Narmada deadlocked: Ball in PM's court

The issue of raising Narmada dam height remained deadlocked on Saturday with a review committee meeting failing to reach a consensus.

india Updated: Apr 15, 2006 22:06 IST

The issue of raising the Narmada dam height remained deadlocked on Saturday with a review committee meeting failing to reach a consensus and leaving the matter to Prime Minister Manmohan Singh, even as Gujarat Chief Minister said he would go on fast to protest any suspension of the project work.

"The minister of water resources in his capacity as the chairman of the Review Committee of the Narmada Control Authority will submit a report to the prime minister reflecting the points of view expressed at the meeting including the views of the chief ministers," an official statement of the water resources ministry said.

The Review Committee of the Narmada Control Authority (RCNCA), comprising Water Resources Minister Saifuddin Soz, Environment and Forest Minister A. Raja, and chief ministers of the project partner states - Gujarat, Madhya Pradesh, Rajasthan and Maharashtra, met here Saturday morning, but failed to arrive at any decision.

The three chief ministers of the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) ruled states of Gujarat, Madhya Pradesh and Rajasthan opposed any review of the Narmada Control Authority (NCA) decision of last month to raise the dam height from 110 metres to 121 metres.

But Soz, Raja and Maharashtra Chief Minister Vilasrao Deshmukh brought in a resolution recommending immediate suspension of the construction works till all the affected people were rehabilitated in accordance with a Supreme Court directive.

Soz told reporters after the three-hour meeting: "Since there is a tie and the central team led by me had found that the rehabilitation process in Madhya Pradesh was not complete in accordance with the (Supreme Court) directives, we are recommending to the prime minister through a resolution the suspension of construction works."

A three-member ministerial team comprising Soz, Social Justice and Empowerment Minister Meira Kumar and Minister of State in Prime Minister's Office Prithviraj Chauhan had last week visited the rehabilitation sites in the Narmada valley in Madhya Pradesh as directed by Prime Minister Manmohan Singh.

Soz's statement prompted Modi to accuse the central government of bowing to the pressure of the "anti-development" Narmada Bachao Andolan (NBA) that was obstructing the project, considered as the "lifeline of Gujarat".

It was NBA leader Medha Patkar and her two colleagues' hunger strike since March 29 that had prompted the government to call the RCNCA meet to review the NCA decision.

The NBA has alleged that the move to raise the height of the dam violates the apex court directive that makes resettlement and rehabilitation of the people affected by the targeted height mandatory before proceeding with the construction works.

"There is a stalemate. No decision has been taken. The issue remains unresolved with three of the concerned states in favour of increasing the height of the dam," Modi told reporters in New Delhi.

"The central government's attempts (to stall the work on the dam) is a threat to the future of all the concerned states," he said.

Modi also announced his plan to go on a 51-hour fast in Ahmedabad from 2 p.m. Sunday to oppose any obstacles in the progress of the Sardar Sarovar dam project over the river Narmada in central Gujarat.

To match his move, the state unit of the Congress also called for a statewide closure Sunday.

"A delegation of the party's parliamentarians and legislators will approach Prime Minister Manmohan Singh and party president Sonia Gandhi advocating the increase in the height of the dam," Gujarat Congress vice president Hasmukh Patel said.

That will put the Congress-led United Progressive Alliance (UPA) government in a dilemma.

Meanwhile, the youth wings of both the ruling Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) and the Congress in Gujarat Saturday came together to vent their anger against film actor Aamir Khan who had Friday expressed his solidarity with the NBA activists staging a sit-in in the capital.

The screenings of Aamir-starrer Rang De Basanti were forcibly stopped in Ahmedabad, Vadodara, Surat and other cities, even as the Young Congress called for a boycott of products endorsed by the film star.

The Vadodara chapter of the NBA faced the brunt of the mob fury as a group ransacked the office, though no one was hurt in the attack, police said.

The Sardar Sarovar Project, conceived in the 1960s, has been in controversy as the NBA, along with many national and international experts and agencies criticising it for ignoring the plight of the project-affected people - mostly tribals in the valley.

However, its supporters point out the many benefits to the four states, primarily water for the drought prone parts of Gujarat.

First Published: Apr 15, 2006 13:54 IST