March 05 2000
Struggle against the Maheshwar Project Intensifies
It may be recalled that on January 11, thousands of people to be affected by the Maheshwar Hydro Power Project had captured the dam site and were subsequently jailed for five days. In the next phase of the struggle hundreds of people including women have started an indefinite satyagraha- an indefinite sit in, in front of the main gate of the project near Mandleshwar in Madhya Pradesh since 24th of Feb 2000.
The indefinite sit in has entered the 9th day today and the people have declared that if by 8th, the demands of the people are not met, an indefinite fast will begin from the 9th of March. In the mean time, the to be affected people of the project are to start an "energy yatra" (a campaign) in the villages, towns and cities of Western Madhya Pradesh to expose the unaffordable costs of the power that will be generated from this project. This campaign includes public meetings, demonstrations, street plays, in the towns and cities to make the people of Madhya Pradesh aware of the huge costs of the energy to be produced by the project. The purpose of this campaign is to explain the economic, environmental and other implications this privatized hydropower Project will have on the people of Madhya Pradesh.
The contract of this project has been awarded to S Kumars while 76% of the investment will come from foreign companies. Sixty-one villages and thousands of hectares of very rich fertile lands on the banks of the river Narmada will be submerged in this project. The Narmada Bachao Andolan has challenged this project not only on the huge social and environmental costs of this project but on the very purpose of the project that is financially non-viable. The three-year-old struggle of the people has had many achievements. The Madhya Pradesh Government had to undertake a review of the project and had to appoint a task force to examine the project. The report of the Task force though was damming, the Madhya Pradesh Government continued with the project. The people intensified the struggle as a result of which, two German Companies Byrenworks and VEW energy had to withdraw from the project. The struggle of the people has succeeded in preventing the financial closure of the project.
The struggle against the Maheshwar Project has started receiving support from several people's movements and organisations in Madhya Pradesh like Ekta Parishad, Adivasi Mukti Sangathan, etc. the MLA of Betul assembally constituency in Madhya Pradesh, Dr. Sunilam also expressed his solidarity on the satyagraha site yesterday.
The demand of the people on the indefinite sit in is to stop the work on the project and to revoke the environmental clearance to the project. This demand is based on the recent report of the Ministry of Environment and other Ministries, which clearly accepts that there is no land for rehabilitation of the project-affected people. This report of the Ministries recommend that in order for the ministry to take a decision on whether to revoke the environmental clearance, the project authorities must be asked to identify and demonstrate sufficient agricultural land for the rehabilitation of the oustees within three months. It also states that a resurvey be conducted of the area to be affected and number of people to be affected by the project. It has also recommended that all blasting work on the dam site must be stopped until the affected people of the first village Jalud near the blasting site are rehabilitated.
In light of this report, the people of Maheshwar are determined to continue the indefinite sit in and start an indefinite fast from the 9th of March if the work on the project is not halted in favour of cheaper, socially and environmentally friendly, sustainable energy generation alternatives.