Narmada Bachao Andolan

Sanjay Sangvai’s talk at the AID conference held in Chennai in 1999.

Sanjay is a full time activist with Narmada Bachao Andolan and National Alliance of People’s Movements. Talented in bansuri and sitar, he was a journalist in the Marathi press for 8 years and taught journalism in Pune University before dedicating himself to the Andolan (1999 bio).
Note added – Sanjay is no longer with us.  After decades of battling a health issue Sanjays thoughts and gentleness are left with us…

sanjayI WOULD LIKE TO GIVE MY respects to Shubhamurthy, and through him, to JayaPrakash Narayan’s movement. In 1974-5 there was a large band of activists spread throughout India. Chatra Yuva Sangarsh Vahini. This movement has raised some of the pertinent issues and brought out the traits in activism. The latter generation of movements really owe to these movements. Whoever wants to work in India, for India must study this history, this heritage.
The Narmada movement is not the first anti-dam movement. The first anti dam movement in India took place in 1921, spearheaded by the freedom fighter Senapati Bapat. The movements against dams and displacement draw their inspiration from the Indian context, not from some other context. In Maharashtra there was the Mulshi Dam which was challenged. People did not ask only for proper resettlement, but they challenged the dam per se.
When people say about Naramda that we should demand proper resettlement but not oppose the dam, that this environmentalism is some foreign concept, we say no, we must remember our heritage. So I remember the Mulshi Dam whenever we speak of Narmada.
[draws map]

You will remember from vedic ages:

  • gange ca jamune caiva
  • godavari sarasvati
  • narmade sindhu kaveri
  • jalesmin sannidhi kuru

[may waters of Ganga, Jamuna, Godavari, Sarasvari, Narmada & Kaveri be nearby]

Narmada is the dividing line between Arya vart and Daksha vart. It was discovered by the sage Agastya.  Agastya means, one who crisscrosses the mountains. When he came to the blue free flowing river, he named it as Narmada, one who gives bliss. 1312 km long, it rises from Maikal ranges and crosses Madhya Pradesh. 90% of its flow is in MP, 10-12% in what is now Gujarat, and also in two tehsils along the border of Maharashtra. River does not know what are the states.
Ancient scriptures admire the Narmada, for example, Kalidasa (Megadhuta), Bhanabatta and Valmiki. Right from the Paleolithic ages, this river and this river valley have been as archaeologists describe, a constant chain of human habitation. Nowhere in India can you find the uninterrupted chain of human habitation, from prehistoric to historic to modern times. Only in Narmada can we find detailed evidence from all these times. A number of kingdoms and dynasties are there.

It is said that we can get punya by bathing in Ganga, but by merely seeing the Narmada we can get punya. This is also the least polluted river in India. Last month we were in Varanasi and we did not dare touch the Ganga, it was so polluted. We decided that whoever bathes in Ganga is prohibited in Narmada. There are no major industries, there is one industry which is causing havoc, there is a cluster of industries in Baruch, where the river meets the sea. Those who are building the dam have not considered what will happen to the industries near Baruch.
Damming the river was discussed around 1901, by the first irrigation commission of India. It discusses having a barrage near Baruch. [draws map of Gujarat and its various rivers on the chalkboard] Here is Kutch and Saurashtra, which is called the drought prone area.
A barrage was planned but the British at the time said that this would ruin the soil, and only capitalists would be interested in such a project. That was in 1901. After that we don?t have reference to dams, etc until the national time. In national time, when dams were called temples of modern India, the high priest, Sardar Vallabh Bhai Patel decided that we needed a temple in Gujarat also. It was his dream that the river should be dammed, and the entire area should be made sujalam, suphalam. K.L. Rao, the major engineer of India who had provided the rationale for the big dams, also studied and planned a dam and a barrage.
In 1960, the Khosla committee planned for a 530 feet large dam in Vadgaon. When the states were taking shape, MP took objection. They would not allow because the submergence will be in MP. Interstate conflicts arose, but no one cared about the people. It was assumed that the dam brings benefits and the fight was over whom (which state) the benefits should belong. It became a political issue.
In 1969 Indira Gandhi appointed a Narmada Water Dispute Tribunal (NWDT), to allocate the water between Madhya Pradesh and Gujarat. A very fringe of Maharashtra was in it so Maharasthra was included. Then to strengthen its bargaining position Gujarat brought in Rajasthan, which is a non-riparian state, but Gujarat said it would share water with Rajasthan. So it became a 4-state dispute. The tribunal only looked into the sharing of the water, but never considered the issues of tribals. Only water sharing.
In 1979 it was decided that the Narmada has 28 MAF (Million Acre-Feet) of water. How did we get this number? MP and Gujarat agreed on this number. The tribunal did not investigate this number, but took it for granted and started distributing this amount, on basis of need. Gujarat  9 MAF, which it should share with Rajasthan. Also planned were a series of dams. Sardar Sarovar (SSP) should have 9 MAF capacity. It will have a feeder dam, Narmada Sagar, near Chandler, to replenish the SSP. SSP, of 455 feet from mean sea level and Narmada Sagar of 860 feet. Also intermediate dams.
On what basis were these suggested?. The people and resources were not considered important, big dams were per se supposed to be beneficial. So when the tribunal had come to a figure of 453 feet for SSP, it was rounded up to 455 though we know 19,000 hectares additional submergence results from 2 more feet at this height, they just wanted to round up the figure.

