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Women join Medha's protest fast for justice to adversely affected people of Narmada dam

By Bharat Dogra* 

Prominent social activist Medha Patkar has once again resorted to fast to demand justice, compensation and satisfactory rehabilitation of the adversely affected people of Narmada dams, particularly the Sardar Sarovar project, who have continued to suffer various denials and injustices despite their demands having been raised several times in the past. Several thousand such people are still waiting for justice. Many of these affected people including women have also observed protest fasts. 
Those who have joined protests in support of this latest phase of the Narmada movement include GG Parekh, veteran freedom fighter and thinker on alternative development, who has just completed his 100 years but despite health issues did not hesitate to join the solidarity protest action organized recently in Mumbai. 
He has stated that apart from the obvious justice of the various issues raised by the Narmada movement, he also values the movement greatly for the contribution it made to a better understanding of what development should truly mean and what should be its priorities. 
In the initial period of large dam construction in India when projects like Bhakra Dam were being built, there was not much consciousness about various aspects of satisfactory rehabilitation. This resulted in injustice and promises not getting fulfilled for several decades. However subsequently there was a lot of discussion on the issue and attempts to evolve much better policies were made, or at least promises regarding this were made. 
At an early stage of the Sardar Sarovar project I remember a conversation with senior officials in which they were very confidant of offering a package to evicted and adversely affected people that would be considered satisfactory by them.
However once again there was a lot of difference between the rhetoric and the reality and by the time that the Morse Committee Report appeared with its substantial criticisms and shortcomings of the rehabilitation process, the earlier assurances were beginning to sound hollow. 
If despite this several improvements could be made and at least some sense of justice restored, a substantial part of the credit should also go the constant close monitoring by the movement, drawing attention to remaining problems and launching various peaceful struggles whenever there was need for this.
However it is not fair to the evicted and adversely affected people that every time they have to start a struggle or a protest in difficult circumstances to make their voice heard. As it is, there are already too many problems for them due to the disruption caused in their life by either, sooner or later, their displacement, or various disruptions in their life.
Those who have joined protests in support of this latest phase of the Narmada movement include GG Parekh, veteran freedom fighter 
Given this situation and these difficulties, it is for the government and the project-authorities to play a more pro-active role and take adequate notice at the proper time of the various genuine problems faced by the adversely affected people.
It is due to this role not being accepted and taken up by the various authorities that the present situation has arisen in which, again, thousands of people, having faced serious problems, are forced to initiate a new struggle, a struggle which also includes the fast of Medha Patkar backed by fasts of other affected people and peaceful protesters as well as the support extended by several eminent persons.
The government should respond to the emerging situation with sympathy and sensitivity as already the adversely affected thousands of additional people have suffered a lot, and they need and deserve speedy justice. 
If a decision is soon taken by the government to very soon accept the demands concerning justice for thousands of adversely affected people this will bring great relief to them, and in addition this will pave the way for Medha Patkar (and others in solidarity with her) to give up their fast. 
Such a situation would be widely welcomed by all the forces of justice everywhere.
*Honorary convener, Campaign to Save Earth Now. Books: "Planet in Peril", "Protecting Earth for Children", "Man over Machine" and "A Day in 2071"



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