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Narmada Bachao Andolan (NBA) is a non-governmental organization (NGO) that mobilized tribal people, adivasis, farmers, environmentalists and human rights activists against the Sardar Sarovar Dam being built across the Narmada River, Gujarat, India. Their mode of campaign includes hunger strikes and garnering support from noted film and art personalities. Narmada Bachao Andolan, together with its leading spokespersons Medha Patkar and Baba Amte were the 1991recipient of the Right Livelihood Award.
Medha Patkar was born in Mumbai, India to Indu and Vasant Khanolkar, a trade union leader and freedom fighter. She was raised by politically and socially active parents. Her father actively fought in the Indian Independence Movement. Her mother was a member of Swadar, an organization setup to help and assist women suffering difficult circumstances arising out of financial, educational, and health related problems. Her parents' activism played a role in shaping her philosophical views. She did her M.A. in Social Work from Tata Institute of Social Sciences (TISS). Medha Patkar is one of the recipients of Right Livelihood Award for the year 1991. She received the 1999 M.A.Thomas National Human Rights Award from Vigil India Movement. She has also received numerous other awards, including the Deena Nath Mangeshkar Award, Mahatma Phule Award, Goldman Environment Prize, Green Ribbon Award for Best International Political Campaigner by BBC, and the Human Rights Defender's Award from Amnesty International. She was also a Commissioner to the World Commission on Dams.
Murlidhar Devidas Amte, popularly known as Baba Amte was an Indian social worker and social activist known particularly for his work for the rehabilitation and empowerment of poor people suffering from leprosy. Amte was born to Devidas and Laxmibai Amte in the town of Hinganghat in Wardha District of Maharashtra. The family was a wealthy jagirdar Brahmin family. His father was also a British official with responsibilities for district administration and revenue collection. In 1990, Amte left Anandwan for a while to live along the Narmada River and join Medha Patkar's Narmada Bachao Andolan ("Save Narmada" Movement), which fought against both unjust displacement of local inhabitants and damage to the environment on account of the construction of the Sardar Sarovar dam on the Narmada river.
SARDAR SAROVAR DAM
The Narmada Dam Project is a large hydraulic engineering project involving the construction of a series of large irrigation and hydroelectric multi-purpose dams on the Narmada River in India. The project was first conceived of in the 1940s by the country's first Prime Minister, Jawaharlal Nehru. The project only took form in 1979 as part of a development scheme to increase irrigation and produce hydroelectricity. Of the thirty large dams planned on river Narmada, Sardar Sarovar Dam (SSD) is the largest structure to be built. It has a proposed final height of 136.5 m (448 ft). The project will irrigate more than 18,000 km2 (6,900 sq mi), most of it in drought prone areas of Kutch and Saurashtra.
Critics maintain that its negative environmental impacts outweigh its benefits. It has created discord between its government planners and the citizens group Narmada Bachao Andolan. The Experts' Committee of the Ministry of Environment and Forests (MoEF) made a clear finding of the egregious failure of the government machinery on virtually all aspects of the planning and implementation of environmental safeguards of the project and recommended that no further reservoir filling be done until failures of compliance on the various environmental parameters have been fully remedied.
Post-1947, investigations were carried out to evaluate mechanisms in utilizing water from the Narmada river, which flows into the Arabian Sea after passing through the states of Madhya Pradesh, Gujarat and Maharashtra. Due to inter-state differences in implementing schemes and sharing of water, the Narmada Water Disputes Tribunal was constituted by the Government of India on October 6, 1969 to adjudicate over the water disputes. This Tribunal investigated the matters referred to it and responded after more than 10 years. On December 12, 1979, the decision as given by the Tribunal, with all the parties at dispute binding to it, was released by the Indian Government. As per the Tribunal's decision, 30 major, 135 medium, and 3000 small dams, were granted approval for construction including raising the height of the Sardar Sarovar dam. In 1985, after hearing about the Sardar Sarovar dam, Medha Patkar and her colleagues visited the project site and noticed the project work being shelved due to an order by the Ministry of Environment and Forests, Government of India. The reasons for this were cited as "nonfulfillment of basic environmental conditions and the lack of completion of crucial studies and plans". What she noticed was that the people who were going to be affected were given no information, but for the offer for rehabilitation. Due to this, the villagers had many questions right from why their permission was not taken to whether a good assessment on the ensuing destruction was taken. Furthermore, the officials related to the project had no answers to their questions. While World Bank, the financing agency for this project, came into the picture, Patkar approached the Ministry of Environment to seek clarifications. She realized, after seeking answers from the ministry, that the project was not sanctioned at all, and wondered as to how funds were even sanctioned by the World Bank. After several studies, they realized that the officials had overlooked the post-project problems.