Again Madhya Pradesh objected. In 1979 there was agitation in MP. Nimad Bachao Andolan. Nimad is one of the plains in Narmada valley, after the mountainous regions [draws map]. You see the land is the same, terrain is the same, tribal villages are the same, but it is divided into these three states. Nimad is one of the most fertile tracts in India. For the past 20 years they have drawn water and it is like Punjab, better than Punjab. They grow everything, grains, pulses, chilies, papayas. The markets of Indore, Ujjain, Jalgaon, Bhopal, depend on this stretch.
[Questions from audience on width of the submergence area, population, etc. draws the map filling all the series of dams.]
Due to Sardar Sarovar, villages to be submerged are 19 from Gujarat, 33 from Maharashtra, (these are 100% tribal) and 193 from MP. Number of oustees is 2 to 2.5 Lakhs according to statement in parliament.

So this is the submergence. And what is the cost of the dam?

In 1983 Tata Economic Consultancy Services estimated the cost to be Rs 2,000 crores. World Bank estimated Rs 13,000 crores. These were done without major studies on cost. 1990 government of Gujarat agreed that it is 1200 crores. Now 5 years back, BJP government in Gujarat agreed that it is 25,000 crores.
World Bank, when it withdrew, in its review calculated it as 34,000 crores. We are not yet sure how much is the cost. It is at least 25,000 crores, in which the cost of water supply and catchment area treatment and command area treatment is not included.
47,000 hectares of forest 11,000 hectares of fertile land will be submerged.

Benefits: it is claimed that this dam will irrigate 1.8 Million hectares in Gujarat, and capacity of 1400 MW power, and as usual it will stop floods, have recreation and tourism potential, etc. But the major thing the Gujarat government says is that it is supposed to provide drinking water to 8000 villages.
All this was finalised in 1991. The last word on benefits was given in 1991. Until then the benefits of the same dam were increased every year. As the dam was criticised they would add more benefits. The drinking water component was not at all there. Water was essentially for some industries and cities. But then there were advertisements on TV with young girls drinking water, quenching their thirst, and it was called the lifeline of Gujarat. Suddenly there was a claim of drinking water for 2000 villages. And this kept growing.

The assigned water for M&I (municipal and industrial use) is the same, but the number of villages kept growing.
In 1985 I was not a part of the Andolan or any movement. I was investigating the dam. I too had the temple kind of mentality with me.
The feeder dam, Narmada Sagar, near Khandwa was in the plains. As you know a dam in the plains submerges more area. There is a beautiful dam in alluvial plains of Maharashtra. In Marathi they are saying that the water is drying like clothes. Sardar Sarovar will affect 245 villages, Narmada Sagar will affect 254, population more than 2 lakhs. Narmada Sagar will submerge 91,000 hectares, of which 50,000 hectares is the rich forest of central India, the Khandwa range.

