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Dam displaced at mercy of two Ms

New Delhi, May 8: Manmohan Singh or the monsoon ' only they can interfere with the height of the Narmada dam now.

The Supreme Court today refused to stay the ongoing work to raise the height of the dam, deciding to wait till the Prime Minister takes a decision after a panel submits before him a status report on rehabilitation of the displaced.

But the committee is expected to submit the report only by the end of June and the court has posted the next hearing on July 7.

This means the construction, now proceeding at breakneck speed at the dam site, can continue and most probably hit the targeted height ' 121.92 metres ' before the panel files its report. Around 35,000 families will then have to move out without rehabilitation, the bone of contention that had pitted the Medha Patkar-led Narmada Bachao Andolan against the government.

By this evening, the height stood at 114.16 metres. After 115 metres, the construction turns extremely complex, but there is ample time to finish the task before the end of June, an engineer said.

But if the monsoon sets in early ' there is no forecast yet to support such a possibility ' the work will be affected.

Singh is empowered to suspend the work but Patkar had accused him of delaying a decision by asking the sub-committee to go into the issue. Wary of an anti-development image in Gujarat, which is banking heavily on the dam, and keen to preserve the image of a government with a human face, the UPA had been steering clear of a decision.

But the Supreme Court repeated today that the Prime Minister is better placed to take a decision. A bench headed by Chief Justice Y.K. Sabharwal noted that the Prime Minister would be “in a better position and better informed” to take a decision after the three-member committee submits its report.

“We hope and expect the Prime Minister will be able to take a decision on or before July 3,” the court said, responding to a time frame suggested by the government.

The court said it hoped all parties concerned would fully cooperate with the survey teams sent by the committee.

“The last door has been slammed on the people of the Narmada valley,” Patkar told The Telegraph after the court order. Her organisation will hold a protest outside the court tomorrow.

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