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Medha vs Modi

PRIME MINISTER Manmohan Singh has sought to defuse the rising tension on the Narmada dam controversy, with his spokesperson saying no decision has yet been taken to stop construction work at the Sardar Sarovar Dam and nothing will be done against the Supreme Court's order. The statement came on Sunday after a delegation of 26 Gujarat MPs -- led by BJP general secretary Arun Jaitley and Gujarat Congress chief Bharat Solanki -- called on the PM to allow construction work on the dam to continue.

india Updated: Apr 17, 2006 20:53 IST

PRIME MINISTER Manmohan Singh has sought to defuse the rising tension on the Narmada dam controversy, with his spokesperson saying no decision has yet been taken to stop construction work at the Sardar Sarovar Dam and nothing will be done against the Supreme Court's order.

The statement came on Sunday after a delegation of 26 Gujarat MPs -- led by BJP general secretary Arun Jaitley and Gujarat Congress chief Bharat Solanki -- called on the PM to allow construction work on the dam to continue.

The PM's move was seen as an attempt to cool down the situation after Saturday's stalemate at the meeting of the review committee of the Narmada Control Authority (NCA). The chief ministers of three BJP-ruled states (Gujarat, Rajasthan, Madhya Pradesh) had strongly opposed the Centre's proposal to stop work on the project.

Water Resources Minister Saifuddin Soz, Environment and Forest Minister A. Raja and Maharashtra Chief Minister Vilasrao Deshmukh had signed a resolution in favour of stopping work temporarily -- until the rehabilitation of those displaced was carried out.

On Sunday, after meeting the PM, Jaitley said: "The Supreme Court has closed all arguments regarding construction of the dam and work on the project should not stop. We don't want the work to be stopped under any circumstances. The PM appeared to agree with our plea."

The PM's "assurance" prompted the Gujarat Congress to call off the bandh in the state even as Chief Minister Narendra Modi started his 51-hour hunger strike in Ahmedabad, irked by the Water Resources Ministry's stand on the issue. Joining Modi in the fast were several of his ministerial colleagues, legislators and party workers.

In his one-hour speech, Modi criticised the Centre for being "anti-Gujarat" and especially targeted Soz for his alleged "soft corner" for anti-dam activists.
Modi said the Centre was giving sanctity to anti-dam and anti-development forces like the Narmada Bachao Andolan (NBA) by bowing to their pressure tactics. He said many actions of the Centre and Soz amounted to contempt of the Supreme Court as it had clearly ruled that dam work should not stop at the behest of activists but individuals affected by the project could approach the courts.
Modi said the people of Gujarat could rely on him. "They can condemn me, they can burn my effigies, but I'll see to it that the dam height goes up to 122 metres", he said.

Drowned out in the media hype around Modi's fast was the fact that it is the BJP-ruled Madhya Pradesh government which has not completed the rehabilitation of displaced people -- the root cause of the present imbroglio.
On Monday, the Supreme Court will hear an application seeking suspension of work on the project till completion of proper rehabilitation of the affected families. Forty-eight affected families, who have moved the SC, are seeking reversal of the NCA's decision to raised the height of the dam to 122 metres as it would lead to further displacement of people.

Aamir gets a taste of Narmada politics

ACTOR AAMIR Khan says protests against him by political parties in Gujarat will not dissuade him from backing those opposed to the Sardar Sarovar dam project in that state.

"I'm amazed and shocked (by the protests)," Khan told a newschannel. "They (the people of Gujarat) should understand what I'm saying. I won't be dissuaded by these protests." Khan told another channel that political parties "are using force, they're trying to bully (me)".

He said he supported the project so that water was available for all four states but also wanted rehabilitation of people affected by the project.

The screening of Khan's Rang De Basanti was stopped across Gujarat and his effigies were burnt in many cities there on Saturday, a day after he expressed solidarity with members of the Narmada Bachao Andolan staging a sit-in protest in New Delhi.

"We've to see who're getting affected and the people who're affected are the poor, they're farmers, they feed us, their villages are getting submerged," he said. He said these people need to be rehabilitated properly by the government. "This is the responsibility of the four (state) governments and of the central government."

First Published: Apr 17, 2006 00:55 IST