Campaign Against Indian Dam Project Grows
NEW DELHI, Apr 8 (OneWorld) - The hunger strike led by Indian civil
rights leader Medha Patkar got a boost Friday--two days after she
was forcibly hospitalized by the Indian government--as student unions,
academics, and other organizations joined the protest over the Indian
government's failure to properly compensate tens of thousands of farmers
displaced by floodwaters from a rising dam.
Patkar, 51, who is the leader of the people's rights group Narmada
Bachao Andolan (Campaign to Save the Narmada Valley, or NBA), launched
an indefinite fast along with two colleagues, Jamsingh Nargave, 50,
and Bhagwatibehen Patidar, 45, on March 29.
Although the government took little action at the outset of the hunger
strike, it seemed rattled after Patkar's health deteriorated. A strong
contingent of police arrested and forcibly took her to the hospital
Wednesday, leading to resentment and heightened protests among sympathizers.
Professor of International Studies at the Jawaharlal Nehru University
(JNU) Kamal Mitra Chenoy, who has been on a hunger strike for the
last two days, said: "If the government thought the Narmada agitation
could be stopped, it couldn't be more wrong. We joined the fast to
show solidarity and support to NBA's struggle."
According to NBA activist Deepti Bhatnagar, "Patkar has continued
with the fast at the hospital. She is taking only water, salt and
lemon at the hospital. Our agitation will continue till the Narmada
valley oustees are rehabilitated properly."
The NBA had met with Indian Prime Minister Manmohan Singh on March
25 asking for the rehabilitation of some 35,000 families displaced
as a result of the construction of the controversial Sardar Sarovar
dam on the river Narmada in central India. When the Prime Minister's
Office (PMO) did not respond by March 28 as promised, Patkar and two
others went on an indefinite hunger strike the next day.
The government is supposed to provide a minimum of two hectares of
cultivable land for farming and a plot for a house to each family
that is displaced due to the dam project, according to Indian Supreme
Court lawyer Sanjay Parikh. For families that owned more land the
government is supposed to either provide more land or cash compensation.
A new proposal to raise the height of the dam from its current 113
meters (370 feet) to 121.9 meters (400 feet) is at the heart of the
most recent protests and hunger strike. The proposed dam expansion
would cause the destruction of the homes and fields of those living
in an additional 220 nearby villages, according to an NBA press release.
Though the Indian government sent a three-minister delegation to the
Narmada valley, it failed to pacify the protestors. The three ministers
who went to the valley are: Union Water Resources Minister Saifudin
Soz, Minister for Social Justice Meira Kumar, and Minister in the
PMO Prithviraj Chauhan.
Patkar's arrest only brought more people to the site of the agitation,
which is very close to the Indian Parliament. Teachers from the University
of Delhi and students from three city schools came on Friday morning
to express their support for the movement.
Jawaharlal Nehru University Students Union (JNUSU) president Mona
Das and vice president Dhananjay also joined the fast with Prof. Chenoy.
Das developed stomach problems on day two of their fast.
Das said: "After Medha was handled brutally, we thought that the agitation
might fizzle out but as we were in support of the issues and the cause
that she has raised, we decided to pitch in. Teachers from the Aligarh
Muslim University (AMU) also visited us."
National convener the All India Students Association (AISA) Kavita
Krishnan said: "This is not merely a struggle about one dam. It is
a debate on development that causes the destruction of people's livelihoods."
Krishnan added: "We are told that displacement of people is necessary
for development and they will be rehabilitated. But many states in
India do not even have fertile land to rehabilitate people. People
are being forced to migrate to cities where they live in slums. And
then in the name of beautification of cities, their slum dwellings
also are destroyed."
Activist Rajendra Ravi from New Delhi-based development organization
Lokayan said: "The government is trying to side-step the issue. We
wonder what the three-member delegation of ministers to the Narmada
valley will find. They do not even plan to spend two days there. We
can tell them right here that people have not been rehabilitated and
that is what needs to be done."
An activist with the South Asia Network on Dams, Rivers and People
(SANDRP), a New Delhi-based organization that monitors dams and rivers
on a daily basis, summed up the whole agitation: "The Narmada dam
project, which has been in the throes of a controversy ever since
it was conceived, is the single biggest issue on development, human
displacement and rivers."
FAIR USE NOTICE. This document contains copyrighted material whose use has not been specifically authorized by the copyright owner. India Resource Center is making this article available in our efforts to advance the understanding of corporate accountability, human rights, labor rights, social and environmental justice issues. We believe that this constitutes a 'fair use' of the copyrighted material as provided for in section 107 of the U.S. Copyright Law. If you wish to use this copyrighted material for purposes of your own that go beyond 'fair use,' you must obtain permission from the copyright owner.