Saturday, April 15, 2006

Narmada and Gujarat

Update (16/04): The ministerial team that visited the Narmada Valley has categorically stated: 'The reports of the rehabilitation and resettlement sub-group and the Grievance Redressal Authority, on the basis of which the Narmada Control Authority (NCA) granted permission for raising the height, have been largely paperwork and it has no relevance to the situation on the ground.' But the Union government appears to be passing the buck (back) to the Supreme Court, saying that 'It was open to the Supreme Court to consider whether the construction of the dam should be temporarily suspended till such time as rehabilitation and resettlement of the project-affected families is done in consonance with its directions.' This is stupid and an abdication of responsibility, because the Supreme Court judgment, as it stands, says the height of the dam cannot be increased unless resettlement and rehabilitation are completed. The ministerial team has already concluded that R&R has not been completed, so unless the Union government doesn't trust its own cabinet members' findings, I see no reason why the issue has to go back to the Court. The factual issue has been resolved and the legal issue is crystal clear. Anyway, the hearing is on Monday.

Now Narendra Modi, chief minister of Gujarat, is on a 51-hour hunger strike to protest the Union government's stand on the dam height issue.

If you want to know why a review might be necessary, read this series of articles from Tehelka, describing the visit of the Group of Ministers to the valley ('Most people felt that the entire trip was an eyewash, a mere formality forced by Medha Patkar’s deteriorating health after she undertook a fast-unto-death in Delhi'), detailing the various kinds of crime and corruption surrounding the award of compensation and the consequences of awarding cash instead of land. See also this profile of Saifuddin Soz, Union Water Resources Minister, who sounds like he might be sympathetic to the NBA even though his bureaucrats are not. Soz, a former member of the National Conference of Kashmir, is (in)famous for being the single vote that brought down the 13-month old BJP government in 1999. He voted in defiance of his party whip (the NC were supporting the BJP) and became the 'instant hero of "secular" India'. Obviously the BJP hate him, and this piece ends by noting that Soz has been told not to make any statements to the media on Narmada as that might give Narendra Modi a chance to whip up communal tensions because Soz is a Muslim (i.e. basically to conflate pro-dam with anti-Muslim sentiment). So Medha isn't being rhetorical when she says we are caught between the twin evils of globalisation and fascism. This dam is about both.

Update (15/04): Medha's condition deteriorates, as her hunger-strike enters its 16th day. The PMO has yet to respond to the findings of the Group of Ministers that visited the Narmada valley, beyond promising a review (see below). Aruna Roy demands that all documents relating to the SSP be made public.

Update (13/04): The Union government has decided to review the decision of the Narmada Control Authority to raise the height of the dam. But Medha is still fasting.

Ramaswamy Iyer, former Union Secretary for Water Resources asks some tough questions and gives some equally hard-hitting answers: 'In conclusion, let me put aside the attempt at academic and objective analysis, and make a declaration. The NBA is a great mass movement, one of the most important ones since independence', he says. [Read this, if you read nothing else.]

Update (12/04): From Tehelka, via TK, comes this piece from Medha Patkar: 'the nation is now face to face with the twin threats of globalisation and fascism'. I am posting it in full because the full text is available only to subscribers. [Please link to this post on your blogs or wherever - people need to know...]

It’s been 20 years since the Narmada Bachao Andolan (NBA) struggle unfolded itself in the Narmada Valley which is now being ravaged by the Sardar SarovarDam submerging hundreds of villages, vast tracts of forest land and thousands of families. But despite the relentless violence, not once have I hesitated tobelieve that ahimsa is the only way to sustain the ideas of the alternative vision of the people’s movement. It’s not only a question of tactics or strategy. I sincerely believe in the philosophy of non-violence and that is truly reflected in the way we have redefined the idea of both development and technology in the mainstream discourse.

People accuse me and the movement of being anti-development and anti-technology.This is a clear misnomer. Surely, this debate has spread across the spectrum of caste and class, cities and villages, and people are now convinced that what we are saying and fighting for is based on principles and has a valid ethical and rational foundation. That is why the Narmada Bachao movement’s ideas and praxis have influenced not only struggling people across the country, but all over theworld. The uncanny question has come to stay: is this the top-heavy model ofprogress we want to achieve, or is it possible to build another kind of democratic society?

