Indian police break up hunger strike over dam project

Friday, April 7, 2006 Medha Patkar, Narmada Bachao Andolan activist in the ninth day of a hunger strike protesting the Sardar Sarovar Project, is forcibly moved to hospital in New Delhi by police.

On the ninth day of the hunger strike she and two other activists had undertaken to protest the Indian government's decision to raise the height of the Sardar Sarovar dam across the Narmada river and the lack of progress in rehabilitating people displaced by the dam project, Patkar was taken to the All India Institute of Medical Sciences where she was placed under intensive care. Doctors have said that she is conscious and her condition is stable.

Police sources say that Patkar has not been arrested as of now, but an First Information Report has been lodged against her for attempting to commit suicide.

Activists of the Narmada Bachao Andolan tried to prevent the police from moving Patkar and some were arrested on rioting charges.

Hunger strike

Patkar, Jamsinh Nargave and Bhagwatibai Patidar began an indefinite fast on March 29, refusing food and medical care. They called on the government to reverse its decision to raise the height of the dam under construction from 110m to 121m and demanded proper rehabilitation for people displaced by the project. Supreme Court rulings of Oct 2000 and March 2005 stated that further construction on the dam (above 110m) was illegal until temporarily and permanently affected families were rehabilitated as per the Narmada Water Disputes Tribunal Award.

Patkar said "If the construction work for increasing the height of the dam is started, over 35,000 people will lose their land by the month of June." and that "Yet, most of the villagers living along the Narmada river bank have not been provided alternative land holdings".

The Indian Water Resources Minister Saifuddin Soz and other central ministers met the protestors and called on them to end the fast, promising suitable rehabilitation.

"We urge Medha Patkar to break her fast. She is welcome to continue her protest and raise the issue with Prime Minister Manmohan Singh, my ministry and the courts," said Soz.

On April 3rd, the Prime Minister Manmohan Singh appealed to the hunger strikers to end their fast. Three union ministers are also planning to visit the dam site to personally supervise the rehabilitation work.

The Sardar Sarovar dam project

The Sardar Sarovar Project involves the construction of a series of large hydroelectric dams on the Narmada River in India. Although first conceived of in the 1940s by the country's first prime minister, Jawaharlal Nehru, the project began only after 1979. Officials say that the dam is essential for drought-prone areas in Gujarat and Madhya Pradesh but the dam has been mired in controversy over its environmental impact, costs and benefits since the late 1980s.

Local protests have coalesced under the Narmada Bachao Andolan (Save Narmada Movement) led by Medha Patkar. The World Bank was a funder of the SSP, but withdrew after an independent review in 1990. Indian writer Arundhati Roy has protested the Narmada Dam project.