In response to environmental campaigners’ last ditch attempt to gain publicity through fasting, the Madhya Pradesh government has ordered a halt to construction work at India’s Maheshwar hydroelectric project.
Local people and environmental groups, working together under the umbrella of the Narmada Bachao Andolan organisation (NBA), had illegally infiltrated the dam site on 11 January in protest at the 400MW project which necessitates resettling 10,000 villagers. After intensifying their occupation of the site, (with estimated numbers of protesters ranging from hundreds to thousands), six campaigners started a fast on 26 January.
To calm the escalating situation and ensure the safety of those involved, on 30 January the Deputy Chief Minister of Madhya Pradesh state ordered that work on the project should be halted and reviewed. NBA leader, Medha Patkar, said: ‘This struggle has been led by women and financed by the farmers of the valley. The people will decide how development proceeds in the Narmada valley.’ Maheshwar dam, part of the Narmada Valley Development Project, which plans to build 30 major, 135 medium and 3000 small dams along the Narmada river and its tributaries, has been the target of environmental campaigners for the past year. Various issues give cause for concern, the NBA claims, but primarily local people are unsatisfied with the rehabilitation and resettlement policy which is not providing adequate com- pensation in terms of money or land.
The company responsible for the project, Shree Maheshwar Hydel Power Corporation (SMHPC) says that its resettlement policy is comprehensive, sensitive to the needs of local people, will improve villagers’ standard of living and, most importantly, is being enforced legally. Furthermore, SMHPC claims that NBA is using propaganda to ‘whip up’ the emotions of the local people, while ‘outsiders’ are preventing the correct information about the resettlement policy being communicated to those who will be affected. As IWP&DC went to press SMHPC said it was unable to comment on the recent developments.