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Food for two, hiccup for PM
- Court ruling robs govt of excuse to wash hands of dam
(Top) Medha breaks her fast. Modi, too, has ended his

New Delhi, April 17: Medha Patkar has ended her fast, so has Narendra Modi. But that need not improve the appetite of Prime Minister Manmohan Singh.

The Supreme Court today desisted from giving a categorical ruling on the Narmada dam, threatening to stop construction to raise the height of the dam if the displaced are not rehabilitated properly but allowing work to continue for the time being. The affected states and the Centre have been asked to submit a report and the court will hear the matter again on May 1.

The court topped up the middle-path ruling with an observation that gives little relief to the Centre, which was hoping that the judiciary will spare the executive the discomfiture of taking a no-win decision.

“We clarify that pendency... would not preclude the Centre from taking steps to resolve the controversy in accordance with the judgments of this court,” the court said, virtually reminding the government of its responsibility.

Without making an explicit reference to the Prime Minister, the court added that “a statesman-like approach should be taken to ensure larger benefits of the country' ignoring individual states”.

In a veiled warning to the agitating parties, the court also said “a fair, reasonable and cool atmosphere”, not a “charged” one, is needed to facilitate a solution.

With the Gujarat Congress and the BJP piling pressure from one side to raise the height and the rival camp insisting on priority for rehabilitation from the other, the Prime Minister so far had not taken any decision.

The Prime Minister is empowered to decide whether construction at the dam should be suspended until people in the submergence areas are rehabilitated.

It was clear from the Centre’s affidavit in the court today that it was not keen on suspending construction despite a report by three Union ministers finding fault with the rehabilitation.

The Prime Minister now has the unenviable task of trying to thrash out a solution as the unequivocal comments by the court today has denied the government the usual defence that the issue is sub judice and no action can be taken.

If the height of the dam is raised ' work is already in progress ' around 35,000 families will be affected.

Time is running out because of the approaching monsoon season but the rehabilitation process had slowed down because of a mixture of official apathy and the point-blank refusal of some villages ' said to be supported by NGOs ' to considerrelocation.

Officials familiar with the rehabilitation process said only a focused intervention by the political leadership, combined with a give-and-take approach by activists, could break the deadlock. Most of those affected by the raising of the height are in Madhya Pradesh, a state now ruled by the BJP.

Today, the court also referred to the practice of rushing to the judiciary on sensitive issues like water and dams ' an escape route chosen by all political parties in power when faced with a tricky situation. “These are not just issues of law'. We had thought that the highest authority can bridge the gap,” the court said.

Calling off her 20-day fast, Patkar seized on the “inaction” of the Centre and accused the Prime Minister of “succumbing” to Modi.

Patkar widened her attack to include UPA chairperson Sonia Gandhi as well, saying she violated the mandate of the aam admi.

With UPA ally and CPI general secretary A.B. Bardhan sitting by her side, Patkar said: “I invite the chairperson of the UPA to come to the Narmada valley and see for herself how her government has betrayed the 35,000 families. All this because Modi came here and threatened them. The UPA has not only violated its stand against communal fascism by succumbing to Modi, it has also deserted the aam admi.”

Patkar’s organisation is planning to intensify its agitation through “mass actions” throughout the country.

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