New Delhi, April 15: One hunger strike almost got the Centre to suspend work on Sardar Sarovar dam before the threat of another robbed it of the appetite for action and sent it running for cover to the Supreme Court.
Emerging from a meeting of the Review Committee of the Narmada Control Authority during the day, Union water resources minister Saifuddin Soz said construction would be halted till rehabilitation of the displaced is complete, but later changed tack to say the decision had been left to the Prime Minister.
“I, as chairman of the RCNCA, had taken a decision to suspend work on the dam till rehabilitation was complete. But since there is a tie on our resolution, the matter would be referred to the Prime Minister who takes a final decision,” he said, a line he changed again to say the Supreme Court would decide.
Soz would not have bargained for Narendra Modi doing a Medha Patkar. The Gujarat chief minister, who was fuming at the end of the meeting chaired by Soz, said an hour later: “I will sit on a fast for 51 hours on the banks of the Sabarmati tomorrow at 2 pm'.”
Medha’s hunger strike ' into its 17th day ' had prompted the Centre to review the decision to raise the dam height from 110.64 m to 121.92 m.
To the Gandhian protest, Modi added a thinly-veiled warning of violence: “I appeal to the people of Gujarat to not let things go out of control. But if something happens, the central government would be entirely responsible.”
Violence has already broken out, with BJP workers ransacking the Vadodara office of Medha’s Narmada Bachao Andolan and stalling the screening of Rang De Basanti. Aamir Khan is backing Medha.
A statement from Soz, who met Manmohan Singh during the day, in the evening said: “It is open to the Supreme Court to consider whether construction of the dam should be temporarily suspended.” The court will hear two rehabilitation petitions on Monday.
The Prime Minister, who is empowered by the Supreme Court to take a decision, is under pressure from an influential section of his own party that fears stopping work on the dam would permanently damage the Congress in Gujarat.
But BJP leader L.K. Advani insisted Singh had to decide. In a phone call tonight, he urged Singh “to show leadership” and said: “You alone have to decide at the earliest.”
Politics had dominated the review meeting, too. On one side were Modi and the other BJP chief ministers Shivraj Chauhan and Vasundhara Raje. On the other, Soz, his cabinet colleague A. Raja and Maharashtra chief minister Vilasrao Deshmukh.
The Union ministers introduced a resolution that called for work on the dam to be suspended. They pointed to a report by three ministers, including Soz, who surveyed the submergence zones in Madhya Pradesh. “I found that in Piplud, Awalda and a number of other villages rehabilitation work had not been done,” Soz said.
The resolution was opposed by the BJP-led states, and voting led to a tie.