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Now NBA agitates on Maheshwar Dam issue in Delhi

Written by: Staff
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New Delhi, May 11 (UNI) Rebuffed by the Supreme Court and ruling parties at the Centre and in Narmada basin states, but supremely confident truth is on its side, the Narmada Bachao Andolan began a protest here today seeking an immediate halt to work on the Maheshwar dam in Madhya Pradesh.

Around 100 farmers and fisherpeople affected by the dam in Khargone district demonstrated outside the Ministry of Environment and Forests and later outside the offices of institutions financing the project, work on which restarted recently after a five year hiatus.

Maheshwar is one of the 30 major dams being built on the Narmada.

The NBA says it will submerge 61 villages and produce electricity at prohibitively high cost on account of a five-fold increase in project cost over the last 15 years. It claims corruption and wastage of public money on the project.

In all, the NBA has been challenging the government's record on the resettlement and rehabilitation (R and R) front and organising protests in the submergence zones of the Sardar Sarovar Project in Gujarat, besides the Maheshwar, Indira Sagar, Man and Veda dams in Madhya Pradesh.

After today's protest, a NBA delegation met an additional secretary in the Ministry of Environment, demanding that environmental clearance given for the project be revoked as agricultural lands shown available for R and R were ''imaginary and non-existent''.

According to NBA activist Alok Agarwal, the official admitted that main files relating to the project had gone ''missing'' from the Ministry. He promised to send a high-level delegation of the ministry to the area, to study the record on the R and R front.

Alleging financial iregularities in the project, Mr Agarwal said the NBA was also planning to approach the Reserve Bank of India and the Securities and Exchange Board of India to complain against the financial institutions lending money for the project.

More than 5,000 dalit, Kewat and Kahar families, who survive through sand quarrying, fishing, cultivating riverbed draw-down land and ferrying were getting no compensation as they did not officially qualify as ''displaced families'', he said.

The protestors, including many women from the submergence zone in Khargone district sat on dharna at Jantar Mantar -- close to where NBA leader Medha Patkar had gone on hunger strike last month to press for stoppage of work on the SSP.

''We have no option but to protest. How will we survive when the fertile land that gives us four crops a year is gone for a worthless project,'' said Sushila Bai, Sarpanch of Mardana village, when asked about the ''utility'' of holding such protests.

''The NBA has been protesting against the anti-people development policies for over two decades now. We will win one day because truth is on our side,'' Mr Agarwal asserted.

On Monday, the Supreme Court had refused to stay construction work on the Sardar Sarovar Dam, a three-judge bench noting that they were ''not inclined to stop the construction at present''.

Defiant NBA activists had organised a protest outside the court a day later, arguing that the ruling went against the grain of its own orders of 2000 and 2005 that the project-affected should be rehabilitated one year before the dam height is raised.

Ms Patkar was away in Narmada Valley today holding meetings with the project-affected people there, NBA activists said.

The protest here is scheduled to continue tomorrow as well.

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