While he seldom misses an opportunity to attack the ruling Bharatiya Janata Party government in Madhya Pradesh, documents recently accessed through the Right to Information Act show that the former Chief Minister and AICC general secretary, Digvijay Singh, speaks the State government's language when it comes to the controversial Maheshwar dam project.

 Letters Mr. Singh wrote to Prime Minister Manmohan Singh show that the long-delayed project continued to enjoy support from across the political spectrum. The letters were obtained by the Narmada Bacaho Andolan and made available to The Hindu on Wednesday.

The Maheshwar dam, India's first privately financed hydroelectric project, is being constructed by Shree Maheshwar Hydel Power Corporation Ltd. (SMHPCL), which is promoted by S. Kumars. The project promoters have constantly been under the scanner of the Union Ministry of Environment and Forests for failing to ensure pari passu implementation of the conditions for the environmental clearance granted to the project.

In April last, citing negligible progress in rehabilitation and resettlement and an advanced stage of dam construction, the Ministry ordered suspension of the work under the provisions of the Environment (Protection) Act, 1986.

In a letter written to Dr. Manmohan Singh soon thereafter (3 May 2010), Mr. Digvijay Singh urged him to “intervene in the matter [of the Maheshwar dam] and prevail upon the Environment Ministry to withdraw their order of work suspension.” He also suggests that once the dam work was completed, the “UPA government can take full credit” for it.

Barely a week later, the PMO stepped in and temporarily allowed the construction to resume.

Before Mr. Singh's letter, the incumbent Chief Minister, Shivraj Singh Chauhan, had written a similar letter, complaining about the Ministry's tough stand and requesting the Prime Minister to intervene.

“The State and Central governments have acted against public interest, by getting the Power Finance Corporation and other public financial institutions to invest crores of rupees of public money in this unviable project,” Ms. Chittaroopa Palit of the NBA told The Hindu.

The NBA's claims on the unviability of the project refer to the restated and amendatory agreement among the SMHPCL, the Power Finance Corporation, the Madhya Pradesh State Electricity Board and the State government (dated September 16, 2005), in which it is stated that “given the accumulated interest on the part loans raised, the resultant tariff of the project was considered too high to ensure continued project viability.”

Second letter

In December the same year, Mr. Digvijay Singh wrote another letter to the Prime Minister (dated December 13, 2010), making out a case for the State government, saying the “government of Madhya Pradesh has made substantial progress with regard to the resettlement and rehabilitation of affected families” and requesting him to “kindly allow this project to reach its successful fruition, so that much-needed power and water are urgently provided to the people of Madhya Pradesh and our country without any more delay.”

However, the NBA refutes these claims, pointing out that 90 per cent of the oustees have not yet received any resettlement and rehabilitation entitlements and not a single oustee has been given land. 

Interestingly, the contents of this letter are quite similar to a letter Mukul Kasliwal of the SMHPCL sent to Mr. Singh four days earlier, a copy of which is with The Hindu.

Ms. Palit asked why Mr. Digvijay Singh was acting as a front for S. Kumars and pressing the Prime Minister to transgress law in their favour.

 Asked for his reaction, Mr. Singh rejected the NBA's charge. “Let them make allegations and dig out whatever they can about my personal stakes in the project. I am not bothered. All I want is the relief and rehabilitation measures [are] completed so that the dam can start generating power and the State can benefit as soon as possible,” he said.