Narmada Samachar: 1 August 2001

Headlines


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Satyagraha 2001

Press Releases

August 1: "AFRICA DAY OF THE NARMADA" - Solidarity with Narmada Satyagraha ;
NBA Press Release - July 30, 2001

Jst.Krishna Iyer For Stalling SSP Work Till Full Rehabilitation ;
NBA Press Release - July 24, 2001

Maharashtra Satyagrahis Confront Collector On Displacement;
M.P. Police intimidate villagers opposing cash compensation
;
NBA Press Release - July 22, 2001

Satyagrahis prepared to face submergence;
Water level stabilises at two feet below Satyagraha house;
Organizations Demand Implementation of Daud Committee Recommendations
;
NBA Press Release - July 20, 2001

Press Clippings

Damming evidence: Sardar Sarovar committee vindicates the NBA ;
Tehelka.com - July 19, 2001

With the committee presenting its findings, the displaced peoples
organisations stand vindicated - the report shows that even at the
dam's present height, the government has been unable to rehabilitate
oustees, evidence that the Supreme Court might have been misled in its
dam height increase judgment, reports Shamya Dasgupta


Other news related to Narmada dams

Bhel bags Rs 525-cr order for S Kumars' project ;
Economic Times - July 25

STATE-OWNED Bharat Heavy Electricals has bagged a Rs 525 crore
order for supply of equipment to the Rs 2,254 crore Maheshwar Hydel
Power Project, promoted by S Kumars'. 

The order to be completed in a tight schedule of 31 months, envisages
supply of turbine, generator and transformer equipment to the 400 mw
hydroelectric in Khargone district of Madhya Pradesh, company sources
said. 
....
The Sand Between Two Dams ;
Dilip D'Souza; Rediff on the Net - July 26

....

When Bargi was completed, the pattern of flow of water in the Narmada
changed completely. Upstream from it, of course, the water ballooned out
into that lake. But downstream, the flow was changed by the way water was
released through the dam. How exactly that happened is not really relevant
in Pathrad. But the fact that it did is. Because the changed flow of water
meant that the river-bed fruit and vegetable fields belonging to the
Kahars became useless. All of a sudden in the early 1990s, they found that
raising tasty watermelons was no longer a viable way to live.

Thus the turning point in these Kahar lives at about that time. In
Pathrad, they were forced to give up cultivating fruit and start lifting
sand out of the river. Today, that's what they do: so much so that the
Kahars are now generally known as the retiwale. Sand quarriers.

.....

The Maheshwar dam is not nearly as big and imposing as Bargi. For various
reasons, there has been fierce opposition to it in the 61 villages it
threatens to submerge -- Pathrad among them -- and that may explain the
desultory fashion in which construction on it is proceeding today. Still,
the Madhya Pradesh government claims it will complete the dam. If that
happens, its reservoir will indeed drown Pathrad.

Which means Parvat Varma will no longer be able to do his sand-quarrying.
Not just because he will be driven from his home, but because at the place
in the river where they dredge up their sand, the reservoir will be too
deep for him and his friends to dive in as they do now. Their own kheti,
in a sort of ultimate irony, will rise up to devour them.

Simple, don't you think? One dam drove the Kahars out of the fruit
business. So they began quarrying sand. A decade later, another dam
threatens to drive them out of sand quarrying.

"What does this mean?" I asked Parvat and several others on that shore
near Pathrad. "What will you do for a living if the Maheshwar dam gets
built?"

Amused, if resigned, shrugs greeted this second silly question. "What will
we do? Nothing," they said. Older and wiser, Ghisalal had a sharper vision
of the future. "We'll turn into beggars," he told me, "and stick our hands
out in some big city."

Which, I suppose, is what happens when you are squeezed between two dams
on the Narmada.


Orissa Floods

50 lakh people affected in Orissa floods ;
The Hindu - July 20

BHUBANESWAR, JULY 19. Orissa was on the verge of another spell of
devastating floods with more water being released from the Hirakud
reservoir on the Mahanadi, and heavy rains lashing the catchment
areas of the river on Thursday. 
....
The Price of Development ;
Rohan D'Souza; The Telegraph - July 25

When laying the foundation stone of the Hirakud dam in 1946, the
then governor of the province, Sir Hawthorne Lewis, evinced with
great flourish the hope that through the dam ?flood, drought and
famine will be banished? in the province. It was possibly a similar
mix of hubris in technological fixes and sheer ignorance that
inspired Prime Minister Jawaharlal Nehru to lay a second foundation
stone for the same dam in 1948. The Hirakud dam, in fact, was one
of independent India?s first multipurpose river valley schemes
with flood control as its primary objective, and which in the
initial period of its construction was touted as a "permanent
solution" towards preventing floods. 

