Court opens gates for Narmada dam
Advani crown, not seat for RSS
Medha vows to carry on crusade
Rush for abandoned baby girl
Registration fee for phones reduced
Calcutta weather

New Delhi, Oct. 18: 
The Supreme Court today gave the go-ahead to the controversial Sardar Sarovar dam on the Narmada river, adding a dramatic twist to the development debate and stunning a grassroots movement that changed the face of environment evangelism in the country.

The court allowed the dam to be constructed up to a height of 138 metres, but added that necessary clearances would have to be secured from environmental and rehabilitation agencies. However, the height can be raised immediately from 85 to 90 metres.

The verdict dealt a blow to the Narmada Bachao Andolan, led by Medha Patkar, which has been waging a protracted war against the dam. The dam is expected to displace over 3 lakh people.

Patkar, the spearhead of the anti-dam campaign, had been pointing to the project’s “human and ecological costs” , considered coffee-table topics in a country which was taught to worship dams as modern temples.

But the Centre has been arguing that the project would benefit water-starved areas of Maharashtra, Gujarat and Madhya Pradesh. The state governments, especially that in Gujarat, erupted in jubilation after the judgment. Gujarat, which suffered the most during this year’s drought, declared a public holiday and has lined up a series of programmes to celebrate a “Vijay Diwas” tomorrow.

A three-judge bench headed by Chief Justice Ajay Singh Anand had been hearing the case over the past several months. The majority judgment was written by Justice B.N.Kirpal. The lone dissenting voice on the bench was that of Justice S.P.Bharucha.

The ranks of the pro-dam enthusiasts had been swelling in recent months. Last year, Shetkari Sangathan leader Sharad Joshi had organised a protest rally at the dam site demanding further construction of the stalled project.

Though much of the dam had been constructed, the flow of water from the barrage could not be ensured because of the manner in which the channels had been planned. As Joshi himself had been pointing out for long, without the dam being allowed to be built beyond 90 metres, the water in the dam would lie unused and would evaporate during the dry months.

In the Saurashtra region of Gujarat, the dam is expected to have a significant positive impact, according to Union government sources.

The judgment said construction up to a height of 90 metres could be taken up immediately. The judges thought that the rehabilitation of those evicted had been carried out satisfactorily in the three states. The judges said that the “construction of the dam will continue as per the award of the Narmada water tribunal”. The tribunal, in its award given in the early eighties, had said that the dam to function to its full capacity required a height of 138 metres.

Justice Bharucha, who put in his dissenting note, wanted immediate stoppage of construction. He said work could be resumed only after the environmental impact group of the ministry of environment gave its report. The group will have to carry out a detailed survey of the project, he added.

Water resources ministry sources said that the project cost has already surpassed Rs 20,000 crore and that a fresh assessment of the total expenditure would shortly be made. It was in 1994 that the Narmada Bachao Andolan had challenged the construction of the project in court, stressing that the tribals losing their land and hearth were not being rehabilitated by the authorities in any of the three states.

In today’s order, the Supreme Court did lay down a few conditions. The judgment made it clear that the environmental sub-group of the ministry of environment and forests would have to consider all aspects before clearing construction at each stage beyond 90 metres. The court observed that in Madhya Pradesh the process of identification and acquisition of land for the displaced had been tardy.

The Narmada Control Authority will have to draw up a plan within four weeks on relief and rehabilitation work that is yet to be done.    

New Delhi, Oct. 18: 
L.K. Advani has apparently done a deft balancing act by equating the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS) with Gandhi and Jai Prakash Narayan.

Advani has accorded the Sangh the status of a patriarch in the extended family which includes the BJP, but he has also implicitly redrawn the line of authority. While accepting the RSS’ “moral” status, the minister has made it clear that in the nitty-gritty of governance, it was not really germane to the BJP.

By equating the RSS-BJP relationship with the ones between Jawaharlal Nehru and Gandhi, and Morarji Desai and JP, Advani wanted to hammer home the message that the Sangh was nothing more than a benign angel watching the BJP and could offer the occasional corrective suggestion.

The reworked RSS-BJP equation was explained by Advani thus: “It is a relationship based on mutual respect and regard. It’s an association based on moral principles, a certain kind of respect for each other.”

