Narmada Bachao Andolan leader Medha Patkar is in news again. And so are activist novelist Arundhati Roy, the CPI(M) and the National Federation of Indian Women. The line-up has a familiar pattern. They are always together in opposing India becoming a nuclear power or a global player, to support Iran'sright to nuclear bomb or oppose the US fight against terrorism, support Bangladeshi infiltrators or a soft border with Pakistan.
This time however the issue is more domestic and retrograde. They want to immediately stop the Narmada project. We all want full rehabilitation of displaced families. But that is not the issue here. The decision of the Narmada Control Authority on March 10 to raise the height of the dam near Navagam village in Gujarat from 110.64 metres to 121.92 metres is wrong, they say. Thousands of displaced families are yet to be rehabilitated and the latest decision will further displace thousands more. Hence the work be stopped immediately, they demand. They invoked the UPA'sCMP and asked the Prime Minister'sintervention to stop the work. For the activists there is no dearth of issues. Arundhati Roy says Narmada is the nerve centre of a new wave of displacements across the board. ?Wherever there is this huge corporate interest the first thing written into is displacement? Just in Delhi alone there is talk of displacing 30 lakh people for the Commonwealth Games,? she says. They are also opposed to entertainment complexes, swimming pools and water parks.
So the issue is larger than Narmada. Should we call off the government'splans to make India a major tourist destination? Should we also call off Commonwealth Games? Should we go back in time and settle for hermit'slife? The problem is their hypocrisy. The country has to balance between development and rehabilitation, human need and greed. The activists lack credibility because (see story on page 5) they don'tpractice what they preach. They live in posh colonies, lead a high-profile life and want to deny the fruits of development to the common man. They manage foreign funds, jaunts and high-sounding awards for themselves but the wretched of the earth they ensure should remain where they were, in the hunting fields of dacoits and Naxalites as cannon fodders for the revolutionary bandits of the 21st century.
The objection to the dam height is motivated by a number of factors. The beneficiary states, Gujarat, Rajasthan and Madhya Pradesh are being ruled by development friendly BJP Chief Ministers. The Communists who otherwise have no base in these states hope to get a toehold among the Andolan supporters. The Water Resources Minister Prof. Saifuddin Soz hopes to make some publicity mileage and is blissfully unaware of the people'ssentiment on the issue. Further, the Narmada Bachao Andolan hopes to browbeat the UPA'sdevelopment agenda drawing on the Communist clout in the government. But for these factors, the agitationists would not have taken their fight to the capital.
Prof. Soz had not contended with the strong sentiment every Gujarati irrespective of political affiliation has for the project, the lifeline of Gujarat. The Congress members from Gujarat confronted him criticising his pro-NBA attitude. His ministerial colleague Dinsha Patel, MoS in the Ministry of Petroleum and Natural Gas, asked the Minister to withdraw his unilateral directive issued to Madhya Pradesh government to refer every case of relief and rehabilitation to the gram panchayats. The project authorities contend that rehabilitation is complete and in full swing wherever there were displacements. Where do we draw the line?
The completion of the project only in Gujarat will benefit more than 8000 villages and 193 towns with uninterrupted drinking water supply and 18 lakh hectares of land will be brought under irrigation. The project if allowed to go on schedule will be complete within a year. In Rajasthan another 124 villages in Jalore and Barmer districts will get drinking water and irrigate 2.50 lakh hectares of farmland.
The Sarovar project for long has been a victim of vicious propaganda. It was the determination of the central and state governments that made the progress so far possible. As a symbol of development and in substance Narmada project has the support of the people of India. That the project was delayed so far leading to manifold escalation in cost goes to the credit of Medha Patkar and her Left cohorts. But the CPM, which is an ally of the UPA, should be aware of the near political consensus in the four states, which are to benefit from Narmada. And the organisations and leaders putting spoke in the wheel have no stake there. The 458-km-long Narmada main canal, which will carry water up to the desert state, is complete in all respects for the first 357 km and the remaining 101 km too is likely to be completed within a year. Gujarat Chief Minister Narendra Modi is keen to take the water by laying a pipeline from the last point on the incomplete canal dam to Jalore and Barmer. The anti-dam lobby'sprotest is understandable. But what is shocking is the cheap tricks of the Water Resources Minister and the Left parties playing the spoiler role.