Almost five decades down the line, the official rhetoric of
controlling the Mahanadi has been rather unceremoniously abandoned
and supplanted instead with a paradoxically sober concern for saving the
dam itself from the roaring waters of the Mahanadi river. On July 17,
51 of the dam's 64 gates were opened, sending nearly 7.85 lakh cusecs
of water streaming into the delta because, in the words of D.P. Bagchi,
the chief secretary of Orissa, "the dam's safety was of prime
importance". In effect, the Hirakud dam, instead of holding back
flood waters, is now copiously inundating the delta.
....
In Orissa, the prescient flood committee of 1928 noted early on that
floods were inevitable in a deltaic country and it was "useless"
to attempt to thwart the "workings of nature" through flood control
measures. The 1928, the committee further argued that in Orissa the
problem was not how to prevent floods but how to pass them as quickly
as possible to the sea and therefore, the solution lay in "removing
all obstacles" from the path of the flood waters. The report of the
1928 committee, however, was buried by the politics of the period,
which then instead facilitated the construction of the Hirakud dam. 


Other News

Kings turn paupers -- Tribals have only tales of exploitation to narrate ;
Sreelatha Menon; Editorial; Indian Express - July 20

Dam buster ;
The Guardian, UK - July 28

Civil disobedience in Umbergaon ;
Rajni Bakshi; The Hindu - July 22



Feature Article: Against a people's movement - Ashish Kothari

Frontline - Volume 18, Issue 15, July 21 - Aug 3, 2001

In an act that would be laughable if it was not so full of tragic
implications for freedom and democracy, several prominent politicians of
Gujarat and Madhya Pradesh have call for a ban on the Narmada Bachao
Andolan (NBA). There is a new penchant for self-styled champions of public
order and morality to demand "bans"... ban this film or that play, ban
unions, ban this organisation or that. And now this brigade has targeted
what is arguably one of independent India's most refreshing and inspiring
people's movements, one that has not only acquired a mass base in the
Narmada Valley but touched a chord across the world. Ironically, this
demand has come at the behest of an organisation that claims to be
fighting for human rights, the National Council for Civil Liberties
(NCCL).

Former Chief Ministers of Gujarat Amarsinh Choudhary, Shankarsinh Vaghela,
Dilip Parikh, Chhabildas Mehta and Suresh Mehta, as also Deputy Chief
Minister of Madhya Pradesh Jamuna Devi and MPCC president Radhakishan
Malviya, a confidant of Chief Minister Digvijay Singh, were among those
who signed the memorandum submitted by the Ahmedabad-based NCCL to Union
Home Minister L.K. Advani.

The memorandum demanded that the NBA be banned under the Unlawful
Activities (Prevention) Act, 1957, and was reportedly submitted with
details of NBA's alleged subversive activities: foreign funding, passing
on confidential reports related to important projects of the country to
foreign agencies, human rights violations in the Narmada Valley, evasion
of income tax, and letting loose a reign of violence against the
project-affected persons and even government officials engaged in survey
and rehabilitation work in the valley. NCCL president V.K. Saxena was also
quoted as threatening to move the High Court if the Central government
delayed imposing the ban on the NBA.

The demand, of course, is patently ridiculous. The NBA has been fighting
for the rights of lakhs of people who are to be unceremoniously displaced
and dispossessed of their lands and resources, by a project whose
viability and desirability are under a cloud. Regardless of one's position
on the Sardar Sarovar Project (SSP), anyone who agrees with human rights
principles would accept that people have a right to protest against what
they consider to be unjust deprivation. A demand to ban such assertion,
that too from a civil liberties organisation, is absurd and untenable.

