The means to block or release a dam


If the hundreds displaced in the Narmada valley owe the good deal they got to the Narmada Bachao Andolan (NBA), there are thousands of others who have been deprived of benefits they would potentially have got had the pressure group allowed development projects to be completed on time.

From Jal Samadhi to Jal Satyagraha to fast-unto-death, the movement spanning Madhya Pradesh, Gujarat and Maharashtra has resorted to several tactics in the nearly two-and-a-half decades of its existence, while simultaneously knocking on courts' doors in its quest for providing what it calls "an alternative to the prevalent policy of development" that has no place for big dams.

The Sardar Sarovar Project in Gujarat and Omkareshwar and Indira Sagar in Madhya Pradesh are the major projects on the Narmada that were delayed due to the NBA's interference.

What started as a struggle against the Sardar Sarovar Project in the 1980s now encompasses every dam on the Narmada in MP with the movement's torchbearer Medha Patkar, who used to frequently threaten to drown herself in the reservoirs of the project, now moving on to other development projects in the country.

Alok Agrawal and Chittaroopa Palit, the current protagonists, recently forced the MP government to yield on the rehabilitation of those displaced by the Omkareshwar dam when NBA supporters squatted in the waters for days. Even as the movement was celebrating the outcome of its widely televised water protests, the government struck at the Indira Sagar dam, nipping in the bud a similar protest in support of the displaced there.

Shrinking support

The movement has supporters in NGOs such as the Right to Food Campaign and had many sympathisers in the media who cut their teeth covering the activism stemming from the Bhopal gas tragedy, as also in the judiciary. Writer Arundhati Roy supports the NBA, as did actor Aamir Khan and late social activist Baba Amte at one point. But the support base is shrinking.

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