The Union government may be signalling a compromise on the Maheshwar dam project, whose construction was suspended last month due to “negligible” relief and rehabilitation work.
A group of bureaucrats, meeting on Prime Minister Manmohan Singh’s directions, has made a recommendation to the Ministry of Environment and Forests to allow a partial resumption of construction work on the dam, according to a source in the Prime Minister’s Office. The dam is being built by a private company in Madhya Pradesh, and construction was suspended by the Ministry on April 23.
Union Minister of State for Environment and Forests Jairam Ramesh is out of the country and was unavailable for comment.
On Friday, Prime Minister’s Principal Secretary T.K.A. Nair convened a meeting with Madhya Pradesh Chief Secretary Avni Vaish and the Secretaries of the Environment and Forests, Power and Water Resources Ministries. Mr. Vaish assured that no further submergence would take place until the entire relief and rehabilitation work is completed. Following the discussion, it was decided to make a recommendation to the Ministry to allow partial resumption of work, said the source.
Meanwhile, the Madhya Pradesh Information Centre claimed that a decision had been taken to allow resumption of construction of the dam’s crest gates to its full height, while a decision on the remaining work would be taken at a meeting next week. While Environment Ministry officials said they had not received any circular or order to this effect, the MPIC claimed that an “in-principle” decision had been taken, and that an order would be issued on Monday.
Earlier, on April 28, Madhya Pradesh Chief Minister Shivraj Singh Chouhan wrote to the Prime Minister, asking for the suspension order to be revoked, claiming that it was “arbitrary and anti-development.”
The Maheshwar dam is being constructed by a private company belonging to the S.Kumar’s group, leading to critical questions from activists and affected villagers about why the MP government is so keen on helping a corporate player at the cost of its own people.
The Narmada Bachao Andolan pointed out that “since the earlier [suspension] order was under the provisions of the Environment Protection Act, it cannot be modified and work cannot be resumed on the basis of assurances.”