It is not only absurd, it is dangerous. For implicit in this demand is the
standpoint that civil dissent against the decisions of the state is
inherently "anti-national" (as per the letter and spirit of the Unlawful
Activities Act). There is an unwritten assumption that the state can do no
wrong, and that anything it does must be in the "national" interest. Such
faith in the Indian state is indeed touching. If the interests of those
behind such demands were not clear, one would even be driven to tears by
such blind faith.

The Sardar Sarovar Project is not about providing water to the thirsty
lakhs in Kutch and Saurashtra, as its proponents have been arguing for
decades. It is not about providing a life-line to the drought-hit regions
of Gujarat. It is more about facilitating the unending thirst for water
and electricity of the big farmers, the industries, and the cities of
central Gujarat, more about satiating the greed of contractors and
politicians and "experts" who are ready to sell their souls to the nearest
bidder, and more about repeating a failed model of 'development'.

Time and again, dispassionate and truly expert assessment of the project
plans and other available data has shown that the water from the project
will hardly ever reach the drought-hit areas of Kutch and Saurashtra. Well
before that, it would have been guzzled up by the already prosperous and
greedy to become even more prosperous elites of central Gujarat. What is
still more disheartening is the fact that the self-styled saviours of the
drought-hit populations of Gujarat are not even willing to listen to
simple and much cheaper alternatives that experts and activists have been
advocating. Decentralised water harvesting is the key to eradicate drought
and water shortages in Kutch and Saurashtra. Such schemes, when
implemented by villagers themselves, have proven to be extremely effective
drought-proofing strategies, as shown in a number of villages of the
region. But the proponents of the Sardar Sarovar Project are not
interested. Some of them are blinded by the 50-year old myth that only a
Narmada dam can bring succour to the thirsty regions. Other people are
interested in the power politics that can be indulged in with a big
project, which are simply not to be availed of in decentralised
development strategies.

The demand for the ban is also dangerous because of its implications for
democracy and freedom. The freedom to express oneself, and resort to
constitutionally valid means of dissent, are inherent in the democracy
that India prides itself for. The NBA has distinguished itself in being,
for 16 long years, a consistently non-violent movement. There have been
stray incidents of violence, usually under severe provocation, but the
leaders of the movement have disassociated themselves from these acts of
violence and explicitly advocated only non-violent means to all those who
participate in the movement. If indeed violence and subversion of national
interests were the NBA's motives, India would have witnessed the kind of
bloodshed that Punjab had at one point, and Kashmir and some northeastern
States today do. Blood has in fact been shed in the Narmada Valley, but it
has almost always been that of the victims of the SSP, who have been
beaten, shot, tortured, and imprisoned by state forces. Where was the NCCL
when an Adivasi woman in Taloda (Maharashtra) was shot dead by the police
in a move to evict her community from lands to be given to the SSP
oustees? Or where was it when 15-year old Rahmal Punya Vasave of Surung
village was killed, in police action, at Akrani, during a peaceful protest
against displacement? Or when Adivasi girls were raped by the police,
peaceful protestors fired upon, and so on?

Indeed, it is ironical that at a time when the NCCL is calling for this
ban, several thousand people in the Narmada valley are faced with the
prospect of being drowned, if they stay on in their current settlements,
as a result of the unjustified increase in dam height in recent months.
They are on satyagraha, pointing out that such submergence was happening
without proper rehabilitation being made possible, and without any valid
justification for the project. This, if anything, is a gross violation of
human rights; but does the NCCL recognise it as such?

The NCCL's allegation that the NBA has passed on "confidential" reports to
foreign agencies exposes the real nature of this group. Any civil
liberties group worth its name would argue that documents pertaining to
development are not "confidential", that, in fact, the public has a right
of access to all such documents. The NBA and dozens of other people's
movements have always demanded such a right to information. What is so
confidential about SSP documents? What confidential documents have been
passed on, and to whom, in a way that threatens national security? If
anything, it is the SSP authorities, and the State and Central governments
responsible for SSP and other such projects, that are always ready to part
with internal documents of the state to agencies such as the World Bank,
the International Monetary Fund, external donor agencies, and
multinational corporations, hoping that these institutions would support
the projects. It is the state that goes with a begging bowl to foreign
agencies, and which is willing to bend civil rights and environmental laws
to suit the interests of foreign capital. And it is this state that has
consistently denied the right to information, including to those whose
lives are going to be so massively disrupted by the dam. This indeed is
criminal behaviour, but it does not catch the NCCL's eye. Indeed, the
NCCL's missile is hopelessly misguided.

