Medha Patkar is furious the Prime Minister has not stopped construction of the Sardar Sarovar dam till all oustees are rehabilitated. The Supreme Court is expected to take up the matter on May 8. The Narmada Bachao Andolan leader talks about the politics of water in an exclusive interview to Poornima Joshi
Q: Why do you think the Prime Minister has not acted on the Narmada issue?
They are committing political suicide and I hope they are aware of it. Ahmad Patel is the real culprit. He was the one briefing Sonia Gandhi on the Gujarat situation. They have ended up making a hero out of Narendra Modi. The least they could have done was to respond to his taunts and open threats of violence. The Left should have said something.
Unfortunately, the Congress has ended up looking like the B-team of Narendra Modi in Gujarat. When he was alleging that the Congress was responsible for development being halted, why did no one say that it is the BJP that has not done proper rehabilitation in Madhya Pradesh for which work has to be stopped?
Q: But the Congress has to take into account the political reality of Gujarat. The dam has become a symbol of development and no party can afford to oppose it.
This argument smacks of political illiteracy and a complete ignorance of the Gujarat situation. The issue has been politicised but I’ll tell you how the Congress could have reversed the situation.
During much of the time Keshubhai Patel was the chief minister of Gujarat, there was no focus on either increasing the dam height nor did they (the BJP) oppose the NBA. That is because Keshubhai is from Saurashtra and he knows that the benefits of the dam are not going to reach Kutch and Saurashtra in the manner they are being projected.
Are you aware that the Kutchis (the people of Kutch) have filed a petition in the Supreme Court saying they are not getting any benefits?
The Gujarat government has claimed that 1,300-1,500 villages get drinking water. A survey by Pravah, one of the most reliable agencies working in the drinking water sector, says that water lines have not reached one-third of these villages and only 10 per cent of the villages get regular supply.
What is their hurry to raise the dam height? Even at 110.64 metres, they are only using less than 30 per cent of the water volume.
This is not NBA’s data, check the CAG report and it’ll tell you that the downstream infrastructure is not yet complete, so only 30 per cent of the stored water gets used.
Let them stop raising the height and complete the canal structures and, meanwhile, rehabilitation work can proceed.
My point is, Modi is using the dam height as a political symbol and the Congress has not done anything to expose the truth behind such gimmicks. I am deeply disappointed.
Q: The Prime Minister has constituted a committee to look into the issue. It is not complete inaction.
Yes it is. The committee and its terms of reference are laughable. The committee is supposed to come up with ways and means of ensuring rehabilitation up to July 2006. There are clear directions from the Supreme Court that rehabilitation should be complete six months before construction can start at the dam site.
How can they go on constructing while carrying on the rehabilitation work? It is a bizarre suggestion.
What the Prime Minister is clearly trying to do is to suspend his decision on the dam height. As far as we are concerned, that amounts to shrugging off political responsibility.
Q: Is there any difference between the way the UPA has handled the situation and what the BJP-led NDA would have done?
There were differences but they seem to be narrowing. The Congress has to listen to the Gandhians, the left-of–centre groups. But this dialogue is being killed. They listen to a corporatised bureaucracy that is constantly engaged in diverting resources to the rich, to a minority of the population.
This is not a healthy trend. They are pushing more and more people towards violence against the state. Our more radical friends in the Left sometimes accuse us of pinning hopes on a failed state.
I am not an admirer of a state that is actively engaged in murdering a whole river-valley civilisation and its people. But unless there is an alternative, where do people go?