitation process, as well as the prohibitively high cost of the power to be generated by this Project - Rs.7 per unit - which will pauperise both the people and the State.

As a result of the struggle, in April 1999, the Bayernwerk and the VEW Energie - the two German utilities which was to provide 49% of the equity of the Project moved out. This was a major blow to the Project promoters S.Kumars. Now, the Siemens company and the HypoVereinsbank have applied to the German government for a guarantee against a 220 million US dollars loan for the Maheshwar Project. If the German Government refuses to give a guarantee, in the light of serious social and environmental violations, and the broad based public protest against the Project, it is likely that the promoters may have to drop the Project completely.

In the recent months, even as the struggle was gaining further ground and support through the recently organised Rally for the Valley, on the very day, that a rally was held in the Maheshwar area, the local PTI representative released a report making unsubstantiated allegations against the NBA.

Unable to respond to the issues of lack of rehabilitation and that of expensive power, and ignoring the MP government constituted Task Force recommendation that Project work must stop and can be resumed only after the economic viability and the real possibility of land based rehabilitation for the affected is established afresh, the Project authorities have now embarked on a campaign of disinformation and character assassination in order to malign the NBA. The NBA sees the present campaign as a measure of the desperation and bankruptcy of the Maheshwar Project authorities and the S.Kumars. It believes that while only a full enquiry will reveal the truth, it may well be possible that the Project authorities themselves have demolished the building in order to malign and invite repression on the NBA. The NBA intends to expose all such tactics of those playing into the hands of foreign multinationals and carry on with its peaceful, determinant struggle until the project is finally stopped.

Alok Agrawal, Parvatibai, Urmila Patidar, NBA, Village-Behgaon, Village Pathrad