The current drama being enacted by the so-called Narmada Bachao Andolan is clearly a move to deny the people of Gujarat and Rajasthan sufficient drinking water, irrigation water and hydro-electricity during the coming summer months by forcing the Union Government to retract its order of March 8 to raise the height of the Sardar Sarovar Dam from the current 110,94 to 121.92 metres. Lest one forgets the legal position while expressing sympathy with this lady, it has to be emphasized that the order was issued by the Secretary of the Ministry of Water Resources after he was satisfied that the various agencies had acted strictly in accordance with the Supreme Court directive.
That is why neither the Prime Minister nor the Defence Minister, nor the Minister of Water Resources, Social Justice as also the Minister in the Prime Minister'sOffice could issue a directive to the Sardar Sarovar Narmada Nigam Ltd.(SSNNL) to stop work on the dam. A via media has been devised to send the three ministers to Madhya Pradesh in order to verify if the project affected people displaced after the height reached the 110.94 metres have been rehabilitated.
However, the fact is that these verifications have already taken place because otherwise the Narmada Control Authority could not issue the go-ahead signal to the Nigam to start work for the next stage. It is for the Government of India to decide whether it would deprive the millions of people of Gujarat and Rajasthan their legitimate dues for water and electricity in order to uphold the ?dignity? of an individual who derives worldwide publicity by undertaking these stunts.
One recalls her resolve to perform Jal Samadhi in case construction work on the dam was not stopped. Her forays into the Narmada Valley in Madhya Pradesh area in 1990 or for taking satyagrahis to the Gujarat side near the Dam site was foiled by the combined action of all shades of public opinion in Guajarat. Smt Urmilaben Patel, widow of former Congress Chief Minister Chimanbhai Patel, had led a team of women volunteers to prevent the followers of Patkar to enter Gujarat territory.
This lady has travelled all the way to Washington in order to plead before the World Bank to stop extending financial assistance to the Gujarat Government for constructing this dam. The World Bank, which at that period of time, was having a re-thinking on financing large dams anywhere, had sent a three-member team consisting of only Canadians and Americans for looking at the project. The three-member team was called the Independent Review Mission, which dutifully asked the World Bank to ?step aside? from the project.
Former Prime Minister P.V. Narasimha Rao and Water Resources Minister Vidyacharan Shukla had taken up this challenge (The World Bank had pledged $450 million only for the Project and the bulk of it was already utilized) and promised to fund the project from the Centre. Work continued unabated.
Then another devise was invented. The World Bank and the International Union for Conservation of Nature and Natural Resources (IUCN),the latter perceived as a world-wide anti-dam lobby, constituted a World Commission on Dams (WCD) for reviewing all the dams under construction almost everywhere in the world.
The Chairman of the WCD was the Minister of Water Resources of the Republic of South Africa and its Vice Chairman, Shri L. C. Jain, the then High Commissioner of India to South Africa. Shri Jain has always opposed the construction of the Narmada Dam. As if this choice was not enough, the World Bank and the IUCN nominated Medha Patkar as a ?Commissioner? of the WCD. Thus, both the Indian representatives belonged to the anti-dam lobby and so the WCD had lost all credibility even at the formative stage. When the ?Commissioners? proposed to visit India and the Narmada Valley in Madhya Pradesh and Gujarat, former Chief Minister of Gujrat Shri Keshubhai Patel had warned the WCD team that they would be arrested if they set foot on Gujarat soil. They wisely refrained from visiting Gujarat. Later, the WCD team did visit India, in a hush hush manner. Although Nelson Mandela had released the report of the WCD in London, it fell far short of the expectations of Shri Jain and Medha Patkar. Narmada Dam construction continued.
When the Supreme Court for the first time had permitted the SSNNL to raise the height of the dam from 85 to 90 metres, Patkar and Arundhati Roy had appealed to the Supreme Court to stop the construction. The language they had used had made the Court almost sentence Patkar to jail term for committing contempt of court. It, however did sentence Arundhati Roy to imprisonment. This lady spent one night in the Tihar jail and the next morning paid the fine of Rs.10,000 and got herself free. In the meantime, walls around the Supreme Court building became full of graffiti condemning the Supreme Court.
This is the record of these people and if the Government of India orders the SSNNL to stop work, it would tantamount to committing an unfriendly act towards Gujarat and Rajasthan, who would certainly not keep quiet.