The Nehru-Gandhi or the JP-Morarji relationships also had a patina of “mutual respect” but when it came to fashioning economic or foreign policies, Panditji was unswayed by the Mahatma’s advice and leanings. Likewise, Desai’s impatience with JP’s moral sermons was well-known.

Political observers believe Advani’s detailed response on the RSS had packed in messages for different sections: it was meant to tell the NDA allies that he would not wish away the Sangh entirely, but to the industry and diplomatic sectors, it was a reassurance that if he were to ever take over the reins of governance, there would be no “pro-RSS deviation” in the economic and foreign policies.

In other words, economic reforms would be pursued at the same pace and the US would be as high on India’s diplomatic priorities as before despite RSS sarsanghachalak K.S. Sudarshan’s appeal to evolve an alternative model of development based on “swadeshi” economics and his allegation that America had used the Church to indulge in subversive activities in the Northeast during the Cold War.

This is not the first time that Advani has indicated his impatience with the RSS’ “ideological” baggage. At a BJP national executive last year, he had coined the phrase “de-ideologising governance”. He had stressed that while ideology had its place, it was not the be-all and end-all of the BJP’s political pursuits, especially since the party was heading a huge coalition.

Observers believe that the difference in approach of Atal Behari Vajpayee and Advani towards the RSS would be in the quantum of lip-service they paid to their parent organisation. Vajpayee has given the impression that he would rather not have anything to do with either the RSS or the BJP. His message from Breach Candy hospital on the first anniversary of the NDA government does not mention the BJP.    

Mumbai, Oct. 18: 
She blinked back tears as she fought hard to keep her composure and not to let the anger raging in her show.

“I will fight to the end,” Narmada Bachao Andolan leader Medha Patkar vowed, refusing to accept the Supreme Court’s ruling on the Narmada project. “The poor tribals and peasants fighting against displacement have been betrayed by the judgment.”

The apex court’s ruling not just dealt a body blow to the country’s biggest anti-dam movement since Independence, but left Patkar, who has virtually single-handedly waged the campaign for more than a decade, devastated.

“It is not a real judgment because the judges have not been able to judge the reality, which is very complex and still very unclear,” said the 45-year-old leader, disappointment written all over her face.

Patkar had, ironically, taken the case to the Supreme Court in 1994, challenging construction of the Rs 18,000-crore Sardar Sarovar dam on grounds of its huge human and environmental costs.

The project spans 800 miles through three states, calling for 30 major, 135 medium and 3,000 small dams along the Narmada, the country’s fifth largest river running into the Arabian sea. At the centre of the project stands Sardar Sarovar dam, stretching 4000 feet across the river and rising to a 45-story building.

The project is intended to irrigate nearly 4.8 million acres of farmland and bring drinking water to 30 million people. But the human cost of the project is high. More than 35,000 people, mostly subsistence farmers and herders, face displacement as 193 villages in Madhya Pradesh, 33 in Maharashtra and 19 in Gujrat are scheduled to go under water.

Patkar accused the three state governments of “misleading” the court with their reports. “The court has put unjustifiable faith in the same system that has failed the people, without considering facts of the case.”

In the ruling, the supreme court asked the Narmada control authority to draw up a plan for rehabilitation in four weeks.

“But it is impossible,” she said. “Moreover, where is the land to settle 35,000 displaced families?”

Patkar said the Maharashtra and Madhya Pradesh government had already written to the movement leaders that they did not “have any land to spare, not even for one displaced village.”

“What else do you want to know?” she asked. “Let people judge the judgement.”

Shortly after the Supreme Court handed down the ruling, Gujarat chief minister Keshubhai Patel said work on the Sardar Sarovar dam would begin in a week. But the Maharashtra government made no comment immediately, though the project covered the state as well.

“Let the Gujarat government start the work,” she said, refusing to divulge her organisation’s next move. “The tribals will themselves decide the next course of action.”

She said she, however, decided to file a defamation suit against those claiming the Narmada Bachao Andolan, now a non-governmental organisation, was receiving foreign funds. “Ours is possibly the only institution not accepting any money from abroad. We are not even accepting award money.”

