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Gujarat raising dam height surreptitiously, says Medha Patkar

IN PROTEST: Narmada Bachao Andolan activist Medha Patkar along with displaced villagers sitting on a dharna outside the Water Resources Ministry in New Delhi on Saturday. -- Photo: V.V. Krishnan  

Gargi Parsai

Narmada Bachao Andolan seeks intervention of Manmohan and Sonia

NEW DELHI: "Narmada Bachao Andolan" leader Medha Patkar on Saturday alleged that the Gujarat Government was "surreptitiously" raising the height of the Narmada dam even though UnionWater Resources Minister Saifuddin Soz had put on hold the permission given by the Narmada Control Authority to raise the height of the dam.

On the second day of their indefinite dharna outside the Union Water Resources Ministry here, Ms. Patkar said the NBA had sought a meeting with Prime Minister Manmohan Singh and Congress president Sonia Gandhi for their intervention.

She said the Prime Minister had intervened earlier too and asked the former Water Resources Minister Priya Ranjan Dasmunshi to visit the valley and assess the plight of the affected families. As Mr. Dasmunshi could not make such a visit, the NBA has now requested Mr. Soz to do so.

Ms. Patkar said taking the dam from the current level of 110.64 metres to 121.92 metres without prior resettlement and rehabilitation of the displaced families in Gujarat, Madhya Pradesh and Maharashtra was a violation of the Narmada Disputes Tribunal Award and Supreme Court orders.

The representatives of the displaced families would continue with the ongoing dharna here till construction stopped and the decision was reviewed, she said.

In a letter to Mr. Soz, the NBA has urged him to uphold the Constitutional guarantee of protection of life and livelihood of people including tribals under the International Labour Organisation Conventions and 107 other human rights instruments. According to Ms. Patkar, thousands of families in more than 230 villages of which at least 150 were thickly populated faced displacement.

Responding to demands from NCA officials about the families that needed to be rehabilitated, Ms. Patkar said there were several villages in Madhya Pradesh that did not have rehabilitation sites chosen for them and at the present height there were villages where land acquisition was yet to be completed.

The Maharashtra Government itself had admitted that not all the families were rehabilitated. The Government needs to acquire 5,000 hectares of land to resettle those displaced and those who are yet to be declared eligible for the rehabilitation package, which it had not.

Ms. Patkar said that in Gujarat thousands of major sons remained undeclared even though they fit the criterion. Land rights were not given to several widows. "In addition, much of the land allotted to tribal families was bad, got waterlogged during every monsoon leading to crop failure. Due to these reasons Gujarat adivasis are not able to survive in the resettlement sites and were returning to the valley for sustenance. But life there too is difficult as most of it is submerged and forest officials harass the adivasis. So they are neither here nor there."

The NBA has urged Mr. Soz to set up a joint committee of land/agriculture experts along with village representatives to assess the cultivability of farm lands being offered to the project affected families in the three States "who were giving up their all for generations to come".