The Telegraph
Since 1st March, 1999
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Delhi lets dam doubts linger

New Delhi, April 16: Caught between protests by the Congress as well as the BJP on the Narmada dam, the Prime Minister’s Office today offered a terse comment that neither cleared the air nor dissuaded Narendra Modi from going ahead with his 51-hour fast.

“No decision has been taken,” the PMO spokesperson said in response to a question whether work on raising the height of the dam ' opposed by Medha Patkar but supported by BJP-ruled states in the region ' would be suspended.

The spokesperson said there was no question of going against the Supreme Court verdict, a statement that can cut both ways since the court ruling had a rider. The court gave permission to raise the height of the dam, provided the displaced are rehabilitated properly.

The Prime Minister is empowered to take a decision. But the Centre is pinning hopes on the Supreme Court, which will take up two Narmada petitions tomorrow, to bail out the government and decide whether work can continue.

The Centre is expected to make public before the start of the hearing a report of a fact-finding team that apparently indicts the BJP government in Madhya Pradesh ' one of the states affected by the dam ' for tepid rehabilitation. If the court suspends work, the Centre hopes to cite the report and blame the Madhya Pradesh government.

Water resources minister Saifuddin Soz, the chief of a review committee, had landed the government in a fix yesterday by recommending that the construction be suspended till rehabilitation of the displaced is complete.

Gujarat chief minister Modi then vowed to go on the fast. Not to be left behind and keen to avert a local backlash as the dam is being touted the answer to power and irrigation problems, the state unit of the Congress called a bandh and piled pressure on Delhi not to stop the work.

The unanimity spawned by political compulsion was on display today, too, with Gujarat MPs from the Congress and the BJP meeting the Prime Minister.

Soon after, the Gujarat Congress called off the bandh, saying the Prime Minister’s response amounted to an assurance that work would not be halted. But Modi started his fast, saying efforts are still on to scuttle the construction.

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