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Press Note                                                 November 4, 1999

Proposed Kar Seva Against the Farmers, Adivasis And Marginalised People; NBA Challenges Joshi, Govt. For Open Debate On SSP Benefits & Rehabilitation

The recent announcement by Mr. Sharad Joshi of the Shetkari Sangathana ( Peasants' Movement) in Maharashtra defending the controversial Sardar Sarovar Project (SSP) in the Narmada valley is based on wrong information and half truths and is against the interests of the peasants. This is an attempt to divide and humiliate the displaced adivasis and farmers at the behest of the Gujarat government. We call upon such advocates of the dam and the Gujarat government for an open public debate about the cost and benefits and the 'public purpose' of the project. We also challenge both of them to prove the baseless charges they have been making against the Andolan.

Mr. Joshi has been misled to believe that the SSP is the panacea for the problems of thedrought affected regions of Gujarat. Instead of examining the tall claims regarding the benefits and resettlement by the bureaucrats and politicians in Gujarat, they are making debased allegations against the people's movements like the Narmada Bachao Andolan. Mr. Joshi himself has stooped low in his article in his mouthpiece 'Shetkari Sangathak' ( Oct.6. 1999), alleging that the NBA has been giving Rs. 500,000 per oustee for refusing resettlement and for remaining with Andolan. He has also alleged that the NBA has been encouraging the cutting of the teak forests by the oustees. Another invention is that the NBA has been 'cutting the limbs' of the officials in the villages. And there is always the pet allegation of 'foreign funds'. All these are grave and defamatory charges, and we challenge Mr. Joshi to prove them in public. It is a pity that he has to stoop so low against a movement of farmers and adivasis at the behest of the bureaucrats and politicians of Gujarat. It is an affront to all the people's movement throughout India, particularly those of marginalised farmers, landless and depressed classes and also to the individuals advocating equality, democracy and sustainable development.

Mr. Joshi has been advocating the controversial dam as a panacea for the drought-affected regions of Gujarat, ie. Kutch and Saurashtra . We once again point out that though the water scarcity in these regions is a reality, the SSP is not an answer to the problems. Even if the dam were to be built, the problems of these regions will remain as they have been all these years. As per government estimates, the SSP canals may reach the 1.8 per cent of the total cultivable land of Kutch and 9.24 per cent area in Saurashtra only after 2020-2025 A.D. Even this miniscule amount of water will not reach these areas as the water would be claimed by upcoming sugarcane cultivations for proposed sugar factories and by the industries and metropolitan cities in the earlier reaches of the canal. There are other factors like the decrease in the water availability from 28 MAF to 22 MAF , the non-existent Narmada Sagar. siltation etc. It would have been better for Joshi and others to go beyond the publicity material dished out by the bureaucrats and vested interests.

Incidentally, the 'Kutch Jal Sankat Nivaran Samiti' has filed a petition in the Gujarat High Court blaming the project in its present form as unjust for the people of Kutch. The farmers' organisations from Saurashtra have been exploring the more sustainable and decentralised means of the water harvesting which seems to be the lasting solution for the water problem of this area. In fact, the present Narmada Minister of Gujarat, Mr. J.N. Vyas too had asked for decentralised water management of the available rainwater as the sure solution, in his speeches in the Gujarat Assembly in not too distant past, when he was an opposition member.

Regarding the displacement and resettlement too, we are surprised how Mr Joshi and others could be taken for a ride by the Gujarat officials by selective visits of some 'model' resettlement sites. How come the critics of the bureaucracy and the state could unquestionably believe the claims of the government? A few hundred families from Gujarat villages have abandoned the resettlement sites due to the abysmal living conditions and no means of livelihood. The adivasis, who are also farmers, have been left without land, or were given uncultivable, waterlogged or less and fragmented lands, without the basic amenities of water, fodder etc. And what about the oustees of colony, canals, sanctuary, catchment areas, affiliated projects, secondary displacement who have not been considered as Project Afected persons till date and the downstream impacts?

At the same time, any organisation acting in the name of the farmers must take up the issue of displaced farmers and its effect on farming. In the Narmada valley, apart from the self sustained farming of the adivasis in the Satpuda-Vindhya ranges, the farmers in the fertile Nimad region would be severely affected by the displacement due to the project. The adivasi and non-adivasi farmers in the entire Nimad and other areas in Narmada valley are furious with the stand of Mr. Joshi and his cohorts and they consider it as a ploy to divide the farmers. Mr. Joshi and his colleagues are not only humiliating the Narmada farmers, but millions of peasants, marginal farmers and landless labourers who have been made destitute in the name of development.

We reassert that the displacement is a basic issue that the farmers' organisations must take up. The farmers and farming community have been facing the threat of displacement and destitution from vested interests, national and international capitalist powers with the collusion of the state power. What Mr. Joshi, in the name of the Peasants Organisations is doing is to strengthen the hands of these capitalist forces, now encouraged by the globalisation, liberalisation etc. of which Joshi seems to be an overenthusiastic supporter.

Another Kar Seva

As far as the, plan to have 'kar seva' at the proposed rally near the dam site, we have nothing to say. Only that if the water can be brought into the canals of SSP even from the height of 88 meters, the kar sevaks and their leaders must see that the water goes first and foremost to the drought affected region of Kutch, for which they seem to be worried and not to the sugarcane growing areas, which forms the class base of Joshi and their colleagues. In recent histoy, unfortunately though, Kar Seva has become an infamous word in the Indian polity. The proposed Kar Seva of these elements on 4th December this year, is an unmistakably close analogy to the ghastly demolition of Babri Masjid on 6th December, 1992. It is the same contempt for the rights of the depressed classes with the same majoritarian arrogance. The entire nation must keep watch on this another Kar Seva in the name of the peasants, against the farmers, adivasis and marginalised people.

Medha Patkar