Save The Narmada, Save Humanity! NBA Press Release                                                                                 21 July 2000

Narmada Bachao Andolan
Jail Road , Mandleshwar, MP
Telefax: 07283-33162,
E-mail: nobigdam@vsnl.com

SCRAP MAHESHWAR PROJECT, REFUSE HERMES GUARANTEE

Images from the Rally

Around 5000 people gathered at Maheshwar affected village Pathrad today to welcome the recently released German Development Ministry report on the status and possibility of rehabilitation of the affected people of the Maheshwar Project impact zone. At the initiative of the elected people's representatives of the area, the affected people passed an unanimous resolution calling upon the German government to refuse the Siemens application for a German guarantee to this Project. The resolution also asked all foreign companies to leave this destructive Project, sooner rather than later. The resolution urged the State and Central governments to scrap this Project and implement cheaper and better energy alternatives.

Today on the 21st of July, 2000 a beautiful and spectacular boat rally was held at Pathrad on the Narmada river. The boats that had been brought in by boatspeople - the Kewats and the Kahars sailing all night from villages several kms. upstream, but in the submergence of the Maheshwar Project, sported brilliant sails as they floated on the rain swollen monsoon river, many sails having been painted by renowned artists from all over India. The air was thick with slogans, especially: Kewat - Kahar ka ek hi nara / Nahi chodenge Narmada kinara(The Kewats and Kahars have only one cry , we will never leave the banks of the Narmada). The boat rally was followed by a large sammelan of thousands of affected men and women along with the majority of the elected representatives of the area, as well as supporters from all over India. These included people from Bargi dam, Sardar Sarovar,Adivasi Shramik Sanghatan, Betul,representatives from Delhi,Hoshangabad,Ahmedabad,Jabalpur,Tamil Nadu and Indore.

It may be noted that in a very significant development, a hard hitting report of the Development Ministry of Germany made public last fortnight has severely indicted the social and environmental viability of the Maheshwar project and found that the rehabilitation of the thousands of affected families is well nigh impossible . The report was an investigation of the Siemens application for an export guarante to be given to a 5300 million Rs. tied loan to be given by the private German Hypo- Vereinsbank to the Maheshwar Project for the purchase of turbines from Siemens. The investigation team comprised of the renowned experts from India ,Germany and the U.S.

This report stated that even at this stage there was significant uncertainty about the numbers of families and the area to be affected by the Project, that the "Land for land" principle of the state rehabilitation Policy had been flagrantly violated by the Project authorities, more, that the principle of land even to the landless stipulated by the Ministry of Environment's conditional clearance had been violated. Rather the Project authorities had tried to compel the affected people to accept cash compensation, and that those who had accepted were in an economic position whereby they could never hoped to have their livelihoods restored. The report noted that the Project authorities simply have no cultivable lands to rehabilitate the affected people, and that if all the affected people were included in the affected category and were to be compensated by land, the cost of the new package would be several times larger than the original package and that the Project might even become financiallly unviable.

The program at the river began with a Narmada Bhajan. The Kewats and Kahars standing in the scores of boats bobbing on the river, spoke about what it means to live on the banks of the Narmada. Babu bhai,Kahar, from Pathrad said that we,the Kewats and Kahars are the children of the Narmada and will never leave her banks or let this dam be built even if we have to face submergence.

Mangat Verma, a fisherman and leader of the Andolan from the first village Lepa on which the dam is to be built said that " We welcome the report because it has highlighted the issue of our livelihoods. For generations our ancestors have led prosperous lives along the banks of this river fishing, doing cultivating on the river draw-down and now quarrying sand as well. Yet thousands of such families who are losing their livelihoods because of the submergence of their resource base, have not even been counted as Project affected and the few whose names have been included were sought to be dispensed off by a pittance in cash. This report has raised the question of this exclusion and emphasised that we have to be compensated by giving us 5 acres land per family as per the conditions of the Environmental clearance."

In the Jan sammelan organised on the banks of the river Narmada, Matamai of Pathrad said that we women have been at the fore of the struggle against the Project that threatens our communities and our children.Yet the government and the Project authorities have only replied to our valid concerns and questions with the use of lathis and violent repression. This report has been able to bring out the repressive nature of the process.

Kalu bhai of Village Mardana said that it is clear to the people to be affected by the Mahehswar Project and a matter of deep anxiety for them that the submergence would be much larger than anticipated by the authorities. In fact the authorities have deliberately minimised and trivialised the extent of the submergence. The report has highlighted this. Kalu bhai said that the struggle is now rapidly moving towards victory.

A large number of elected people's representatives of the area from the district, Janpad and village Panchayat levels were present for the program. Kala bai, Vice Chairwoman of the Maheshwar Janpad read out a resolution on behalf of the elected representatives calling upon the Indian and state governments to scrap this unviable and destructive Project, in the light of this report, and implement cheaper and less destructive energy alternatives, such as pump storage, biomass based generation, better energy saving appliances,etc. This was enthusiastically endorsed by thousands of people gathered on the occasion. Manish Chauhan from the LIC trade union at Indore said that their unions would support the struggle of the affected people and oppose the induction of funds from LIC, GIC and IDBI into the privatized Maheshwar Project.

Alok Agarwal, leader of the movement said that this report has once again confirmed the truth of the issues raised by the Andolan. It has exposed the bankruptcy of the rehabilitation process of the Project authorities. We have made significant progress in our struggle against this destructive Project. The Project has not been able to achieve financial closure for the last three years because of the mass struggle. This report will help stop the Rs.530 crore loan from the German bank. We are confident that we will be able to scrap this destructive Project.

He said that the real challenge now before the people of the state and the nation is not to let the nexus of multinational corporations, private companies and politicians sell away our vast energy infrastructure to private companies and reverse important social policies such as subsidised energy to agriculture and to the poor. Critising the proposed Energy Reform bill,2000 of the government of Madhya Pradesh, to be brought before the State Assembly during this session, he said that "what we require are not guarantees for the profits of multinationals but the guarantee of energy to every common citizen of this country."


Chittaroopa Palit