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Economist-editor's allegations on Narmada defamatory, baseless: Medha Patkar

Counterview Desk 

In a reply directly addressed to well-known economist, journalist and columnist Swaminathan S Anklesaria Aiyar’s two articles in the Times of India (republished here and here), calling them defamatory and wondering whether they were borne out of “ignorance or a conspiracy through political alliance”, Narmada Bachao Andolan leader Medha Pakar has said that the Narmada Sardar Saravar Project and the people's movement by adivasis, farmers, labourers, fish workers, potters and all the generations’ old communities from the river valley have suddenly come to be focused on, since the Gujarat elections are in the doorstep.
She believes that while the “defamatory accusations with baseless conceptions such as ‘urban naxals’ are to be laughed at as the electoral strategic moves, one gets shocked to read the articles by a known old columnist like Swaminathan Ankalesaria Aiyar, published in a reputed daily like the Times of India."
According to her, Aiyar’s two articles, “The real story of how Narmada dam oustees became crorepatis” and “Medha Patkar was wrong on Narmada project” have “a number of utterly false statements with distorted facts, either with misinformation from our opponents or his own decision to support the ‘politics on Narmada’ which is at its peak, after years, for saving the vote bank of Gujaratis who are upset with the deception through the Sardar Sarovar project. 
Here is her open address to Aiyar:
***
Mr Aiyar, you and not just the intellectuals but also millions of common citizens who have been our supporters, were not misled by us but you are rather being mesmerized by the politicians and bureaucrats with their campaign of falsehood. You should first carry out a search with documentary proofs, chronology, history as well as judicial verdicts and know about the nonviolent, 37 years of people’s struggle with collective leadership -- a satyagraha!
Being busy with the unavoidable work in the Valley and across the country for justice, to the deprived, displaced, and exploited natural resource based communities, I couldn't reply back promptly to your perverted facts and analysis, projected as research findings. But I must bring out the truth today since your articles are exposed by many may also be confusing and misleading for others.
First and the foremost, you seem not to have even basic knowledge of the genesis of the Sardar Sarovar Project (SSP). Do you know that it was a 162 ft high dam that was Pandit Nehruji had performed Bhumipujan for in 1961. The Prime Minister Modiji's statement that he has completed the work initiated by the then PM Nehru, in the form of SSP is, therefore, untrue. SSP resulted out of the Award of the Narmada Water Dispute Tribunal that was set up in 1969 and worked for a decade till 1979. 
You should have known that the Tribunal took so long to resolve the interstate conflict since the states of Madhya Pradesh and Maharashtra opposed Sardar Sarovar, proposed to be 530 ft high dam, all through the decade. There was no ruler to call them ‘urban naxals’ or ‘anti-develop mentalists’ or ‘anti-national’ in then the political context which was not as undemocratic as today's. 
When you say that we, NBA and some NGO ‘convinced the Tribunal to award land as compensation to the tribal oustees, not just the cash compensation that would flitter away', is it your ignorance or an attempt to give a little credit to us, even if wrongly, before attack on other issues? 
Please note that no Interstate Water Dispute Tribunal under the 1956 Act has ever given a hearing to any non-state actor! We were also not in the picture related to Narmada conflict in those 10 full years! The Tribunal made some good provisions, of land based rehabilitation, not only to the tribal oustees but for all landholders losing more than 25% of their land holding. You also seem to be unaware of the fact that thousands of SSP affected families in Madhya Pradesh are non-tribal.
You have no information about Madhya Pradesh and Maharashtra, but also are totally unaware of the long struggle we had to carry forward for getting cultivable land, denouncing uncultivable, non-irrigable land bank, proposed by the state governments, in violation of the Tribunal. The very first battle was on the very first forest land allotted to the SSP Affected Families (PAFs) from among Maharashtra adivasis. 
That was full of stumps, having clear felled standing trees and with no civic amenities, even water supply was not provided. The very first one day fast of ours brought some result… but there are tens of other PAFs from MP, Maharashtra and Gujarat too, cheated in allotment of land in Gujarat, continuing to demand justice till date!
You certainly have not gone through the large volume of legal documents, our petitions and affidavits as NBA and affidavits by the three states, not only Gujarat, which is the only state you seem to know about, as also the Union of India. 
