Historic Victory Of Narmada Bachao Andolan
By Samar Bagchi
A mail came to me in the morning today that Narmada Bachao Andolan (NBA) has achieved a historic victory of termination of Maheswar dam project on Narmada after a long struggle of 23 years. The news brought to my memory of my visit to the two villages Baghmara and Siulibari, adjacent to the Panchet dam site in Purulia district, some 3 or so decades back. I saw the destitute condition of the villagers, who had been displaced by Panchet Dam, of the dilapidated villages. About 10-15 years back Sm. Medha Patkar requested me if I could send her some information about the displaced persons due to DVC dams. Incidentally, I am a supporter of NBA and a member of National Alliance of Peoples Movement (NAPM). I spent 3 days at the library of DVC office in Kolkata looking at the Annual Reports of DVC. While going through the first Annual Report I read the speech delivered by the central government minister (I forget the name)in the inaugural ceremony. The dam was inaugurated by a tribal woman labourer Budhni Mejhen. She was led by Pundit Jawaharlal Nehru to push the switch. The central minister in an eloquent speech described how the life of the villagers will be changed by the construction of the dam, as if heaven will descend there. While visiting Gar Panchokot, adjacent to Panchet dam, before the study I made at DVC library, I saw that the above two villages were in the same condition as I saw three decades back.
I have been following NBA's movement against Sardar Sarovar Dam (SSD) for more than 40 years. I have seen how NBA forced World Bank to withdraw its support from SSD after a long struggle and fast by Sm. Medha Patkar. I also remember the huge rally of about 100000 NBA supporters at Horshud in 1989 in support of NBA and how the idea dawned on Medhaji and others that we have to struggle not only against a dam but we have to struggle against the whole paradigm of development. This gave birth to the organization NAPM. The struggle to rehabilitate the oustees of SSD is still going on. All the doors of SSD have been closed. Rahamat Bhai of NBA informs me today that by the next year 32400 families of 178 villages will be ousted from their hearth and home without proper rehabilitation because of inundation by the back waters..
NBA under the leadership of Chitrarupa Palit and Alok Agarwal has been fighting against the construction of the dam for the last 23 years. NBA has from the very beginning demonstrated that very little and very expensive electricity will be produced from the unviable Maheswar project. On 18th April, 2020 Madhya Pradesh Power Management Company Limited, an agency of the state government, issued a termination order, with immediate effect, to the project promoter Shree Maheswar Hydel Power Company owned by the S. Kumar group terminating the power purchase agreement executed in1994 between the state and project promoter because the project is unviable. The order states that the electricity from Maheswar is abnormally high, above Rs. 18 per unit. S. Kumar also failed to comply with crucial financial and technical deadlines and milestones and also breach of manifold provisions of the Power Purchase Agreement. The cost being prohibitive the project was terminated on public interest. The termination order also states that the investigation and forensic audit carried out under the direction of CAG has shown some serious fraud has been committed with regard to the public funds infused in the Maheswar project.
World Commission on Dams was set up by global civil society, of which Sm. Patkar was a member, to investigate about the efficacy of big dams. Nelson Mandela released the Report and it pointed out the ill effects of big dams from the point of ecology, economy and impact on the lives of the people. Since then about 1000 dams have been decommissioned in USA alone because of ecological reasons. Due to the different development programs undertaken by the central government and the states since independence approximately 70 million people have ousted from their hearth and home. In this ousting dams have played a part. I could not gather any information from DVC archive at Kolkata as to how many persons have been ousted due to DVC dams. There is no record. When in developed Western countries construction of big dams are stopped here in India central government is constructing and planning to construct dams in Alakananda and in its tributaries and in Arunachal and other places. Also, the present BJP government has resurrected the dormant linking of Indian rivers, conceived by the Congress Govt., in different parts of India. During the last 20 years 100 to 120 million people became ready to join the workforce. Only 3 million got jobs. But the wealth of the billionaires has increased by 112 times. The 2020 Oxfam Report on India shows how the rich and poor divide is increasing in India. With impending danger of global warming and climate change and the new SARS-COV2 virus rulers and the people of India have to think about an alternative paradigm of development as envisaged by Rabindranath Tagore and Gandhi. (IPA Service)
The author is former Director of Birla Industrial & Technological Museum, Kolkata