Claimed benefit is that it will irrigate 123,000 hectares compared to 91,000 which are submerged. And in that too now I will go scientific.
IISc Bangalore, in 1983-85 reported that 40% of the land irrigated by Naramda Sagar will become water logged as it is not suitable for irrigation. So the engineers said that they would dig a well at every 15 acres to suck the water.

Now what about the power?. 30% of the power generated will be used for doing away with the water log! This was the first time the people came to know that this was the great science behind this project which claimed to have a public purpose.
So we have Narmada Sagar ? the feeder dam ? and SSP. This completes the Sardar Sarovar complex.

Nimad Bachao Andolan protested against the dam, but it was engineered more on party lines, Janata Dal vs. Congress, etc. Several leaders went to jail, but then the leaders had their differences and the movement eventually fizzled out. It was only opposing the height of the dam, as it would submerge their own area. After 1979-80 opposition died and World Bank started sending reconnaissance missions to study the Narmada plan. Spent $15 million on reconnaissance missions. In 1985 World Bank pledged $450 million for SSP. Until then the government of India did not give sanction to this dam. It must give sanction through the Ministry of Environment and Forests, a new department that was created in 1980. Through this department Environmental Impact Assessment (EIA) is done, and only then sanction is given. From 1985-87, T.N. Seshan was the secretary of this department. He said that this dam is not ready for sanction because a number of important studies were not complete. Studies that still needed to be done were:

Command area,
Catchment area
Resettlement & rehabilitation,
Flora and Fauna,
Compensatory afforestetion
Carrying capacity.

All these important studies were not complete. In a note to Rajiv Gandhi, T.N. Seshan said that these dams are not ready for sanction. But after World Bank sanctioned the loan in 1985 there was pressure to sanction. Our fellows started pressuring ministry of forests: World Bank has given the loan, why are you not giving the sanction?. Actually we must question the World Bank: Government of India has not given the sanction, why are you giving the loan?

Question: who was building it?.
Sanjay: The government of Gujarat created an independent corporation, Sardar Sarovar Narmada Nigam Limited. In that Madhya Pradesh and Maharashtra are supposed to cooperate. Ministry of Water Resources was supposed to monitor it, for that purpose it created the Narmada Control Authority.
Meera: Did they contract out the work?.
Sanjay: Yes, to J.P. Associates, one of the biggest contractors in India.
Question: What about floods on Narmada?.
Sanjay: People do clearly remember all the floods on Narmada, because it is not as if it is always flooding. In 1972 and 1980 there were floods. Now people say, if a high dam is built, then what will happen?. In 1984 due to the dam being partially built, the floods wrought much more havoc than usual.
It is a very interesting story. What is Bofors compared to this?. This is a much more wonderful scam than Bofors. It can create a wonderful novel.
There were election debacles in South India in 1983-4. Karnataka, AP, even Maharashtra went out of Congress hands. Three states Gujarat, Rajasthan and MP sat and decided that the project was in the national interest and must be cleared. Seshan and Ministry of Environment had not given clearance, but they were made to give clearance. So in June 1987 they gave conditional clearance, stating that the studies must be complete by 1989. Then the planning commission gave conditional clearance with the same conditions. Studies must be complete and cost benefit analysis must be done.
The entire decision making process of the dam has to be questioned. By 1985 there was not much construction on the dam itself, but only on the guest houses, staff colony, etc. But on the dam or canal, not a paise was spent. There was some protest in the Gujarat villages. An NGO called ARCH-Vahini demanded better resettlement facilities. In 1985 tribal villages in Maharashtra started organizing. Our colleagues, Medha and others started going there. What did the people want?. No officials were going to find this out.
In 1986 I was not at all a part of any movement. I was a journalist, independent. I went to enjoy the Narmada and I saw the marks and asked, what are these?. They said, something is happening, something is coming and there is a lady going around. And the officials said, you may as well leave now, take whatever you get, because when the water comes you will run like rats. Whatever land you get, get it and go.
In 1985-86 people started organizing and asking questions. What is being built, why, how much area is going to be submerged? What is meant by compensation? Are you going to compensate the land, forests, the socio-cultural lives we have?. Can it be compensated?
It is the first time the people refused to take for granted that they were going to be displaced. They demanded answers to all these questions.