If you had, you would know that it was not Arch Vahini or any other NGO, but NBA alone that resorted to legal action since 1994 till 2017, and the judgments by the courts, especially the apex court of India, ensured through directives therein that the major sons of the landlords from the PAFs would also be treated as a separate family and be eligible for 5 acres of land each. 
Our long legal pursuits with probono advocates, with simultaneous mass actions, non-electoral, non-violent Satyagrahas, brought in state government's liberalized policies. The state government of Maharashtra agreed with NBA on genuine issues, such as of families facing land / habitats becoming marooned although not submerged. Gujarat and Madhya Pradesh refused the same, adamantly; having made many PAFs suffer in such a situation.
Mr Aiyar, it’s an utter surprise that you don’t know why did we have to continue with the struggle? Why did the Supreme Court order stoppage of the dam construction for 4 full years? Why did the World Bank conclude on withdrawal of funding? 
It is difficult for any distant person to know and understand the years long process, full of dialogue, raising questions with facts and figures we brought forth to the distant agencies and the planners therein!
It's a long history that is unlikely to be covered in a single or couple of articles. We have lived through it while you seem to be totally confused or have deliberately ignored the same! You may kindly note the issues we raised related to displacement and rehabilitation, environmental impacts and the lack of economic appraisal to planning for benefits disbursal. The truth came out through many government’s studies, plans, sanctions and clearance by the concerned authorities and the court judgments too! 
There is no doubt, as the present Prime Minister and the Home Minister acknowledge, we as NBA approached all the agencies, and authorities for their powers to be utilized, and our legal rights to be asserted. How did the first ever environmental clearance for SSP noted that, eight crucial studies and plans were not completed and could not, till two more years till 1989? 
The minority judgment (of 1 out of 3 judges) by Justice Bharucha who was the only one who heard the case, pleaded by Mr Shanti Bhushan (former law minister) and Adv Prashant Bhushan over 6 full years, concluded as late as in 2000, that the planning was to be done through an interdisciplinary panel first, then construction! 
The other two judges, especially Justice Kirpal, (former Chief Justice of Gujarat!) gave clearance but with strict conditions related to the completion on rehabilitation and environmental compensation, following due process of law and as per the policy decisions by structures specially created for ensuring legal and human justice.
It was a hard battle we had to go through when the encashment of benefits provided for by the tribunal was illegally imposed, especially in Madhya Pradesh. The high court’s appointment of a Commission of Enquiry, seven years long enquiry till 2016, with thousands of interviews, field visits, and hearing of all parties, has exposed huge corruption with 1,589 fake land registries, a result of an unholy alliance between the officials and the middlemen who looted the PAFs whom we had to finally save through a petition and judgment in 2017, with a package of Rs 15 lakh. 
The crorepatis you referred to, are those who received cultivable and irrigated or irrigable land in not one but three states including 4,000 adivasis in Maharashtra and thousands in Madhya Pradesh who struggled to attain their entitlements. 
But hundreds are yet to receive either alternative land or Rs 60 lakh as per the 2017 judgment for those saved from the corrupt nexus or others yet to get their house plots and amenities, as also various grants as a result of the people’s struggle as even the officials acknowledge. 
Alternative source of livelihood for the landless labourers, potters, shopkeepers, and fish workers had to be claimed by NBA over years and finally were included in the Resettlement and Rehabilitation policy of Madhya Pradesh where 40% of the population in the affected villages belong to these categories of landless. Have you ever heard of sincere efforts with perseverance, to take care of social and environmental impacts? 
Since the governments could not comply with the timely mandate, the dam had to be raised in phases, and yet the final decision to complete the dam, erect 17 meters high gates and inundate the reservoir was taken in 2017 when there were thousands of families in the affected villages and one township in Madhya Pradesh. 
Was it wrong that they declared and pledged not to move out without receiving all entitlements, Sir? Would you not follow the same path in a situation of imposition of displacement, through forcible eviction from your home and hearth, livelihood and environs? It is not sympathy but empathy that can make one sensitive!
It was the claim that all PAFs from three states were rehabilitated and balance was 'zero’, made in every annual report of Narmada Control Authority (the interstate body established by Tribunal’s Award) since 2009! 
