Wednesday April 19 2006
I broke fast as I am needed in the Narmada valley: Medha Patkar
THE FIGHT CONTINUES: Narmada Bachao Andolan leader Medha Patkar, who was on a hunger strike seeking justice for families displaced by the Narmada dam project, is helped by the affected vilagers as she leaves hospital in New Delhi on Tuesday. Ms. Patkar said she gave up the fast as she was needed in the Narmada valley to launch a campaign to expose the rehabilitation claims of three States. - PHOTO: V.V. KRISHNAN
NEW DELHI: Narmada Bachao Andolan leader Medha Patkar on Tuesday said she had called off her indefinite fast as she was needed in the Narmada valley to expose the hollowness of rehabilitation efforts in the Narmada basin States of Madhya Pradesh, Gujarat and Maharashtra before the next date of the Supreme Court hearing on May 1.
"Political expediency and party politics are coming in the way of Prime Minister Manmohan Singh taking a decision on suspending the construction of the Narmada dam even when the report of his own Cabinet Ministers who visited the valley showed clear violations in rehabilitation. The court has given two weeks for him and us, to act."
Speaking to The Hindu at the All-India Institute of Medical Sciences before she was discharged, she said all the three basin States were lagging in resettlement and rehabilitation of the Narmada dam displaced people. "The Supreme Court did not allow the dam construction to be stalled, but a much larger area would come under submergence from the raised height of the dam this monsoon. Rehabilitation of displaced families is linked to the height of the dam in the the Sardar Sarovar Project."
Several civil society groups, youth organisations and students of the University of Delhi, Jawaharlal Nehru University and Jamia Milia Islamia are joining NBA's "pol-khol campaign" (Campaign Expose). The campaign would involve a march in Delhi to the President, A.P.J. Abdul Kalam, as well as a "Rally for the Valley-II" the kind undertaken by Booker Prize winner Arundhati Roy in 1999 from Delhi to the valley. "It will not be a Narmada bachao andolan but desh bachao (save country) andolan," said Ms. Patkar.
Asked whether the issue got politicised, she said people's issues and agenda could never be apolitical. "But it has to be genuinely pro-people and not mean putting electoral politics in the forefront of decision-making. This time the communal, secular division has worked to some extent but not beyond."
"We want secular development agenda based on the values of equity, justice and sustainability which should cut across party lines and political divisions between parties and even within parties," she said.
According to Ms. Patkar, so many people rallied around the Narmada movement during the one-month of the NBA dharna in New Delhi "because sensitive, thinking people and civil society groups see displacement, dis-employment, snuffing of communities, giving away of country's resources and then profit-making policies as daylight robbery and sell-out of the country."
Praise for the Left
She was appreciative of the manner in which leaders of different ideologies lent support. The Left leaders such as Brinda Karat, A.B. Bardhan, D. Raja joined the dharna. "They have been supportive in the past too but this time it was done differently because as outside allies of the United Progressive Government they had the bargaining power. They are capable of initiating open, politically democratic dialogue on the issue. If they do that they'll have many allies in people's movements."
On the question of whether such pressure tactics like an indefinite fast should be used to influence decisions, she said her fast came at the end of a long struggle in which all democratic channels were exhausted. "It was a moral appeal. As Gandhi showed this path to gain freedom, in today's context it is a struggle for people's lives and livelihoods and their right to development benefits without getting destroyed in the process. It is a kind of freedom struggle."