Previously they were only demanding proper resettlement, post-displacement rights. They also related these issues with the dam itself. This time the people said, this dam that is going to oust us, we must know what it is.

Officials would say, we will settle your villages. This time the people said, tell us what is your plan for proper resettlement of all the villages. Is there a plan as per our satisfaction for all the three states?. Previously officials tried to fragment it so that nothing could be seen or conceived in unison. This was one of the major contributions of this movement, we refused to see in fragmentation. It is easy for the officials to propagate this kind of view. Tukde karke khao (divide and conquer). You cannot eat the entire fish, so cut it. So a comprehensive view towards the dam and displacement started evolving slowly.

The official presumption was, these people live in huts, so development will be to get them to the city, they will have facilities, etc. I am not romanticizing the tribal lifestyle, but it is much better than what we live in our apartments, in IIT also. See we are living here in prime area, among deer, etc. On holi we were chatting with one of our elders, looking at the moon, river, etc. Dala Kaka said, look at this beautiful scene, my house is here, my children and grandchildren are there. You will kick us out of this place, put us in blocks, and then you will come in Marutis to enjoy this. So you will see that no matter how urban we may be we attach so much value to this. Even people in Mumbai will try to have their own piece of land 90 km from Mumbai, serene etc. Now if we who live in cities attach this kind of value to this land, think how much more valuable it is to those to whom it has belonged from centuries. But what do we think, just like prime land theory in urban areas, we think, this prime land does not belong to them it should belong to those who have money.

Life has some other requirements. It starts from simple issues. For example, women cannot go to the toilet. In all resettlement sites we find that this is the most difficult problem women face everywhere. In our villages, that was not a problem. In Narmada villages, water, fodder, these were not in the frame of problems. Water can be problem. No. For cattle, water no problem. For people, water no problem. We can also see that 90% of their needs were satisfied by the resources, the resource base they had with them in the forest. From cradle to cremation, forest was there, resource base was there for fuel, foods, various roots, fish.

Issues can even be so small as for example, tribal women smoke. When they come to the plains they face the Hindu requirement that women cannot smoke. It is considered something revolutionary when urban women smoke. Anyway I have nothing to say about it. If you see their houses, they are not huts. You can evaluate even in modern architectural terms, each house will come to 5-10 lakhs. Teak wood, village architecture students do come from Dhulia for studying the architecture, village plans, etc. People do not live a wretched life when they are autonomous. They develop their own resources, whether in Rajasthan, Kashmir, etc. Wherever there are people there is knowledge, their own science.

Prakash: do these people have needs?. The portrayal is?.
Sanjay: yes! They have needs. They wanted roads, hospital or at least dispensary, school. These could have been given easily. But during all 45 years it was not done. But the first road came only for cutting the forest and removing the people. The first doctors even we are not totally based on herbal treatments, that has to be developed again, the memory has to be revived also came with the Andolan. The first schools jeevanshalas came with the Andolan in 1991. People had looked at the place, and said, oh this is a mountainous place, how can we build the roads but if you look at Mahabaleshwar, how were those roads built?. Roads can be built, but have you the political will to do that?.
Except for clothes, salt and sweetmeats, they bought nothing from the market. Even now the community life is such that one person will go and collect the loans of other people. Women have more freedom than urban women, though I am not saying that they are not also oppressed, harassed, it is there. Secondly there is no caste in tribal areas. Also hierarchy is much less, you can talk to your MLA, or panchayiti samiti, in singular terms. Are, karo re Farmers in Nimad had their own resource base. They were well developed in the normal conventional sense. In Nimad, every village has school dispensary, STD. Nothing is backward as we have the notion with us. But officials have us believe that this is the backward area, it is entitled for submergence, and whatever difference we make in this place?. That is development. This is not so. These are the various things that are involved in the displacement. In Maharashtra the government would not even answer the rudimentary questions, of whether land-for-land is available.