THEN there is the charge of violating financial and income regulations.
The NBA has laid its accounts open to external scrutiny, but has also
demanded that the SSP authorities and the Gujarat government do the same.
This reciprocal challenge has not been accepted by the dam builders. So
who is really behaving suspiciously? How much of the money meant for the
development of Gujarat actually goes to the people who need it? These are
the questions that the NCCL, if it is truly concerned about human rights,
financial irregularities, and "anti-national" activities, should ask.

What is ironic about the latest demand for a "ban" is that it has been
supported by former Chief Ministers of Gujarat who have for decades been
unable to provide relief to the drought-hit regions of the State, unable
(unwilling?) to curb the truly anti-national communal forces that
terrorise the minorities, and who have been incapable of reining in the
incredibly destructive industrial forces that have rendered fresh water
and air amongst the rarest commodities of Gujarat.

That drinking and irrigation could have been made available within one
decade, to both Kutch and Saurashtra, through decentralised means, is now
established by the successful experiments that innovative panchayats and
non-governmental organisations (NGOs) have carried out. That alternative,
decentralised, peaceful means of development of agriculture, industries,
and energy, is possible and feasible has also been demonstrated by village
communities and NGOs time and again. Several sensitive government officers
too have shown that this is possible. It does not require grandiose and
unviable projects such as the SSP to bring the people of Kutch and
Saurashtra out of their misery. It requires innovative, participatory
development processes. It does not require huge amounts of foreign funds,
tying the country into ever-tighter knots of debt. To bring about true
development it only requires small amounts, provided the people are truly
involved in decentralised planning and implementation. Look at the change
that villagers and one NGO, Tarun Bharat Sangh, have brought about in 600
villages of arid Rajasthan through a network of small johads (check dams).
That is the kind of development that the NBA advocates.

The NCCL's demand must also be seen in the context of the increasing
attacks on legitimate people's movements across the country. It is perhaps
not a coincidence that these have significantly increased since the early
1990s, when the government embarked on the path to 'globalisation'. Such a
path requires easy access to natural resources and cheap labour for the
global forces of industry and capital. The price is paid by those people
who are mostly dependent on such resources, and those who live closest to
the land. The firing on Adivasis at Kashipur (Orissa), who were trying to
protect their lands and forests against multinational mining interests
supported by the state (Frontline, January 19, 2001); the killing of Col.
Pratap Save who was leading local people against an unjustified port at
Umbergaon (Gujarat) (Frontline, July 7, 2000); the shooting of several
activists who resisted displacement by the proposed Koel Karo Dam in
Jharkhand (Frontline, March 16, 2001); the enactment of the Madhya Pradesh
Special Areas Security Act to ban all public protests and people's groups
that the state considers a threat; all point to a tendency for the state
to favour the elite industrial and urban sections that benefit from
globalisation, against those millions who lose their livelihoods from it.

Finally, the NCCL demand shows a certain desperation. It is an outcome of
the realisation that the NBA has people's power behind it. If not, why
would anyone bother to ask for a ban on an organisation that the State
governments, the Central government, and even the Supreme Court, have
turned a deaf ear to... and which has not turned to the gun to make itself
heard?

Ban the NBA. Ban the National Fishworkers Forum, comprising millions of
fisherfolk asking for a halt to the commercialisation and privatisation of
India's marine areas. Ban the National Alliance of People's Movements. Ban
these and all other such people's movements, the true voices of the people
at the grassroots. But if indeed the Indian government heeds voices like
the NCCL's, it does so at the peril of being called another colonial
state, over half a century after the sceptre of colonialism was supposedly
vanquished from the country. And at the inevitable peril of being
overthrown, as was the earlier colonial power. If on the other hand the
government has an iota of wisdom and prudence left, it will ask NCCL and
its supporters to go packing.

The NBA has filed a criminal suit against V.K. Saxena of the NCCL and
served a legal notice to Jamuna Devi. One hopes that the courts will have
the honesty and courage to prosecute these self-styled upholders of
morality and expose them.

Ashish Kothari is a founder-member of Kalpavriksh, and currently
coordinating the technical core group formulating India's National
Biodiversity Strategy and Action Plan.