Patkar said the judges were not unanimous in allowing the project.

“It is a majority judgement,” she said, stressing that justice S.P. Bharucha did not agree with the other two judges-chief justice A.S. Anand and justice B.N. Kripal- who passed the order.

“Justice Bharucha’s dissenting note is important. He says there is need to reconsider the environmental aspects. He also emphasised the need for fresh environment assessment,” Patkar said.

She said her organisation had petitioned the apex court “because we were concerned about the lives and livelihood of victims of the project.” She said the judgement, however, left thousands of villagers to the mercy of the state governments.

“Where will all these people go when two state governments say they have no land to spare for them?” the leader said. “They are humans and you cannot junk them.”

She was barely 30 when she visited the Narmada valley for the first time in 1985 to study as a researcher the villages facing the threat of displacement. She plunged headlong into the movement when she realised the “horror” of the project.

Despite the court judgement, she said her organisation would carry on the struggle. “The fight has to go on, we cannot leave the people.”

With fire in her eyes, she said she was not going to give up till “We receive people’s judgement. Today’s was after all a legal judgement.”    

Calcutta, Oct. 18: 
A new-born baby abandoned in a garbage dump in north Calcutta was rescued by residents today. Nearly a dozen couples came forward to give the day-old girl a home after she was handed over to the local police station.

The baby, found early in the morning, was doing fine at the Marwari Relief Society Hospital in Rabindra Sarani where the police had her admitted for treatment. “It is a full-term baby and weighs around 2.25 kg, which is all right,” Subrata Dutta, resident physician, said. “We are giving her dextrose intravenously, but it is not essential,” he added.

Just before 6 this morning, residents of Sitanath Road found the baby wrapped in cloth lying in a huge pile of garbage. “The baby was left in the garbage vat. I had gone to throw waste when I saw people crowding the place. A cute baby was crying. It was not more than 24 hours old,” said Sumitra Mukherjee, among the first few to reach the spot.

“Only the head was peeping out of the swaddle of cloth. The baby was crying in a weak voice,” residents said.

They pulled the baby out of the filth. “Initially, we were in a quandary over what to do with the baby. There were many suggestions and ultimately the elders decided that we take the baby to the local police station,” Sasanka Dey, a resident, said.

The Jorasanko police took the baby to Matri Mangal Hospital where it was given primary assistance.

“The infant hadn’t been cleaned after delivery, even the umbilical chord hadn’t been cut,” Sachi Majumdar, the OC, said.

The baby spent over three hours at the police station, where she was fed by a lady who was called in to take care of her. A group of curious onlookers gathered around the police station.

“When we brought it back (from Matri Mangal), the news had spread. A large number of childless couples turned up wanting to take care of the baby,” Majumdar said.

The police said they received at least a dozen phone calls in three hours from mostly local people volunteering to adopt the baby.

“I want to adopt the child,” a childless woman in her forties said, not wishing to disclose her identity.

Fortyfive-year-old Sadhan Ghosh was among those who had approached the police station. “I don’t have a girl and I want to take her home,” he said.

They were told that the courts would decide on custody. After consulting officers senior to him, Majumdar decided to take the baby to the Marwari Relief Society Hospital, which has a special baby-care unit.

Dr Dutta, who is a paediatrician, said blood tests would be conducted on the baby to check for infection, particularly septicaemia, over the next three days it is expected to spend in the hospital. “We will then give it back to the police, pending a court decision,” he said.

The police station intends to hand the baby over to a voluntary organisation which runs homes for abandoned babies. A police officer at Jorasanko said couples interested in adopting the baby would have to get in touch with that organisation.    

New Delhi, Oct. 18: 
The Centre today slashed registration fees for new telephones by 33 per cent for urban subscribers and 50 per cent for those staying in rural areas.

A rural subscriber can now buy a connection for just Rs 500 while the cost in urban areas will be Rs 2,000. The new rates are applicable from November 1.

Announcing the reduced rates at the economic editors’ conference here, communications minister Ram Vilas Paswan said: “It is an effort to improve tele-density. There are poor people who still feel that a registration of Rs 3,000 is too high.”

The telephone top brass believe that this largesse will burden them with a higher outgo.    



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