Mohan: I appreciate your statements about quality, but could you quantify the kind of resource base that a village has?
Sanjay: in 1986-87 we had done a survey on these tribal villages. The government survey and our survey differed on the resource base, even the population, categories of the ousted/affected people. But I don’t have the figures with me.
Question: you mentioned that the villages have STD, etc
Sanjay: Yes, some villages do. I mean if these are the pointers of development, they are also there.
Someone: They are in the plains
Sanjay: yes in the plains, that is what I am talking about, it is the fertile area, everything is there. Mara-mari hai, party-baju hai, sab hai. (There is politics, parties, everything is there)
Ravi: and very rich people are also there Sanjay: not rich, they are middle peasants. 5% of them are rich. 40% are middle peasants. And everyone is in debt.
Ravi: I am saying that one of the greatest resources of the village is the soil, which is very rich
Sanjay: yes, it is very rich, admi bhi boya to. Even if you plant a man he will grow.
These are strips [draws map] of the various talukas and constituencies. They are not in a position to assert on one constituency. It is a long line of 240 km but not a single constituency depends on the Narmada villages for its votes. In each area the narrow strip of the Narmada is a small segment of the population.
Prakash: so what about the village bigwigs?
Gabriele: bigwigs will always have other options. First they may get better resettlement because they had more land to begin with, they may have other lands elsewhere, they will always have a way out.
Sanjay: and there are bigwigs who out of conviction are with the movement, just as we who have nothing to do with it are interested out of conviction.
This was a problem even for the 33 villages, what about the 193 well settled villages in the plains.
This displacement is not only due to the reservoir. 177,000 people were affected by the canals. 25,000 are losing more than 90% of their land. It is the largest canal network in the world. Catchment area treatment. This is not merely forest land but it is land that tribals have been cultivating for generations. Government treats them as encroachers. That land will be taken, affecting many thousands more people. This submergence of forest is sought to be compensated by creation of a sanctuary. 108 villages will be displaced for this. There are waves and waves of displacement. Nearly 1 million people will be affected by the canals, sanctuary, and secondary displacement from this one dam. This did not all become evident in 1 or 2 years but as we proceeded.

In 1987, Medha had seen one small news item in Ahmedabad Daily that Gujarat minister was blaming MP minister for not giving the clearance. So it was clear that the Minister of Environment and Forest had not given clearance. So then we began digging up documents.
* * *

So let us see the benefits.

The claim is that water will reach drought prone areas of Kutch and Saurashtra. Out of all the cultivable land of Kutch?. We will see later if we have time if this is really drought prone or not. But if all goes well, there are no engineering delays, etc, even then, the canals will reach Kutch only in 2025. And not all of land either. Canals will reach 1.8% of all the cultivable land of Kutch, and 9% of all cultivable land in Saurashtra will get canals in 2020. The South Central area of Gujarat which is the power holding area (just like in Orissa 4 districts command all the resources) will get the majority of the water. Here is a strong Patel lobby.

About drinking water: There is to date, no plan, and no budget for providing the drinking water. They are saying 8000 villages will get water, but SSNNL is responsible only for getting the water into the canals. Who is going to provide this water?. The cost of providing the drinking water, estimated as 5-7 crores has not been allotted in anyone’s budget. Gujarat Sewerage and Water board would in principle be responsible for this but has not a single rupee for it. Nor does it have a plan.
About power: 1400 MW is the established capacity. As the canal is built and the water will go more and more to irrigation, the water for power will decrease. After the operation of the dam, within 30 years, the power benefits of the dam will come nearly to zero. If the priority is irrigation, then we have to do it. Power will only be secondary.

The estimates of water in Narmada vary. MP maintains that Narmada has not 28 MAF but only 22.75 MAF. If water yield is decreased, then naturally all the benefits must be re-evaluated.

Then another problem. Narmada Sagar must be built before SSP. What if it is not?. There is an equally strong movement there as 254 villages will be affected. If that dam is not built the power benefits will decrease by 25% and irrigation by 30%
Ok, suppose Narmada Sagar is built and water yield is all okay. Where will we get the generators?. SSNNL has to get the loan from Japan and purchase Sumitomo corporation’s generators. But Japan has refused. The issue was raised by socialist and communist leaders in the diet and the government rejected this.

This is a new kind of imperialism?. They have exhausted their domestic market and have to push into other markets. Who is interested in constructing big dams in third world countries?. Now Sumitomo company is itself giving a loan to SSNNL to purchase. Only 2 of the 4 generators will be purchased this way. What about the other 2?.