Through Patkar's channel of communication between the government and the residents, she provided critiques to the project authorities and the governments involved. At the same time, her group realized that all those displaced were only given compensation for the immediate standing crop and not for displacement and rehabilitation. As Patkar remained immersed in the Narmada struggle, she chose to quit her Ph. D. studies and focus entirely on the Narmada activity. Thereafter, she organized a 36-day long, solidarity march among the neighboring states of the Narmada valley from Madhya Pradesh to the Sardar Sarovar dam site. She said that the march was "a path symbolizing the long path of struggle (both immediate and long-term) that [they] really had". This march was resisted by the police, who according to Patkar were "caning the marchers and arresting them and tearing the clothes off women activists".
There were groups such as Gujarat-based Arch-Vahini (Action Research in Community Health and Development) and Narmada Asargrastha Samiti (Committee for people affected by the Narmada dam), Madhya Pradesh-based Narmada Ghati Nav Nirman Samiti (Committee for a
new life in the Narmada Valley) and Maharashtra-based Narmada Dharangrastha Samiti (Committee for Narmada dam-affected people) who either believed in the need for fair rehabilitation plans for the people or who vehemently opposed dam construction despite a resettlement policy. While Patkar established Narmada Bachao Andolan in 1989, all these groups joined this national coalition of environmental and human rights activists, scientists, academics and projectaffected people with a non-violent approach.
Within the focus of Narmada Bachao Andolan towards the stoppage of the Sardar Sarovar dam, she advised addition of World Bank to their propaganda. Using the right to fasting, she undertook a 22 day fast that almost took her life. In 1991, her actions led to an unprecedented independent review by the World Bank. The Morse Commission, appointed in June 1991 at the recommendation of The World Bank President Barber Coinable, conducted its first independent review of a World Bank project. This independent review stated that "performance under these projects has fallen short of what is called for under Bank policies and guidelines and the policies of the Government of India." This resulted in the Indian Government pulling out of its loan agreement with the World Bank. In response, Patkar said "It is very clear and obvious that they used this as a face-saving device”, suggesting that if this were not to happen; the World Bank would eventually would have
withdrawn the loan. The World Bank's participation in these projects was eventually cancelled in 1995. She further undertook a similar fast in 1993 and resisted evacuation from the dam site. In 1994, the Bachao Andolan office was attacked reportedly by a couple of political parties, where Patkar and other activists were physically assaulted and verbally abused. In protest, a few NBA activists and she began a fast and 20 days later, they were arrested and forcibly fed intravenously.
SUPREME COURT’S DECISION
Patkar led Narmada Bachao Andolan had filed a written petition with the Supreme Court of India, the nation's apex court, seeking stoppage of construction on the Sardar Sarovar dam. The court initially ruled the decision in the Andolan's favor thereby affecting an immediate stoppage of work at the dam and directing the concerned states to first complete the rehabilitation and replacement process. The Supreme Court also deliberated on this issue further for several years but finally upheld the Tribunal Award and allowed the construction to proceed, subject to conditions. The court introduced a mechanism to monitor the progress of resettlement pari passu with the raising of the height of the dam through the Grievance Redressal Authorities (GRA) in each of the party states. The court’s decision referred in this document, given in the year 2000 after seven years of deliberations, has paved the way for completing the project to attain full envisaged benefits. The court's final line of the order states, "Every endeavor shall be made to
see that the project is completed as expeditiously as possible”. Subsequent to the court’s verdict, Press Information Bureau (PIB) featured an article which states that: "The Narmada Bachao Andolan has rendered a yeoman's service to the country by creating a high-level of awareness about the environmental and rehabilitation and relief aspects of Sardar Sarovar and other projects on the Narmada. But, after the court verdict it is incumbent on it to adopt a new role. Instead of 'damning the dam' any longer, it could assume the role of vigilant observer to see that the resettlement work is as humane and painless as possible and that the environmental aspects are taken due care of."
Amongst the major celebrities who have shown their support for Narmada Bachao Andolan are Booker Prize winner, Roy and Aamir Khan. 1994 saw the launch of Narmada: A valley rises; by filmmaker Ali Kazimi.This film documents the five week long Sangharsh Yatra of 1991. The film went on to win several awards and is considered by many to be a classic film on the issue. In 1996, veteran documentary film maker, Anand Patwardhan, made an award-winning documentary on this issue, titled: 'A Narmada Diary'.
The Narmada dam's benefits include provision of drinking water, power generation and irrigation facilities. However, the campaign led by the NBA activists has held up the project's completion, and the NBA supporters have indulged in physical attacks on local people who accepted compensation for moving. Others have argued that the Narmada Dam protesters are little more than environmental extremists who use pseudoscientific agitprop to scuttle the development of the region, and that the dam will provide agricultural benefits to millions of poor in India.
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