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Open: growth debate floodgates

New Delhi, June 13: A government decision to raise the height of the Narmada dam in Gujarat and an Intelligence Bureau report accusing certain NGOs of stalling economic growth stirred angry protests today from environmental activists.

Activists campaigning for the rehabilitation of people displaced by dams said the decision to raise the dam height ignored ground realities, while NGOs named in the IB report smelt a ploy to stifle popular protests.

Both the decision on the dam’s height, taken yesterday, and the assertions in the leaked IB report with a covering note dated June 3 are being interpreted by some as signals from the Narendra Modi government to fast-track growth.

Yesterday, the Uma Bharati-headed Union water resources ministry said the Narmada Control Authority had approved raising the height of the Sardar Sarovar Dam from the current 121 metres to the full reservoir level of 138 metres.

The non-government National Alliance of People’s Movement today said the decision appeared to have been taken in haste without attempts to check the status of rehabilitation for the displaced people, the environmental compliance and the cost benefits.

“Thousands of families are yet to be given land in Madhya Pradesh and Maharashtra... thousands of landless people, fish workers, and potters are yet to be given alternative livelihoods,” the Alliance today said in a letter to Uma.

It added that expert panels appointed by the Union environment ministry had found “gross violations” of conditions under which the dam clearance had been granted.

The Alliance also argued that water in the reservoir wasn’t being used effectively, anyway, because of the lack of a ready network of canals. The canal work should be completed on priority and the environmental conditions complied with before the dam’s height can be raised, it said.

Two senior members of the Narmada Control Authority, contacted today by The Telegraph, declined to discuss details of the clearance to raise the dam’s height or the timetable for its execution.

Anti-nuclear activists named in the IB report called a news conference today alleging an attempt to stifle the growing popular protests against attempts to expand India’s nuclear power programme.

There have been popular protests, guided by activist groups, against plans to set up nuclear power plants in Haripur (Bengal), Jaitapur (Maharashtra), Mithi Virdhi (Gujarat) and Gorakhpur (Haryana) over the past five years. The IB report suggests these campaigns are driven by anti-nuclear “networks”.

“We believe this is an attempt to intimidate us and create an atmosphere of fear,” said Achin Vanaik, former professor of international relations at Delhi University and a member of the Coalition of Nuclear Disarmament, who has been named in the IB report.

“The intention is to discourage popular protests against dangerous projects,” said S.P. Udayakumar of the People’s Movement Against Nuclear Energy who had campaigned against the Kudankulam project. He said he was talking with his lawyers to consider options to safeguard his dignity.

Sections of the industry, such as the Confederation of Indian Industry, have called on the government to revive the pace of India’s growth, pull down inflation and create more jobs.

The IB report also cites how activists have stalled action on genetically modified crops.

“Non-government players have used non-scientific information to influence and create wrong impressions in the minds of the public and decision-makers,” said Ram Kaundinya, chairman of the Association of Biotechnology-Led Enterprises.

“We need GM crops to raise crop productivity, which is necessary for growth.”