This was proved false when the governments finally reported on oath that thousands of PAFs in MP were yet to receive land entitlement as noted in a footnote in the report of 2011-12! Thousands of applications based on eligibility for compliance were pending before the Grievance Redressal Authority (GRAs), with retired high court judges in chair and as members. 
The GRAs too got appointed through a Supreme Court order, in NBA's petition. Have you ever heard about it? Can you say that any NGO, not NBA, followed the cases of PAFs in GRAs of three states to get the orders? As on today, more than 7,000 applications are pending in MP alone! 
A struggle was and is necessary to get the orders implemented, as the state governments exhibit insensitivity and illegality, due to non-compliance causing atrocities against SC, ST and other farmers and landless too! Can this be considered as unjustifiable?!
Aiyar
You give credit to Arch Vahini for the PAFs receiving rehabilitation benefits! Great! We know the initial phase of Arch Vahini’s work with a few of the 19 affected villages in Gujarat, while the rest were covered by the Rangpur Ashram’s workers associated with Harivallabh Parikh. That agency was known for opposing Lalpur dam and getting the project changed into four smaller dams which was due to an environmentalist bureaucrat like Mr TN Seshan! Do look into the story in a folder published by the Ministry of Environment! 
Arch Vahini raised the issue first when the JP Associates, the dam builder, had taken away the topsoil of farms from some adivasi villagers at the dam-site, in Gujarat. It was the renowned advocate, Girish Patel, who had pleaded their case... and he was upset and expressed his disappointment to me since Arch Vahini activists had accepted compensation of Rs 46,000 for those and not asserted the benefit of alternative land! 
It was when NBA had a sit at Kevadia, the Project Colony, amidst heavy rains, and questions were raised at local to international fora, such as India International Centre and the World Bank, that Gujarat began purchasing private land to offer to the PAFs. 
There were many adivasi families in Gujarat who were compelled to leave their land and houses, without full and fair rehabilitation, when police force was misused to pressurize them with big vehicles parking in front of the adivasi houses to be shifted,within Gujarat. 
Such intimidation too had to be countered by those in Gujarat too, those who realised that the lands allotted in the Vasahat were uncultivable, had to return back to the hills, amidst arrests, repression and what not! 
There were many adivasi families in Gujarat who were compelled to leave their land and houses without full and fair rehabilitation
All this was through the strength and courage which Gujarat PAFs too gained from the interstate unity and many protests, with NBA without ever denying any dialogue, although it was not possible in Gujarat! Do get to know, the story of two face-to-face public debates we had with Chimanbhai Patel. organised by "India Today" and with a Gandhian Babubhai Jashbhai Patel, the then Namada Minister, and his team in an open public meeting in Jamnagar. 
You can also come to know about many struggles, including a walk by 5,000 affected people from Madhya Pradesh, Maharashtra and some from Gujarat in a Janvikas Yatra, a few hundred kms long with our 21 days fast, Baba Amte's sit-in on the street and Urmilaben Patel’s opposing protest with Gujarati adivasis who were brought from the command area villages with a gift of 2 chadders with money, as they told us, after joining NBA at a later stage. 
Many of them got affected with breach of canal or deprivation of irrigation, which was a promise, unfulfilled! NBA resorted to peaceful struggle also to get at least 1/2 hectare of land as compensation for the canal affected in Gujarat as they were indeed facing destitution and injustice, having to sacrifice land for canals without even right to irrigation water! 
Not only the canals but project colony, which was a part of the SSP and the Garudeshwar weir affected had to assert their right to rehabilitation and some got better compensation. It was as late as in 2013, that the six villages affected by the project colony since 1961, who had received meagre compensation, only for standing crop destroyed, about Rs 80 to Rs 200 per acre, finally got a legal provision of land for land, through a government resolution, not executed till date!
Today, they are not just cheated but are further affected, along with many (up to 72) other adivasi villages in the name of tourism around the Rs 3,500 crore worth Statue of Unity. Ekta Nagar, where the PM recently addressed environment ministers from all states, and was claimed by him as a symbol of progress achieved by the PAFs, is indeed a tragic contrast with the oppressive conditions being faced by the adivasis affected since decades, lying nearby having lost their lands, farms to pastures first to the SSP related Constructions and now to the cities, malls, museums and what not, built for the tourists!
