Narmada Bachao Andolan (NBA) Supremo Medha Patkar has done it again. After putting impediments in the completion of the Narmada project under the garb of ensuring rehabilitation of displaced persons, she has now succeeding in her evil design to stall the work on the Maheshwar Hydroelectic Project on the untenable premise that the project authorities had failed to submit a rehabilitation plan for the displaced persons. Acting in indecent haste on a frivolous complaint from the ever-complaining NBA, the Union Environment Ministry ordered the stoppage of work on the project without asking for an explanation from the project authorities. Centre'saction has jeopardised the ill-fated 400 MW hydroelectric project and undermined MP Government'splan to achieve self-sufficiency in power by 2008.
The Environment Ministry'saction is flawed on several counts. First, it ignored the fact that relief and rehabilitation (R&R) of uprooted persons is in progress and there is hardly any lapse on that front. Secondly, it is wrong that no R&R plan was submitted to the Government. Project authorities maintain that a plan was submitted four years ago. They, however, admit that the data needed to be updated. Thirdly, the Ministry turned a blind eye to its own records that show that project was in a limbo for several years because of financial constraints and that its task force that found that plan for R&R was in deficit had visited the site way back in 2002. Obviously, no R&R work was in progress then because of the uncertainty about the project after a German company declined to release the promised loan. It was revived only last year as a joint project between the public sector Power Finance Corporation and a private firm – S Kumar. And finally, the Ministry didn'teven warn the project authorities before issuing the order. The first to receive it were not the project authorities but the notorious dam-buster Medha Patkar.
The Congress-led UPA Government'sarbitrary directive caused great consternation to the state administration and upset both the major political outfits – the BJP and the Congress. While the President of the state BJP, Dr Satyanarain Jatia, assailed the central intervention as an ?anti-people? move, a senior Congress leader Narmada Prasad Prajapati, who was Power Minister in the Digvijay Singh Government, castigated Patkar for conspiring to stall the project under the guise of championing the cause of the oppressed sections of the society. Although Congress leaders of MP are extremely upset over the stoppage of the work on the project, they understandably refrained from attacking their own government at the center and confined themselves to training their guns at the NBA and its leader. State Congress leaders are caught between the devil and the deep sea. They can'tafford to remain silent for fear of losing public support but are apprehensive of annoying the national leadership of the party by speaking against the Environment Ministry.
Last time, it was the Union Minister for Water Resources Saifuddin Soz who had ganged up with the anti-dam brigade in an insidious attempt to stop the work on the Sardar Sarovar project in a bid to malign the BJP-run States and to derail their development plans. This time round, it is the Environment Ministry that colluded with the NBA to further delay the hydroelectric project in MP with a similar motive. Shri Narendra Modi, who has emerged as a great fighter, had given a bloody nose to Medha Patkar on the Sardar Sarovar project by launching a counter movement to expose the evil designs of the dam-buster. The Supreme Court too came down heavily against the NBA leader to puncture her ego. MP Chief Minister Shivraj Singh Chauhan is more cautious and refrains from confronting the Union Government presumably because he is yet to settle down and consolidate his position as a mass leader. However, his options are limited. Sooner rather than later, he will have to confront the professional agitator and her supporters in the Union Government if he has to maintain the tempo of development in the state. MP faces a huge power shortage of 1500 MW, which in turn has slowed the process of industrialisation and discouraged investors. It needs to generate more power expeditiously.
That India is deficit in energy is no secret. It needs to generate more power to accelerate its pace of development. We have exploited only a fraction of our national potential of hydroelectric power. It is no one'scase that hydroelectric projects don'tcreate environmental problems. But these projects are more environment-friendly than thermal and atomic energy plants. These projects also entail problems of dislocation of people. The Government needs to evolve a plan for R&R of people uprooted by various development projects. The affected people need to be paid adequate compensation for the material and emotional injury caused to them by relocation. Government'sfailure to adequately compensate the sufferers, particularly hapless farmers, will send across the message that development is anti-poor and encourage Patkars, to exploit the situation for their selfish ends.
The then Vice President of India, the late Krishan Kant, had in a well documented article expressed concern about the role of some of the NGOs and had called for an enquiry into their sources of funds. Kant had expressed the apprehension that many NGOs work not for the welfare of the people but to serve the interests of their funding agencies. It is in this context that there is a need to trace the sources of funding of NBA. An enquiry conducted by the Gujrat Government – whose findings were made public earlier this year – found that a US-based non-government agency aimed at ?decommissioning of dams? all over the world was one of the major source of NBA'sfunds. It may be argued that findings of the Gujarat Government'senquiry can'tbe relied upon as it is in confrontation with NBA for long. Under the circumstances, it would be more appropriate for the Government of India to ask the CBI to conduct an impartial enquiry into the funding of NBA that has emerged as a dam-buster. Let the people know the real intention of Medha Patkar. Is opposing hydroelectric projects her mission or profession?