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Govt fails to break Medha Patkar's fast

Written by: Staff

New Delhi, Apr 3: A fasting Narmada Bachao Andolan leader Medha Patkar today rejected a glass of fruit juice Prime Minister Manmohan Singh sent to her, saying she will not compromise the cause of people being uprooted for a dam in Narmada Valley.

In an effort to make the NBA leader and her two associates give up their six-day-old fast, the Prime Minister sent Minister of State in his office Prithviraj Chavan, Water Resources Minister Saifuddin Soz and Social Justice and Empowerment Minister Meira Kumar to her pavement dharna site outside Jantar Mantar this afternoon.

According to NBA sources, Ms Patkar and the other two refused the fruit juice they brought, saying the Government should first stop construction to further increase the height of the Sardar Sarovar dam in Gujarat.

While sympathising with Ms Patkar's cause, the Ministers said the Government was fully committed to the rehabilitation of those being displaced or affected by the project. Work on the dam as well as rehabilitation can go on side by side, they argued, appealing to the NBA leaders to break their fast.

The NBA leaders, however, refused this request. They cited the law as well as a Supreme Court ruling to say that the dam height could be increased further only after those displaced are fully rehabilitated and resettlement sites identified for those facing displacement.

The Government should, therefore, immediately halt work on further increasing the dam height, they said.

The NBA has been holding protest here since March 17 against the decision of the Narmada Control Authority to raise the dam height from 110.64 to 122 metres. It says nearly 35,000 families would lose their source of livelihood and homes due to submergence in the dam's waters once the decision is implemented.

Ms Patkar, Jamsing Nargave and Bhagwatibai Jatpuria (affected villagers from Madhya Pradesh) started an indefinite fast on Mar 29 on failing to get a promised response to their demands from the Prime Minister.

The NBA says the Sardar Sarovar Project has uprooted communities living in Narmada Valley for the past many centuries, it has also become financially unviable and corruption-ridden.

The UPA's Left allies have been supportive of Ms Patkar's struggle and are mounting pressure on the Government to immediately intervene in the matter. CPI(M) Polit Bureau member Brinda Karat and Central Committee member Subhashini Ali visited Ms Patkar at the dharna site today.

CPI leaders A B Bardhan and D Raja as also Gandhians, socialists, writers, artistes, students and other civil society groups have visited Ms Patkar at the dharna site in solidarity over the last few days.

Activists involved in the protest deny the charge that they have an ''anti-development agenda''. The ''fault'', they say, is with the system of Governance where a handful of people take decisions without consulting or taking the consent of those to be affected by it.

''You cannot ignore the voice of the poor in the development debate or process. Development does not mean displacement. Those being displaced also need justice'', Ms Patkar says, pointing out that indebted farmers are either migrating or committing suicide in duress in the India that is also one of the world's ''fastest growing economies''.

She compares the NCA's decision to raise the dam height by more than 11 metres to an order to ''massacre a valley and its people''.

''If the UPA Government claims to be secular, then it should not forget these communities who are like minorities in the cost-benefit ratio'', she says weakly, her voice barely a whisper against the rumble of traffic flowing incessantly nearby.


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