And even if generators come. After Jabalpur earthquake this entire region has been considered geologically unstable. Seismic studies are not yet complete. In 1994 there were floods, the entire basin was washed out. There was water in the canal, 30 meters high, which impedes the power generation. All these problems affect the generation of power. Madhya Pradesh is supposed to get the major share of electricity since the water has been assured to Gujarat. Then why should MP agree to submerge its land? But so much of the displacement will come from MP why should they agree to this, when they are not getting water and even the electricity is in doubt?.

So then why are we building the dam?. The answer became clear in subsequent years. In the earlier reaches of the canals, 24 sugar factories have been given licenses. If we have to distribute 9MAF water over 18L hectares, every hectare will get 530 to 550 mm water. Every sugar factory requires 3000-4000 mm water. Every factory requires 50,000 hectares of assured sugar cane supply. And 24 sugar cane factories are coming up. SSNNL chairman is a promoter of two sugar factories. Now how is SSNNL raising money for the dam? To finance the dam they are taking deposits from the industries in exchange for assurance of Narmada water. This is not part of the original plan, which means that the existing water must be further shared with them.

Remember they are not fools, they know for what the dam is built. In Maharashtra we have only now realized, oh this is the purpose of the dam.
A dam is not jut a technical thing, it comes in a political and social context. Those who want to help the Indian NGOs, etc, or movements in India must understand this social and political context. Now 85% of the irrigation budget of Gujarat is sunk into this one project. And the really drought prone areas are not going to get this water. There are many other plans for irrigating these areas but they are not getting budget. Even if SSP is built this problem is not going away.

What are the alternatives?. Yes, we have been giving, or rather integrating the alternatives?.  Who are we? The people themselves are doing it. Sourashtra and Kutch have rains. Once in four years there is drought. Otherwise there is incessant rain. But there is no mechanism for harnessing that rain. In the past 4 years, the Sourashtra Lok Manch has started a well recharging movement. From Rs. 500 to 1000 per well. There are 7 lakh wells in Sourashtra. Even if 2 lakh wells are recharged, the water level of entire Sourashtra will come up. SSP will irrigate only 9% but the people are showing the way. There are a number of experiments on watershed development and decentralized planning. Narmada Minister J.Narayan Vyas has written that SSP is not the lifeline, but the death noose of Sourashtra and Kutch. Various alternatives have been suggested. It was in 1985 that the movement started, but in 1988 that we decided to oppose the dam in toto. It was not dogmatic. Before that we had been cooperating with the government, etc. I will not detail the movement at length, you must have seen the film Narmada Diary. Those who have not, please see the film. But the main thing is that these projects are implemented only with severe human rights?. I know it is a fashionable word now but human rights abuses. You cannot carry out these projects without using force. Jails, beatings, etc. But the greater violence was that the normal life of the people was disturbed.
* * *

What are the achievements?

When we say that the World Bank has withdrawn, that is one achievement. Here in one valley, people made the World Bank withdraw.
In 1993 the Madhya Pradesh government finally had to change its stance, it called for lowering the height. This is not our objective, but it is a first step. Third, the Supreme Court has reopened the issue. After 10 years of struggle we went to the courts. We know our courts, our jurisprudence has to take cognizance of the peoples rights to question the public purpose, etc. The Court asked the various governments to comment. Ramaswamy Iyer was one of the review team members.

Most importantly for us, is that the issue was politicized in the entire valley. Politicized, means what?. Earlier even if a small official came to the village, the entire village was in terror, but now the people can see eye to eye with any police, collector, etc. We consider this a great thing. This is the development. Whether the dam comes or not, we consider this a great achievement. People can fend for themselves in a very dignified manner.

Now every political party is forced to take this seriously. Many political parties still do not lend support to this cause. The refrain has always been, fight for resettlement, but why do you oppose the dam. But now in MP, every political party is supporting what we demand. And there is the larger issue, which Gabriele will start with. All of this is done within the wider context of development. From 1989 NBA has said that our own struggle is in cooperation with all others. In the 1989 Harsud convention, NBA took the lead. 250-300 organisations of India came together and for the first time articulated a position on development. Well I am sorry for so much rambling.

