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Nitish Kumar "supports" anti-Narmada dam protesters ahead of crucial Aug 31 NCA meet to decide on dam's gates

By Our Representative
In a surprise move, Bihar chief minister Nitish Kumar has thrown his weight behind the powerful anti-dam organization, Narmada Bachao Andolan (NBA), fighting for the rehabilitation of more than 15,000 Narmada dam oustees, which it says have been “left out” from any package to resettle the dam-affected families.
The news comes amidst the announcement of a crucial meeting on August 31 of the Narmada Control Authority's (NCA's) environmental sub-group, consisting of representatives of Government of India and of three “beneficiary” states, Gujarat, Maharashtra and Madhya Pradesh, for a final nod to close down the 30-odd gates installed on the dam.
NCA nod on dam closure would mean that the rehabilitation of the dam oustees has been “completed” and they would not face any hardship as a result of the submergence of the dam's upstream areas if the water levels rise, reaching up to 138.64 metres from the present 121.92 metres.
Kumar, sources say, would reach Badwani in Madhya Pradesh on September 16 to lend his support to the dam-affected persons, protesting under NBA banner. Sitting next on the banks of Narmada river at Rajghat, they are protesting against what they consider as “fake rehabilitation” by the Madhya Pradesh government.
Relations between NBA leader Medha Patkar and Kumar's party, Janata Dal (United), are known to be cordial for long. JD(U)'s former national president Sharad Yadav and its senior leader KC Tyagi, a member of Parliament, have the past lent their support to the anti-dam movement in Delhi and elsewhere.
Dr Afroz Ahmed talking with Medha Patkar in  Badwani
However, crucially, this is for the first time that a chief minister of a state is reaching out to the protesting oustees to support their cause. Known to be a long-time opponent of Prime Minister Narendra Modi, Kumar is considered a Modi opponent. He refused to heed Modi advice to states to drop consent and social impact assessment clauses of Land Acquisition Act, 2013.
Meanwhile, NCA officials have begun to reach out to NBA activists in Badwani as the protest against the dam, begun a month ago, is refusing to die down. A senior NCA member, Dr Afroz Ahmed, met oustee representatives in Badwani on August 27, in order to discuss issues impacting the dam affected persons.
Sources said, Dr Ahmed wanted the oustees' views on catchment area treatment, alternative afforestation, impact of the dam on low lying areas, sand mining along Narmada river, possible rise of submergence level as the dam's 30-odd gates are closed, and possible impact of a severe earthquake on the dam.
A senior NBA activist, Rahul Yadav, said, Dr Ahmed “agreed” to raise the issues raised by oustees' representatives during the crucial meeting on NCA environmental sub-group scheduled for August 31. “We warned him, there is genuine fear among the oustees that if the dam's gates are allowed to be closed down, people would intensify their struggle””, he added.
Apart from Patkar, among the oustees who talked with Dr Ahmed were Kailash Yadav of Karsavad village, Jamsingh Bhilala of Amlali village, Mahesh Sharma of Chikhalda village, Devsingh Tomar of Ekkalbara village, Kamla Yadav of Chhota Vadada village, Kailash Avasiya of Bhilkheda village, and Umesh Patidar of Gopalpur village”, reports Yadav.
"They told him that the state government is not offering agricultural land to the affected oustees and that the rehabilitation sites are not up to the mark. They also said, the calculation of the impact of Narmada dam flooding once gates are closed on the submergence areas is not correct and that fisherfolk have been left out of any rehabilitation package”, Yadav said.

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