The United Front government's agreement on the contentious issue regarding the Sardar Sarovar dam, callously ignored the interests of the people of the Narmada valley
on july 16, the chief ministers of the four states of Gujarat, Madhya Pradesh, Maharashtra and Rajasthan agreed in a meeting called by the Prime Minister H D Deve Gowda that the "construction of Sardar Sarovar Dam may proceed, limiting the full reservoir level (frl) to 436 feet (ft) at present. The performance of water shall be watched for five years to establish the same in three out of five years for taking a decision regarding raising the frl to 455 ft." The agreement comes after the Supreme Court directive on March 12, in a writ petition filed by the Narmada Bachao Andolan (nba), that further hearing in the petition will be taken up after the involved states first resolve their differences. Now this agreement will go before the Supreme Court, when the apex court resumes hearing on August 7.
But there are doubts if the agreement will be signed. Already, Madhya Pradesh and Gujarat have different interpretations of the agreement. While Gujarat's Narmada development minister Jaynarayan Vyas maintained that they have been allowed to go ahead with the construction of the dam upto 436 ft, without changing any of its features, Madhya Pradesh's chief secretary S C Behar told Down To Earth that they have not agreed to retain the design features of the dam at 455 ft. Central Water Commission (cwc) chairperson Ramesh Chandra reportedly raised objections to retaining the design features at 455 ft.
The most important issue of rehabilitation was raised at the meeting only by the Union welfare minister Balwant Singh Ramoovalia. The Union water resources minister Jyaneshwar Mishra agreed that the rehabilitation issue was not looked at seriously. There is also disagreement about permission granted for further construction. While the welfare minister pointed out the reports of their ministry about the dismal state of people rehabilitated till date, the Madhya Pradesh chief minister assured the nba delegation that confronted him in Bhopal on July 20 that they have not agreed to any further construction at this stage. This is contrary to the impression sought to be created by Gujarat. Gujarat has been attempting to bypass the whole rehabilitation sub-group of Narmada Control Authority through a brute majority in the Sardar Sarovar Construction Advisory Committee, to push ahead with further construction.
The agreement was greeted in Gujarat, as it was felt that it will clear the way for further construction on the dam, work on which has been stalled since January 1995. What was unexpected was how Madhya Pradesh agreed to the height of 436 ft, as it has been saying that even if the height is reduced to 384 ft, Gujarat and Rajasthan's share of water can be satisfied. Dilip Singh Bhuria, the Congress mp from Madhya Pradesh, said, "This decision is a great treachery with the 33,000 families of the state that are to be displaced due to the project." Behar defended the agreement saying that for the first time, other governments have agreed to some height reduction proposition. Behar was confident that the review to be done after five years cannot lead to further increase in height. As per Narmada Tribunal Award 436 ft is sufficient, even if it is assumed that 28 million acre feet (maf) water is available in Narmada, whereas actual water available is only 22.47 maf. He said the agreed reduction of height will save some 10,000 ha of land and 38,000 people.
Medha Patkar of Narmada Bachao Andolan (nba) believes that this was a mere rescheduling of the project and that this ill-informed decision was no solution to any of the long standing issues with grave social, environmental and financial implications. Addressing a press conference in the capital, she said, "The decision is a great betrayal of the people of Narmada valley, especially by the new union government from whom the nba had better expectations." nba has decided to launch an intensified agitation against the decision.
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