Ravi: I want to put this NBA presentation in context with respect to AID. One thing AID Mumbai is going to be doing is to have similar presentations in various universities of Mumbai.
I want to tell you what Aravinda and I found while travelling with the NBA in the past 6 months and visited some of these villages. The entire aspect of studying the environmental impact statements, engineering feasibility, even basic questions like if this is the height of the dam, how many villages will be submerged, which we would expect the government to do, has been done by activists. We assume that the government, or scientists or engineers do these things but what the government was supposed to do is actually being done by activists such as Sanjay and others. And actually some of the NBA activists are IIT graduates, they have very good technical people, and good legal help. Some of the most prestigious lawyers are associated with NBA.

My uncle who is a physics professor in IITM was also asking Sanjay, why are you opposing the dam and development, dams are necessary for various purposes. When Sanjay talked about the various studies, and technical details, my uncle agreed with him and said, yes, why don’t you fight on these points?..

But when you go with NBA you will find that this is exactly the fight, on every detail. For example, the government agreed to lower the height of the dam in Bargi every year in December. This will open up some field areas where farmers can grow crops. This is an agreement reached with the government. But the government never does it. So these people have to go there, demand their rights and finally the government opens the gates.
Everywhere when I talk to my friends, whether in the US or in India, people ask the same question. It is so naïve that I think, are we actually educated?. They summarize the whole issue by saying, oh these people are just going on the streets trying to stop the dam, but isn’t the dam good for progress?

When you go into the details you will find that they do an amazing job on all the details.

NBA and NAPM should be given total credit for having made an educational contribution, as well as an environmental contribution. They have put all the issues on the table. It is because of them that the government people are to some extent willing to talk about the issues.
Another thing that I was appalled to see is that the government does not care at all, not even a single bit for the village people. Even in the most simple things. For example I attended a meeting called by the Chief Minister of MP, with NBA and the National Women’s Commission. Why was the women’s commission there?. The reason for this meeting was that previously the police had beaten and harassed women and strip searched some men. So the Chief Minister invited these three parties for discussion. NBA was asked to bring two people from each village that was involved.
So we were going in a lorry and we were stopped every few meters. Why are you going?. Why are so many of you going?. It is so arrogant. Medha and others had spontaneous slogans, ham sab ek hain, police kyun hazaar hain [We are one, why are the police so many]. Or police teri gunda gardi nahin calegi, nahin calegi [Police: your bully tactics won’t work here].

When we arrived we were again stopped. When Medha or the activist out there, Silvy, says, we are invited, why can’t we enter, the police say, who is stopping you, meaning you educated people, you can go in. But they take the stand that we are all going together, or none of us will go. So the police say, provide a list of all the people who are coming.

NBA people are so good if I were there I would have thought, ah, now we have a way in. But they are experienced. They said, you provide the list of all the people who are already sitting inside. The National Commission of Women came in AC cars. The Chief Minister’s people came in a helicopter. These are the people who came in the lorry, so they are being stopped.

At every point the government tries to separate the people rich / poor, this / that. And so the response of these groups is on each issue. That is what we should realize.

The whole thing is part of the opposition to a dam or to this kind of development. The entire system is corrupt, the entire system is engineeringly flawed, environmentally flawed. Therefore AID Mumbai has decided to hold talks in every university with NBA and other similar activists. I hope other chapters also support it, because we educated people have to support this movement.

Mohan: I have one 20 second comment. You play into the hands of the government when you call these people activists. These people are not activists. They are the real Indians. Please do not call them activists. They are the ones educating us to recognize what India is about. The government calls then activists and labels them as if they are out to destroy India. Exactly the opposite is true.
I suggest that we eliminate the use of the word activist from all AID organised meetings. There is nothing activist about this young man [points toSanjay]. He has made me look at myself perfectly over the past 20 hours and realize how little I know. What is activist about that?
For god’s sake we need them!. We need him much more than we need the government. These are Indians, as good as anyone can be.


A new scientific truth does not triumph by convincing its opponents and making them see the light,
but rather because its opponents eventually die, and a new generation grows up that is familiar with it.
Max Plank

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