All this, Mr Aiyar, was more or less anticipated by the Morse Commission! You might have read the name of Arch Vahini in their report of 1993 but do you know that Morse Commission was appointed after the Committee on Agriculture and Science of members of US Congress (the Parliament) gave us, NBA, a hearing. 
This was our right and their duty as USA, the main shareholder in the World Bank, that was a lending agency for the SSP. No doubt their share was not more than 5% of the then budget of SSP, which was Rs 4200 crore, yet they were the main source of mobilization of funds from other bilateral agencies such as USAid, SWIDA, OECF and ODA! 
You may not call the Morse Commission ‘urban naxals’, yet you don’t inform the readers that the Commission was chaired by UNDP’s Vice President Mr Morse; Thomas Berger, Canadian judge; Hugh Brody, an anthropologist from the UK; and an ecologist from USA, Mr Gambler. Were they so foolish so as to be fooled by us, a people's movement or me as an individual activist?
If you are not convinced about the knowledge and intelligence, impartiality and honesty either of the Indian Judiciary or the International Independent Review (Morse) Commission, whom do you believe in, for your awful conclusions? Do you know that Morse commission reached our office in Baroda, which was one room in an old chawl, rented by one of our supporters. 
They were shocked to see our poor infrastructure but were most pleased to say that our presentation was the best of the depositions on "development paradigm" they had ever heard of! Will you like to know why they didn't mention NBA even after having spent maximum time of 1½ yrs of research covering all three states, unlike your research done in the name of the Columbia University, but without even reaching out to Madhya Pradesh and Maharashtra? 
They gave equal time and space to the government and had a very short interaction with Arch Vahini. They apologised but decided not to mention NBA, even after using our data and documents, as much as the official ones, only to avoid the possibility of governments rejecting their report! 
We were obviously unhappy with such a scare they had. NBA was proved right, since even otherwise, the Morse Report was rejected by the Union and Gujarat government, giving only one sentence in the Morse Report as the reason for the same : “Adivasis in India are neither Hindus, nor Muslims..." Do you believe in this as a researcher, ever if not an anthropologist?
Coming to your research with some students of the Columbia University, anyone knowledgeable about research methodology, including myself, can’t accept the findings and your analysis of the facts. Your sample itself is not stratified and representative of PAFs spread over three states, belonging to various social and occupational categories. 
You took a sample (quota type?) of adivasis resettled to be compared with others left behind in the hilly villages and region but without considering the impact of the SSP itself on the left out and also other projects such as cement mining in the nearby areas such as Ambapani with the Gujarat Mineral Development Corporation having evicted them, giving jobs to a few but depriving others!
In spite of this, you have concluded that 54% of the resettled adivasis expressed their views in favour of returning to their original environs with nature and culture which is obviously impacted. Was our anticipation based on the experience of millions of dams and development projects affected across India which is recorded in the 1985 report of the Union Home Ministry and the Commissioner for SCs and STs, a Constitutional Authority, is proved to be untruthful? 
If that is proved wrong in SSP, you need not give credit to NBA for bringing in transformation in the plight of the displaced; but do you agree that this was not possible without the people’s struggle? 
Many of those well informed, including honest bureaucrats and politicians, too, admit this! You can at least compare what is it that SSP oustees have achieved and how, with those affected by other dams in Gujarat or in Madhya Pradesh, in the Narmada and other river valleys too! How could we say and accept that SSP oustees would become prostitutes? Such happenings are indicated as experiences elsewhere which we could succeed in preventing. 
While they have some comforts and consumer goods, do you know that many families had to become migrant labour and face indebtedness after having resettled in a cash economy? Adjusting to a new economy with pros and cons can’t be concluded without comprehensive fact finding, by an honest and professional researcher, not an author!
I am sure, if you don’t allow ‘social science research to be a sorcery’ as concluded by a theoretician, you will apologize for your own misinformation and distorted conclusions which are being misused by the politicians and their spokespersons with their vested interest for the upcoming elections and with a vision of ‘profit over people’. 
We have no reason to apologize at all. We rather have a strong and challenging demand for an open public debate with you and your informers on the issues to vision, expressed in this first article-in-reply, and even beyond!
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Counterview has republished Medha Patkar's open reply without any aditing, except the style

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