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Press Release                                                 October 10, 1999

Letter From Medha Patkar to the Prime Minister of India, Mr. A.B.Vajpayee

Please find the English version of the letter written by Medha Patkar of Narmada Bachao Andolan to the Prime Minister of India, Mr. A.B. Vajpayee. This was written in response to a letter written by the P.M. which was delivered on September 24, by a special officer at the Prime Minister's Office, while Medha and 386 satyagrahis in Narmada valley were being held in Dhule jail. The original letter by Medha Patkar is in Hindi. The Prime Ministers' letter dated September 22, 1999 can be found here.

Dhule District Jail

September 28, 1999

Hon'ble Mr. Atal Behari Vajpayee,
Prime Minister, Government of India

Hon'ble Mr. Vajpayeeji,

We received your letter making an appeal regarding the announcement of 'Jal Samarpan' by the Narmada Bachao Andolan at this juncture, the fourteenth year of its struggle. On behalf of the NBA and myself, I thank you for that. You have expressed special concern regarding the destitution and destruction of the life of the people displaced and affected by the development projects, about the concept of the just resettlement which has not been realised yet and its implementation. Your suggestion that the issue of Narmada Project is highly complex and is not amenable to a facile solution is also true. In this context, while assuring us about the better rehabilitation of the affected persons you have expressed concern about the life of myself and my colleagues.

We have received your letter through a conscientious official with your office, Ms. Aditi Mehta in Dhule jail. We have been kept in Dhule jail by the Maharashtra police after arresting us under flimsy charges when we were on dharna in Dhadgaon. We were taken into custody thrice, while facing the submergence waters as a sequel to the four month old Satyagraha. In the tehsil headquarters, Dhadgaon, we were demanding that the Government of Maharashtra should send the Chief Secretary or some responsible and knowledgeable official to talk with the people on the basic issues. The state government has not kept its word regarding the reassessment of the project and the rehabilitation plan, despite discussions with the Chief Minister in May and July 1998, which occured on our initiative.

The life of the peasants and adivasis in the Narmada valley is threatened with destruction in a very real sense. The people displaced by the half complete projects like Tawa and Bargi, in the Narmada valley, have already become destitute. Now, about 4,00,000 people affected by the Sardar Sarovar dam and its reservoir, those affected by canals, dykes, colony, afforestation, sanctuary for the project are to be displaced without any master plan of rehabilitation along with land and other resources. Those who have been displaced hitherto could not get justice till date, despite a somewhat better policy and provisions in the SSP. This is due to a combination of the lack of cultivable land, political will and administrative capacities. There is also large scale discontent in the resettlement sites in Gujarat and Maharashtra. In such a situation, is it justifiable to submerge thousands of people who have not moved out from the villages in the Sardar Sarovar area?

Along with the tragedy of the displaced, there are other equally pertinent issues. Is it just to impose any river valley project on the people without their consent, without their say in the river water disputes, without giving them the information regarding the cost-benefit of the project, disregarding their relationship with the river, their culture and nature? We cannot be just mute witnesses to the definite destruction of adivasis and peasants, village communities, of the land, forest and water bodies due to the SSP and the subsequent large dams like Narmada Sagar and other similar projects. We have and will challenge this destructive planning. During the last fourteen years, our non-violent struggle has proceeded ahead, proving every point that we have raised at every step and has therefore reached at the crucial juncture of 'Jal Samarpan'. We hope that you would understand this with the same sensitivity which was reflected in your poem on Hiroshima and other tragedies.

The assessment of large dams like the Sardar Sarovar cannot be made on the basis of the displacement-rehabilitation issue alone; other equally important aspects like the displacement and destruction, cost-benefit analysis and a realistic analysis of benefits are some of the necessary parameters. It would be irrelevant to discuss merely the rehabilitation aspect while disregarding the strong challenge from our organisation to the claims regarding the benefits from the dam. The dam will not solve the serious problem of water and drought of Kutch-Saurashtra regions while the distribution of the benefits too is not equitable and just. Knowing this, it becomes important to ask as to why the adivasis, peasants, and labourers should sacrifice their life and resources. Instead of spending most of the irrigation allocations of Gujarat on this single project, we appeal to concentrate all the attention, resources and power for true, sustainable, decentralised alternatives without the problem of displacement.

As a powerful people's movement, we have adopted the path of non-violent resistance in face of fraudulent and repressive means of the governments and vested interests, while keeping our faith in the democratic processes. We have also been facing the consequences of the false statements made by the state governments in the Supreme Court. The pertinent question is, on which forum, at which level would there be a review of what is the truth or what is false? When will there be a comprehensive review of the Sardar Sarovar Project on the basis of the true paradigm of development, on the basis of sustainability and justice? There is a way out as of now, as the Madhya Pradesh government has been demanding a full review of the dam with a new tribunal. The reassessment of the twenty year old calculations and conclusions regarding the cost-benefits can be undertaken, with the public hearing of the affected people leading to a thorough, comprehensive review of the dam. There is a difference between the Cauvery-like disputes, which have been raging among the concerned state governments and the Narmada issue. Here, it is the people versus the rulers. In such a dispute, the appropriate intervention on your part would be for the review of the claims of the cost, benefit of the project in particular and of the water policy in general, raising the basic issues and questions.

I believe that you long for a solution on the Narmada debate in view of the equitable way of the use of the natural and human resources of this country. The Narmada Bachao Andolan has been raising the basic issues regarding the paradigm of development, process of the planning and has suggested some solutions as its responsibility in consonance with other movements from all over India. We think that you can treat the Narmada debate as an opportunity for the Government of India under your leadership. It will be important for us, if such an opportunity is taken by the Government, understanding the people of the Narmada valley, their organisation, their rights and the paradigm of development evolved out of the struggle - of which the needs of Gujarat too form a part. We would put forward our views regarding the review of the SSP without allowing the work on the dam beyond the present height of 88 mts., how to utilise the pondage along with the our approach and programmes of alternatives etc. Only this would save the life, not only of me and my colleagues, but of the entire Narmada valley.

Yours Truly,

(Medha Patkar)