| NBA Press Release
|| 23 March 2005
Thousands gather at Mandleshwar to demand scrapping of Maheshwar Project and stop to privatisation of Electricity Board
NARMADA BACHAO ANDOLAN
Jail Road, Mandleshwar
District Khargone, Madhya Pradesh
Gathered people raise support for widow of late Radheshyam who committed suicide, demand end to anti-farmer policies
More than 12,000 women and men took out a huge rally in Mandleshwar town demanding that the Maheshwar Project must be scrapped once and for all. Speaking at the rally and public meeting organized by the Narmada Bachao Andolan, the people from the affected villages warned the government that unless the Maheshwar project was scrapped, they would embark on a determined struggle. People affected by the Upper Beda, Indira Sagar dam, Man and Sardar Sarovar dams and representatives of organisations from different parts of the country participated in the march along with the people affected by the Maheshwar dam.
It may be noted that the work on the Maheshwar Hydro-Electric Project being built on the river Narmada has been stalled since the last 4 years. This protest rally was organized by the Narmada Bachao Andolan in response to the statements by the Chief Minister, Madhya Pradesh stating that work would be re-started, and to the actual beginning of some minor work on the dam site. More than half of the 12,000 marching oustees were women. As the huge rally passed through the main roads of the town, the entire town resounded with the slogan “ Scrap the destructive Maheshwar Project that will make electricity expensive and destroy the state economy”. The rally was followed by a huge public meeting at the Mandleshwar bus-stand, that went on till late in the evening.
Addressing the public rally, senior activist Shri Alok Agrawal said that it has been proven without doubt that the Maheshwar project will provide very expensive electricity and in very meager amounts. The reports by the Comptroller and Auditor General have also highlighted the financial irregularities associated with the controversial project. In the circumstance that the movable and immovable properties of the Project have been attached by the Madhya Pradesh Industrial Development Corporation, any attempt to re-start the Project work is completely illegal, and also raises many suspicions. Today, the state’s farmers are reeling under heavy debts and two farmers have already committed suicide in the Khargon district. Instead of solving the electricity problem, the Maheshwar Project will only make electricity in the state prohibitively expensive and impoverish the farmers further. Hence it is imperative that this destructive project be immediately scrapped.
Ms. Chittaroopa Palit of the Narmada Bachao Andolan said that the Maheshwar Project is part of those destructive policies of privatization of electricity that are further impoverishing ordinary people and farmers, increasing rates of electricity for them and taking away their electricity. Approximately, half of the state’s electricity is lost due to transmission and distribution problems. If the state tackles these distribution problems, it can make electricity equivalent of several Maheshwar projects available to the people at affordable prices.
Representing various project affected villages, Shri Kalu Singh Mandaloi from village Mardana, Shri Jagdish Patidar from village Gogavan, Shri Radheshyam Patidar from village Pathrad said that the Maheshwar Project owes the public crores of rupees which have not been recovered, while the properties of farmers get confiscated when they are unable to repay small sums of money. They demanded that the government should provide assistance to the farmers and more than 1 lakh crore rupees of outstanding public debt owed by wealthy industrialists including those behind the Maheshwar project be recovered immediately. Warning the government as well as the Maheshwar project owners, the sarpanch from village Mardana, Smt. Sushila Bai said that people are willing to lay down their lives but will not allow this destructive project to proceed.
Relating her tale of woe, Smt Devaka Bai, the widow of Shri Radheshyam of village Pokharabad who recently committed suicide, said that she lost her husband due to mounting debt, yet the state government refused even to acknowledge this and was falsely stating that the suicide took place due to family conflict. She said that the state would have to take responsibility for the suicide and appealed to every one to unite and join in the struggle for farmer’s rights, so that what happened to her family should not happen to others. The people in the gathering were greatly angered at the indifference and callousness being shown by the State government, the lack of financial support to the widow of the late farmer, and made a spontaneous collection of Rs. 25,000 on the spot, and handed it to Devka bai, as a small token of solidarity.
Representing people affected by other dams in the Narmada valley, Shri Bhura Bhai (Upper Beda project), Shri Govind Bhai (Man project), Shri Harakchand Sand and Shri Dharmaraj Jain (Indira Sagar project) and Shri Mansharam Jat (Sardar Sarovar Project) said that although the government is flouting all norms in the Narmada valley to destroy people and their lives, the people will not tolerate this and will provide stiff resistance at every step. Shri Mansharambhai related the recent Supreme Court judgment that had given enormous relief to the oustees of the Sardar Sarovar Project. He said that the Court had ruled that the Government of Madhya Pradesh must give agricultural land to the oustees rather than cash, and that adult sons must be given land as well.
Shri Jagdish Patidar of Nimad Malwa Kisan Mazdoor Sangathan said that it is impossible for the farmers of Madhya Pradesh to pay their bills at today’s rates; after the tariff increases following the construction of the Maheshwar Project, electricity will be completely taken away from the hands of the farmers. Hamidabi of Bhopal Gas Pidit Mahila Udyog Sangathan and of the Jan Sangharsh Morcha representing 17 mass-based groups from Madhya Pradesh, also offered support for the struggle. Shri Basant Shitre, the chief secretary of AITUC in Indore and Shri Govind Asiwal from Bhopal’s City Trade Union Council gave full support to the movement on behalf of many national and international labour movements, and also gave the call for a united struggle of farmers and labourers against the privatization of electricity and other essential services. Ms. Gayatri Sharma from Shivpuri, Shri Magan Bhai from Khedut Mazdoor Chetna Sangathan(Jhabua) and Shri Govind Khede, advocate from Khargon—all presented narratives from their own struggles, and offered support to the movement from their respective adivasi organizations.
After the rally and public meeting, thousands of people reached the SDM office at Mandleshwar and gave a memorandum in the name of the Chief Minister after protracted questioning. The memorandum demanded that the destructive and unnecessary Maheshwar project should be immediately scrapped, the aforementioned financial irregularities be fully investigated, the guilty punished and the public money recovered, leakages caused in the transmission and distribution of electricity be stopped so that adequate electricity can be made available to the people, the electricity tariffs should be reduced to 2000-2001 rates so that farmers and ordinary consumers can afford it, forced recovery of farmers’ debts be stopped and the interests on loans be waived, government subsidies be provided to farmers, and State government purchase agricultural produce from the farmers at a remunerative minimum support price, and that families of suicide victims in the Khargone district should be awarded a compensation of 2 lakhs each. The people also warned that unless their demands were met with, they were fully prepared for a long struggle, and will take this to the next level in the days to come.Mangat Verma