NBA Press Note

January 7, 2001

Save The Narmada, Save Humanity!

Narmada Bachao Andolan,
Jail Road, Mandleshwar,
District Khargone, M.P.

Thousands celebrate withdrawal of US power utility from Maheshwar Project,protest indiscriminate globalisation and privatization.
"People's strength will prevail over the profit motives of private companies and multinationals"

Nearly 8000 people affected by the Maheshwar Hydro-Electric project being built on the river Narmada in Madhya Pradesh marched in the nearby town of Mandleshwar in celebration of the withdrawal of the US power utility Ogden from this destructive Project, and against the forces of privatization and globalization that put the quest for corporate profits over survival concerns. Jubilant women and men threw gulal into the air , chanting slogans like "Ogden Company has had to go /Now we will stop the Maheshwar dam." The villagers thronged at the Narmada ghats at Mandleshwar, offering prayers to their revered Narmada Mai. The marchers then came together in a massive meeting that lasted till evening.At the end of the meeting, the affected people took a resolve to fight and stop not only the immediate destruction being wrought by the Maheshwar Project, but also the pauperization and the slavery that is being brought into the country in the name of globalisation.

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A large number of representatives from trade unions and people's organizations from all over the country joined the celebrations and the protest action. These included Kisan Adivasi Sangathan, Shramik Adivasi Sangathan, Hind Mazdoor Sabha,Ekta Parishad,Kasturbagram Mahila Ashram,Bhopal Gas Peedit Mahila Udyog Sangathan, Khedut Mazdoor Chetna Sanghat, Bargi Bandh Visthapit Sangh, the BHEL Worker's Union , M.P. Bank Employees Association, M.P. Vitta Nigam Karmachari Sangh, City Trade Union Council, Indore Division Insurance Employees Association, people affected by various projects in the Narmada Valley including Sardar Sarovar, Man, Bargi etc. as well as several illustrious supporters from Delhi ,Pune, Nasik, Bhopal, Indore, Jabalpur, Bangalore and other parts of the country.

The US power utility Ogden had signed a Memorandum of Intent in March,2000 during US President Clinton's India visit , to invest 49% of the Project equity and to thus become half owners of the Project .However after a period of 8 months by December, 2000 Ogden had completed its due diligence and finding the Project flawed on economic counts as well as facing stiff resistance in the valley and outside, took a decision to withdraw from the Project. The withdrawal of Ogden has confirmed the truth of the issues being raised by the Andolan as well as the strength of the people's struggle.

It may be recalled that in the face of the determined struggle of the affected people in the last 4 years, several power utilities from the US and Germany, notably the Pac Gen, Bayernwerk and VEW Energie have withdrawn one after another from this Project. In August,2000, following a very critical report on the status of the resettlement in the valley , the Rs. 530 crore tied loan to the Maheshwar Project from the private German bank- the HypoVereinsbank also fell through .

Addressing the gathering, Mangat Verma from the first dam affected village Lepa said that the Maheshwar project will affect the lives, lands and livelihoods of more than 50,000 people of the area, including thousands of Dalit, Kewat and Kahar families who are dependent on the riverine economy. He pointed out that there is a complete absence of any cultivable land and other resources for rehabilitation and so the Project can continue only with serious legal and human rights violations.The German Development Ministry report of June, 2000 ,the 1999 report of the Central Environment Ministry and the 1998 report of the Task Force Committee constituted by the Madhya Pradesh state government have all criticized the Project, yet, the government seems bent on continuing with the Project at any cost. He said that if the government would not stop this destruction, the people would stop it.

Leader of the Maheshwar struggle, Alok Agarwal said that Projects like Maheshwar can be continued only on the basis of loot. He said that the average cost of electricity to be produced by this Project is Rs.7 per unit and the cost of peaking power is Rs. 10 per unit several times more than the cost of power being presently produced by the MPEB. Yet, the Madhya Pradesh government will have to give the Project authorities around Rs.600 crores every year for the next 35 years whether the electricity is produced or not or can be sold or not.It is to pay for this that the Madhya Pradesh government has stopped all concessional electricity to the farmers and single point connections to the poor since the begining of this year. In the coming days,the government will hike the power tariffs further in order to pay for Maheshwar power.He said that there was an international mafia that is interested in selling power equipment at exhorbitant costs,but the people's strength will prevail over the profit motives of private companies and multinational corporations.Maheshwar will not be allowed to be another Enron.

Kalubhai from Village Mardana said that this expensive power will stop thousands of agricultural pumps and pauperise the peasantry in the state, bring darkness into the homes of thousands of common people who cannot afford this power, drive power loom workers to the brink of suicide and cause small industries to close down.But the farmers and the people of this state will fight tooth and nail against this Project and the anti-people energy policies of the government.

Shri Vasant Shintre of Indore City Trade Union Council said that while on one hand on the 4th of December, 2000, the Madhya Pradesh Vidhan Sabha passed the Energy reforms bill that allows the unbundling of the MPEB into generation ,transmission and distribution components- as steps prior to privatization,on the other hand,on the 27th of November, another Bill was passed in the same Vidhan Sabha- the M.P Special Area Securities Act. This draconian Bill gives the administration to term any people's organization (or person) which opposes the government as a unlawful organization or person, and gives it sweeping powers to jail the person and sell his/her property and even cattle. It is clear that the government fears that taking away the light from people's lives and water from their fields will be met with unrest and so is equipping itself with anti-constitutional and barbaric laws to protect itself.Shintreji said that the passing of this Act was a direct threat to democracy in this country. He challenged the government that the people of this country and this state would oppose and repeal this black law. The speakers at the meeting said that the withdrawal was a very significant victory for the Andolan ,and demanded that the Project must now be completely stopped.At the end of the meeting, the assembled thousands of people took an oath not only to stop the destructive Maheshwar Project but also to wage a relentless struggle against the economic and political enslavement of our country by global corporations

Chittaroopa Palit
Urmila Patidar