NBA Press Note

October 25, 2000

Save The Narmada, Save Humanity!

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Medha Patkar and others begin fast;
Appeal to Civil Society to Stand by Justice

As a symbolic gesture of protest in the denial of justice, the beginning of a new phase of the struggle Medha Patkar and 7 others have started a 5-day fast today in Bhopal which is also as an appeal to the civil society to stand by justice and deny injustice. Medha Patkar will also be observing maun (silence) through out the day, with a two hour period in the evening for talking.

Young activist Mamata Rajesigh (Vill. Ekalwara), Manorama Patel (vill. Balgao), Gita bahen and Mahadev Patidar (vill. Badada), Kamala Patidar (Vill. Pathrad, Mahesshwar dam affected), Leela bahen (Vill. Nisarpur) and Mohan Kumar (supporter of the Andolan from Kerala) are others who are on the 5 day fast.

Addressing the few hundred representatives from Nimad and tribal areas affected by Sardar Sarovar Project, representatives of Maheshwar and Bargi affected people along with supporters from different parts of the country, Kamla Patidar said that the recent judgement of the Supreme Court, allowing to raise the dam is not acceptable to the people of the Narmada Valley and numerous people who are affected by the cascade of dams here. All of them will join hands to oppose injustice and will fight to save the valley from devastation=94. Raniya bhai, a senior representative from Mukhadi (Maharashtra) said =93We, the tribals will not succumb to the designs of the state. We have faced many betrayals in the past. Even at this present juncture we will gather more strength and fight on...

A statement was released by the people observing fast which is attached below. More and more organizations from Madhya Pradesh and other parts of the country will join the struggle and have sent solidarity messages.

Statement by people on fast

Narmada ghati kare saval, jeene ka haq ya maut ka jaal? (The Narmada Valley asks; right to life or trap of death?) was the slogan that rose in 1990, but it has acquired a deeper meaning for the struggle today. The future of adivasi, farmers, fish-workers and farm labourers living on the banks of the Narmada river for generations, will now be decided. Despite the "final" decision of the highest court over the land, the right to life is with the people.

During the first 10 years of struggle, people had to go to different courts at several times. But it was in 1994, people decided to go to the judiciary demanding a comprehensive review of Sardar Sarovar Project - to expose the horrifying human and environmental impacts, blatant violation of fundamental rights granted by the Constitution and the process of "developmental planning" which excludes people at every stage of planning and implementation. But instead what we got through the Court is complete neglect of complex reality, non-recognition of the rights and illogical, self-contradictory judgment that hail large dams without sound reasoning! We cannot accept this.

We, who respect justice, judicial system, and who want to strengthen the judiciary, consider this verdict as a big setback. Natural resource based communities have always been at the receiving end for the prevalent model of development. The capitalist forces are making all attempts to crush people=92s movements, who aspire for bringing true democracy, through the participation and power of farmers, labourers, adivasis and others, belonging to the oppressed and down trodden classes. This court verdict has only enhanced promotion of flawed water policy of large dams that proceeds at the cost of destroying people and the nature. Nor did they ensure safe drinking water to the millions in the last 50 years.

Allowing the height of Sardar Sarovar Project to be raised from 88mts to 90 mts. is complete violation of the Narmada Tribunal Award. State governments which have been able to relocate just 20 to 25 % affected people in 20 years (1979-2000) are themselves saying that they do not even have enough land to rehabilitate people affected at the present height of the dam.

The Govt. of Madhya Pradesh which has maximum number of affected people, did not stand firm on demanding a complete review of the project. Instead, it took a compromising stance of reducing the height of the dam to 436 ft. and preparing itself towards offering cash compensation (instead of land for land) and hence failed to protect farmers and adivasis' interests.

Then how come this judgment? Who will take the responsibility of destroying cultural and biological diversity nurtured in the tribal villages, their community life, the most fertile lands in western Nimad, the human tragedy that will caused by destroying these thriving villages.....? What about the catastrophic ecological impacts in the upstream and the downstream of the river valley and the command area of the dam? What about the injustice on drought affected regions of Kutchch and Surashtra which is at the tail end of canal system and which will remain high and dry..... ? They have been cheated by false promises while allotting meager share of SSP waters. Who will encourage small, decentralised real solutions to drought in Kutchch?

It is only due to the 15 year long people's struggle that the court could not allow construction beyond 90 mts. all that easily. They have underlined and restated Tribunal's conditions and the preconditions for mitigating the social and environmental impacts. But by delivering this verdict, the Court has entrusted the responsibility of monitoring rehabilitation and environment on the government agencies themselves (whose failure to comply those have led people to Court) and thus clearing the path of raising the dam height to 139 mts., which is injustice. For people to suffer this in the name of development, for the sake of glitter in cities, is not acceptable. People are bound, not by law but by life. And hence people cannot think of any other option but to fight till their last breath, and that is what we have decided.

This year during five days of Diwali, we are observing fast against the conspiracy to force people in the Narmada valley into darkness. This fast is not just against violation of peoples' right to life, but also an appeal to the civil society, to save the Narmada Valley and be with us in this time of battle for life. The President of the country and the Governor of this state, entrusted with special responsibility for tribal areas, can still intervene to protect the tribal area, which is first to be threatened by submergence. If people stick to their determination, voice of the downtrodden, who are crushed in the name of development and globalisation, is sure to rise, upholding their right to life and replace inequity inherent in consumerism by equity. By observing silence (maun) during these five day long fast, we have taken the challenge of a just and sustainable development, not just in the Sardar Sarovar region or in the Narmada valley, but all big dams in the country. We are preparing ourselves to save the valley from the death trap by rising to the ultimate moral plane of our non-violent struggle.

Medha Patkar
Geeta bahen, (Vill. Badada, Tal. Thhikri)
Mahadev Patidar, (Vill. Badada, Tal. Thhikri)
Manorama Patel, (Vill. Balgao Tah Kasaravat)
Mamata Raje Singh, (Vill. Ekalvara, Tah. Manavar)
Leela Behen, (Vill. Nisarpur, Tal. Kukshi)
Kamala Patidar, (Vill. Pathrad, Maheshwar dam affected)
Mohan Kumar, (Kerala)