I am also for technology and development, but I support a completely different idea of progress. I am against the top heavy, one-dimensional political economy of development which claims to benefit the masses but actually benefits so few, or is based on fake claims. You can’t build a gigantic ‘utopia’ by displacing tens of thousands of people, not giving them their just due, ravaging their landand forests, and then try to buy them off with a corrupt network of cash compensations. How can precious ancestral land of an adivasi be compensated by a paltry amount of cash? And what about other indices of a community: forests,rivers, cultures, kinships, folk traditions, support systems, emotional and aesthetic inheritances? They dump people in far-off inhabitable places, ruthlessly uprooting them from their ancient belongings, and they want them to accept everything in the name of development. Is this not organised State-sponsored violence on its own people?

I believe in technology which is participative, decentralised, democratic,harmonious with ecology and geography; development which is truly egalitarianand equitable, which is not brazenly pro-rich and anti-poor/anti-village, which benefits the larger sections of society. Indeed, big is not always beautiful.

As for the two-decade-long movement, I am asked, what will be its fate, will it be crushed? Yes, they want to crush the NBA because they want to set an example to all the people’s movements across the country. Today they are increasing the height of the dam without even doing a basic survey in the area. You can go to the Narmada Valley and see the farce in the name of compensation. More than 200villages have been left to its fate, there is no collective participation,village gram sabhas are not even involved. What kind of democracy are they talking of?

If 35,000 families are going to be submerged in the coming monsoon in the valley, why isn’t the Centre stopping this arbitrary increase in the height of the dam by the Narendra Modi led-Gujarat government and the construction work?Are the people not supposed to be rehabilitated in advance before any construction work starts, as per the guidelines of the Supreme Court?

We have been traumatised by the horrible communal genocide in Gujarat. But this is developmental genocide. And this is happening all over: the nation is now face to face with the twin threats of globalisation and fascism. That is why,the National Alliance of People’s Movements is linked to the hundreds of struggles all over the country, from Kalinganagar, Kashipur and Plachimada, tothe slums of Mumbai and Delhi, where they are demolishing the homes of the poor who are basically village migrants. So where will the people go?

From grassroots ngos which are genuine (and there are dubious ones also, nodoubt), people’s struggles, students, slum-dwellers, workers and farmers, to the Maoists (with whom I share the vision of justice but not the means) and the mainstream Left, we constitute the huge third front which is posing a serious challenge to this one-dimensional profit machine of globalisation. We are a formidable force and this has been proved in the enactment of the National Employment Guarantee Act and the right to information campaign. I have faith in the Left, and even if they disagree on some issues, they are coming around tothe reality of our struggle and supporting us with great conviction. This thirdfront is the final hope of resistance and justice as we face the onslaught of globalisation and communal fascism, because we have very little time and we justcan’t be complacent anymore.

'It's schizophrenic, this system', she says.

Update (9/04): Police file a case against Medha and supporters on grounds of attempt to commit suicide. Medha responds: 'Those who commit crimes always blame others. So many farmers are committing suicide. Would the Government blame the farmers or does the blame lie with the state? If the state files a case against me, I will file a case against the state — for the murder of the Narmada Valley, murder of humanity and murder of justice.'

The Ministerial team that visited the Narmada valley was given an angry reception. The team tried to strike a balance by visiting sites suggested by the NBA and the MP government. Predictably, the Andolan wanted the ministers to see the worst-affected villages and the state government the best rehabilitation sites. But here's the key line in the article: 'at every place the team had to face angry villagers'.

Meanwhile Advani is on another (w)rath yatra and on a stop in Gujarat, praises Narendra Modi to the skies: 'I can think of no other example in Indian politics of a leader who, after being subjected to a malicious and prolonged campaign of vilification, has been able to impress even his critics with his determination, single-minded focus, integrity and a wide array of achievements in a relatively short time' he tells a press meet in Surat. 'What is remarkable is that the Gujarat Government's achievements, first under Kesubhai Patel and now under Modi, have not only impressed captains of industry but also touched the lives of tribals, kisans, women, self-employed youth and the middle class', he says. (Touched, yes, but how?) He also raises the spectre of illegal Bangla migrants ('Even those involved in the Varanasi blasts were Bangladeshis'), praises Sania Mirza and Munaf Patel and raises the Ayodhya issue in the same breath. (Confused? Don't be. The BJP has always loved high-achieving Muslims who don't wear their religion on their sleeve.)

