Maheshwar Dam oustees on indefinite hunger strike

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New Delhi, Apr 22 (ANI): Over a thousand oustees of the controversial Maheshwar Dam all on an indefinite hunger strike over a demand for the immediate suspension of construction.

The dam is said to be one of the largest being built on the River Narmada in Madhya Pradesh.

The Madhya Pradesh Government privatized the project in 1992, by handing it over to the S.Kumar Group.

Oustees led by the Narmada Bachao Andolan (NBA) have urged the Union Environment Ministry to order the suspension of construction, until a comprehensive rehabilitation plan is placed for the over 70,000 affected.

Representatives of oustees of the Omkareshwar, Indira Sagar, Man and Upper Beda dams are also participating in the struggle.

Activists allege that while construction work on the dam is about 80 percent over, the rehabilitation of oustees is around five percent.

On Thursday morning, senior NBA activist Alok Agarwal and two persons affected by the Maheshwar Dam-Komalbai and Ramlal Patidar have started an indefinite fast at Jantar Mantar.

Speaking to newsmen while going on fast, Agarwal said: "From today onwards, we are on an indefinite protest to demand a halt on the construction work of Maheshwar Dam Project following the violation of certain promises made by the Union Government."

"The project officers should be asked to present a rehabilitation scheme, and the construction work should not resume till the time the displaced receive rehabilitation facilities. We have decided to continue with our protest until and unless our demands are fulfilled, even if we have to lay down our lives," Agarwal added..

Around 70,000 peasants, fisher people, boatpeople and landless workers in 61 villages of this area are presently dependent on the riverine and land economy will be affected by this project.

On February 17, the Union Environment Ministry has issued a show cause notice to the Shree Maheshwar Hydel Power Corporation Limited (SMHPCL) stating that there has been no satisfactory compliance with the conditions of environmental clearance.

The ministry also asked the SMHPCL to show cause as to why the clearance should not be revoked and directions for the closure of the Maheshwar project should not be issued.

The reply filed by SMHPCL in response to the show- cause notice confirms that there is no rehabilitation plan with details of the agricultural land to be allotted to the oustees, and that the relief and rehabilitation measures are far lagging behind the construction of the dam.

On April 2, Union Minister of State for Environment and Forests, Jairam Ramesh acknowledged during a media conference in Bhopal that conditions of clearance in the Maheshwar Project have been violated and status of rehabilitation is appalling.

He also said that he is ready to suspend work on the dam until rehabilitation is completed. However the Ministry of Environment and Forests has not suspended the work till now. (ANI)

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