NEWS RELEASE
31 October 2000

 

UK PROTESTORS DEMONSTRATE IN SOLIDIARITY WITH NARMADA BACHAO ANDOLAN

 
Around 150 protestors gathered today in Parliament Square, the day that construction was due to recommence after a 6 year stay on the controversial Sardar Sarovar dam on the Narmada River in India. The day began with a rally outside the House of Commons in protest at British involvement in the construction of the Ilisu dam in Turkey - the British government is currently considering whether to grant an export credit garauntee to British company Balfour Beatty who want to help build this dam. Afterwards protestors made their way to the Indian High Commission in central London to demonstrate their solidarity with the Narmada Bachoa Andolan who are struggling to uphold the constitutional rights of people in the Narmada valley after the Supreme Court of India's recent ruling chose to set aside these rights.
 
Outside the High Commission protestors wearing T-shirts with different letters on them spelt out the words "STOP THE DAM" in a human chain for all passers-by to read. Speakers then spoke of the illogical and absurd reasoning of the majority verdict of the Supreme Court decision, written by Justice Kirpal and signed by Chief Justice Anand. The verdict, said one speaker, clearly ignores all the issues and has almost totally ignored all the points raised by the Narmada Bachao Andolan and the evidence presented by it. What sort of justice is that it was asked? The only use of the majority verdict claimed the speaker was to demonstrate to the world just how urgent the need to give back power to people at the village level is and for those who have the power that judges of the Supreme Court do not to abuse their power by ignoring crucial evidence, misinterpretting the law, and allowing subjective opinons into their judgements.
 
Another speaker who had recently visited the valley spoke of the ground realities there. He told how as many as 400 000 people would be displaced by the project and how the tiny amount of land the governments had been able to present for resettlement was so barren and rocky as to be clearly uncultivable. He also spoke of the richness of tribal life in the valley and how the conception of many, including Justice Kirpal, that this is somehow a poor, undeveloped life presents a fallacious picture of their rich culture. The struggle in the valley has intensified stronger than ever before and, said the speaker, the people are determined to reverse this apalling judgement and uphold the constitution of India, both for the sake of the people of Narmada valley and for the people of Kutch and Saurastra, who are suffering the most as a result of drought caused by the commercial exploitation of their groundwater and unsolved because the irrigation budget of Gujarat is all being poured into SSP which is planned to bring water to about 5% of Kutch and Saurastra only by the year 2025! The solidarity protests from the US and the UK show the world that the Narmada Bachao Andolan is not alone in its struggle for justice.
 
The following statement was then read out and handed over to Mr. Singh, the representative of the High Commission who had come out to talk to the protestors outside:

STATEMENT FROM THOSE GATHERED OUTSIDE THE HIGH COMMISSION OF INDIA ON 31 OCTOBER 2000 IN SOLIDARITY WITH THE NARMADA BACHAO ANDOLAN IN THEIR STRUGGLE TO UPHOLD THE CONSTITUTION OF INDIA

Those who have today travelled from across the UK to register their bitter disappointment at the Supreme Court of India’s ruling that the Sardar Sarovar dam may be constructed to its full height on the Narmada River, wish to communicate the following to the President and Prime Minister of India via this High Commission. We would be grateful if you could fax copies of this memorandum to the President and Prime Minister.

The minority judgement of Justice Barucha indicates clearly that the judgement of Justice Kirpal and Chief Justice Anand fail to take account of the real issues behind the project and overlook even basic legal requirements that were not satisfied, such as the obtaining of environmental clearance from the Ministry of Environment. Construction on the project is due to recommence today, yet the following facts about the dam remain true, as they have always done.

The project will displace between 200 000 and 400 000 people from Maharastra and Madhya Pradesh, as it has already displaced 19 tribal villages in Gujarat. In Madhya Pradesh, where the majority of affected people live, there is no land for rehabilitation as the state government has itself admitted. Even if a few are resettles it is certain that the problems of social upheaval (in particular disruption of sustainable tribal lifestyles and traditions), split communities and uncultivable land which have been experienced in Gujarat (where many oustees have ended up as daily wage labourers earning around Rs 20 per day) will be repeated.

At least 14 000 Ha of forest land will be submerged by the reservoir, and a further 4000 Ha cleared for resettlement. Thousands more hectares will be cut down to make way for the canal, which will also displace a further 100 000 people who are not even recognised as 'project affected' and will not therefore qualify for resettlement land at all. The expansion and regulation of Shoolpaneswar Wildlife Sanctuary, a flawed attempt to make good this environmental disaster, is already affecting the livelihoods of 38 000 tribal villagers who live within the boundary of the sanctuary, by preventing grazing and use of forest resources.

All of this when it has become clear that the electricity generation and irrigation benefits of this project have been seriously overestimated. The much publicised irrigation programme will, according to the Government's own plans benefit only 9% of Saurastra and 1.6% of Kutch by the year 2025. Considering the demands of water by cities, sugar cane estates and planned tourist developments near the dam site, it seems highly unlikely that even this much will be achieved. Furthermore, instead of pouring 80% of its irrigation budget into Sardar Sarovar, the Government of Gujarat could be using this money to invest in local water harvesting initiatives which really could solve the drought problem (in the next couple of years, not in 2025!) across the whole of drought affected Kutch and Saurastra.

The project was never officially cleared by the Ministry of Environment, as according to Indian law it ought to have been. This fact was stressed in Justice Barucha’s judgement for the Supreme Court and alone provides grounds for an immediate cessation of construction. The interim clearance given in 1987 was conditional upon the completion of 8 studies, which were never done. Furthermore, the project and associated resettlement violate the Narmada Waters Disputes Tribunal Award itself, which lays down the conditions that must be met in order for Sardar Sarovar and the other dams planned for the Narmada River to be constructed in a lawful manner. It also violated international standards of justice, such as the International Labour Organisation's Convention 107, ratified by India in 1958, which sets out the rights of tribal peoples.

Citizens from around the world are aware of the atrocity that is taking place in the Narmada valley, and are in solidarity with the peaceful actions of the Narmada Bachao Andolan which is struggling to uphold the constitution of India. We urge you to use your position to ensure that justice is indeed done in the valley and that any further construction of Sardar Sarovar is prevented before it is too late for this historic injustice to be rectified.

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FOR MORE INFORMATION:

website: http://www.narmada.org/

UK organisers of rally: nobigdam@email.com  ; tel: UK 01865 271000 ext.21659

Narmada Bachao Andolan: medhapatkar@vsnl.com