NBA Press Release
  17 February 2004
Save The Narmada, Save Humanity!

Thousands rally against decision of Uma Bharati government to give Rs. 400 crores guarantee to Maheshwar Project

NARMADA BACHAO ANDOLAN
Jail Road, Mandleshwar
District Khargone, Madhya Pradesh
Tel: 07283-33162
Email: nobigdam@sancharnet.in

Illegal Guarantee must be taken back in a week or people will take further action, Cancel Maheshwar Project, implement cheap alternatives.

Today, on the 17th of February 2004 over ten thousand people affected by the Maheshwar dam gathered at Mandleshwar city in a powerful protest rally and public meeting to oppose the decision of Uma Bharati government to give Rs. 400 crores guarantee to the Maheshwar Hydro-electric Project. The recent flag- off given by the Chief Minister to the Maheshwar Project on the 28th of January 2004 has created a huge groundswell of resentment in the area. The affected men, women and children who closed their village work and schools to fill Mandleshwar city in thousands took a resolve at the banks of the Narmada that they would not allow this destructive dam to be built at any cost. In the public meeting held under the aegis of the Narmada Bachao Andolan, successive speakers challenged the government to take back this guarantee given to the Shree Maheshwar Hydel Power Corporation Limited, completely illegal because the dam site lands have long been seized from the S.Kumars. The affected people demanded that the Madhya Pradesh government should cancel the Maheshwar Project and implement the cheap and better alternatives to provide the people of Madhya Pradesh certain and cheap electricity.

The meeting began with a Narmada bhajan. After this, Radheshyam Patidar of Village Pathrad welcomed the gathered thousands of people. He said that for the last years the people of Narmada valley have struggled with great commitment and dedication to save the Narmada valley from destruction, compelling the German and US companies to withdraw from the valley and stopped the work on the dam for the last three years. How can we now allow construction to begin on this stalled anti-people Project ? He said that the experience of upstream Punasa dam is very bitter. The government has not rehabilitated a single family there with irrigated land and has forcibly uprooted the affected people with the use of Special Armed Forces. Now newspaper reports say that the Punasa dam affected people, repeatedly betrayed by successive governments are praying to the gods for relief. Radheshyam Patidar said that the destruction of the Narmada valley being wrought by companies like S.Kumars and NHDC with the help of the state government has now crossed the limits of tolerance. The people of the valley are now resolved that they will compel these Indian and foreign private companies to leave the valley. He demanded that there should be a moratorium on any further displacement and the 2 crore people who had been displaced since independence should be rehabilitated first.

Mangat Verma of Village Lepa said that the Maheshwar dam will bring not electricity but darkness, and will destroy not only the Narmada valley but the entire economy of Madhya Pradesh. Within a decade after privatization the cost of the Project went up by five times from Rs. 465 crores to Rs. 2200 crores. As per the Power Purchase Agreement of the state government with S.Kumars, the tariff of the Project would increase with the increased outlay of the Project. It is estimated that the cost of power at generation point will be Rs. 5 to 6 per unit and will become Rs. 10 per unit at the point of consumption. Mangat Verma said that if farmers cannot pay at the rate of Rs. 1.20 per unit and 6 lakh agricultural connections out of 12 lakh connections have been severed in the last one year, how will they be able to purchase the expensive Maheshwar power? But as per the agreements, whether the electricity is sold or not, for the next 35 years, the Madhya Pradesh government will have to pay Rs. 400-600 crores per year for the next 35 years. That is even if Maheshwar power cannot be bought because it is expensive like the power in the Enron Project, Rs. 15,000 to 20,000 crores will still have to be paid to the S.Kumars over the next 35 years. This money is public money. Will the Uma Bharati government take responsibility for this?

Shri Alok Agarwal, senior activist of the Narmada Bachao Andolan said that S.Kumars had borrowed Rs 45 crores from the Madhya Pradesh State Industrial Corporation and did not return it. As a result, the movable and immovable properties of the Maheshwar Project were attached by the Khargone administration in December 2002. Apparently, the amount has now increased to around Rs. 70 crores. The funds from MPSIDC came from the Army and Navy Pension Fund among other sources. The question is that if Rs. 70 crores is outstanding and the dam properties have been attached over a year back, instead of recovering the entire monies due from the S.Kumars to the MPSIDC by selling the bungalows and offices of the S.Kumars, the state government has given the S.Kumars a guarantee of Rs. 400 crores. Shri Agarwal said that if the Madhya Pradesh government does not withdraw its guarantee within a week, the affected people would be compelled to take further action. The NBA is also considering taking the issue to the Lok Ayukta. Alok Agarwal also said that Maheshwar Project is also part of the same global conspiracy whereby the entire electricity sector is being taken over by Indian and global corporates. The Central and State Electricity Reform Acts have also been designed to increase the tariffs resulting in the large scale severing of electricity connections of the farmers and the poor. It is clear that it is not only people of the Narmada valley but of the entire country who will have to unite to face this.

Chittaroopa Palit, activist with the NBA said that there is no electricity generation problem in the state at all and so no justification for the submergence of the Narmada valley. The total electricity produced in Madhya Pradesh along with Madhya Pradesh’s committed share from Central undertakings in the Western grid is a good 45% over the demand by consumers in the state. The electricity crisis is because of the huge leak in the transmission and distribution About half the electricity in the state is being lost due to wastage. Thus the only solution is to save electricity not to generate it. She said that the Maheshwar Project would provide only 3% electricity to the Madhya Pradesh- around 900 million units and cost Rs. 2200 crores. She said that if in place of the Maheshwar dam, 900 million units of electricity were to be saved by the installation of new transformers, poles and substations and by bolstering of the transmission and distribution infrastructure, it would cost only Rs. 630 crores , that is one-fourth of the cost of the Maheshwar Project. Thus, it is imperative that the Maheshwar Project be cancelled and the cheaper and better alternatives be implemented. Thus the Narmada dams are being built not to meet the electricity needs of the common people of this state but global and Indian corporate interests. Chittaroopa Palit said that on one hand, the Government of Madhya Pradesh is destroying the pristine Narmada valley and all its resources by the construction of dams such as Maheshwar. On the other it has recently declared the cities of Omkareshwar and Maheshwar on the Narmada as “pure” by placing restraints on the collection, sale and eating of eggs, meat and fish in these cities. This amounts to an assault on the livelihoods and cultures of thousands of people living in these cities. Palit said that the Uma Bharati government can best express her devotion to Narmada by cancelling the destructive large dams being constructed on the Narmada such as the Maheshwar Project, rather than resorting to these ruses and unconstitutional impositions of “purity”.

The meeting was also addressed by Madhuri of Dalit Jagrut Adivasi Sangathan, Nandini Oza of Narmada Bachao Andolan, Shri Devi Prasad Maurya of Janwadi Lekhak Sangh, Shri Vineet Tiwari of Sandarbh, and representatives of the Omkareshwar, Man, Upper Beda and Sirund dams.

Suresh Verma
Chittaroopa Palit