The key to understanding Gujarat (and all its g's - Godhra, genocide, ghettos, gaurav), argues this op-ed piece is the tendency to paper over all differences in the interests of Gujarati gaurav (= roughly, pride, self-respect). Contra the author's view, I don't think there is anything particularly Gujarati about seeking to coopt dissent, but she does seem to be on to something when she says that the bania mentality might account for the latest line against female infanticide: 'Now we need girls for our boys to marry, we cannot afford to bring/buy them from lower communities. So they have to be saved.' So female infanticide is now combatted by commodifying women and arguing that by killing them off, they are becoming more expensive. When supply goes down, price goes up. Figures, huh?

Update (7/04): Medha continues her fast in hospital; Narendra Modi continues to insist that work on the dam must continue as it is the lifeline of the drought prone region of Saurashtra in Gujarat. I don't have the relevant links ready to hand, but Modi's claim is untenable because (i) canals to Saurashtra were meant to be built in the final stage of the project, meaning that Saurashtra will not get water from the SSP for another decade; (ii) the quantum of water in the Narmada basin was over-estimated by project proponents - by the time water-hungry sugarcane growing areas and water parks in urban areas like Gandhinagar, Surendranagar, etc. are supplied, there simply won't be any water for Kutch & Saurashtra even after the canals are built; (iii) to add insult to injury, the last time I checked, people being displaced by canals (any canals, not just the mythical lifelines to K&S) were not even being declared 'project-affected', thereby making them ineligible for compensation. [Please supply links and correct any factual errors I might have made if you're keeping abreast of this.]

6/04: In the latest news, Medha Patkar's hunger strike has been forcibly disrupted amidst mounting concerns about her health. She has been fasting with others to protest against the order of the Narmada Control Authority allowing the height of the Sardar Sarovar dam to be raised from its present 110.64 m to 121.92 m. Under the terms of the Supreme Court judgment, affected persons have to be resettled before the height of the dam is raised. As this editorial reports, 'nothing has been done for an estimated 24,000 families in 177 villages who will be displaced if the height of the dam is raised to 121.92 metres'. In addition, in Madhya Pradesh, authorities have been violating the terms of the Narmada Waters Dispute Tribunal Award by awarding compensation in the form of cash rather than land. (But there is no land to give, thus illustrating the impossibility of this project. So when everyone can't be satisfied, guess who loses out?) In other news, more than 250 scientists and engineers based in universities across the world have signed a petition taking issue with the allegedly unrealistic projections that Sardar Sarovar engineers have used to win legitimacy for the dam.

Today's Times of India frontpage has a picture of Medha sleeping, next to one of a model at the Wills Lifestyle India Fashion Week, which 'kicked off to a glitzy and glamorous opening in New Delhi'. Saleem is manic depressive today.

while the promised narmada water may not have reached most parts of gujarat*, its scent has made many many people very rich. land speculation is at a peak. those in the know and those with connections in the agriculture, irrigation, public works department snap up the plans of the proposed narmada canals, buy off land cheap and when canals start being prepared and the hint of water- someday in the distant future- is in the air, they sell the land off. i know people who have made a career out of speculating in narmada-related land.

*it does flow 'uglily' through ahmedabad city though- where they've started an ambitious riverfront development project to have promenades and walkways and malls and other such monstosities along the river. the scheme is accompanied by the horrifying slogan 'from mills to malls' (i want to scream or/and cry every time i come across it). the riverfront project is still in the planning stages. but the municipal corporation has enthusiastically uprooted all the jhuggies along the river....
more narmada displacement- for 'development'
thanks, nikita. eyewitness accounts of the ugliness of this situation make it so much more real - and grotesque - than the facts and figures and legal arguments.
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