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The Narmada Valley (Agarwal Interview)

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  • Dan Clore
    News for Anarchists & Activists: http://groups.yahoo.com/group/smygo ZNet | South Asia The Narmada Valley Alok Agarwal interviewed by Justin Podur by Alok
    Message 1 of 1 , Feb 8, 2003
      News for Anarchists & Activists:

      ZNet | South Asia
      The Narmada Valley
      Alok Agarwal interviewed by Justin Podur
      by Alok Agarwal and Justin Podur; February 06, 2003

      The Narmada Bachao Andolan (NBA) has been fighting against
      the development of big dams in India’s Narmada river valley.
      Big dams have displaced tens of millions of people already
      and disrupted much of rural India, without solving any of
      the problems they claim to solve. The NBA is a genuine
      people’s movement that has grown and tried to fight on
      behalf of those displaced and threatened with displacement
      by the dams. Alok Agarwal is an organizer in the NBA, based
      in the Valley. He was interviewed in Porto Alegre during the
      World Social Forum.

      What are some of the latest developments in the Narmada

      It is a complex situation. We are fighting many dams. The
      development plan for the Narmada Valley is for 30 big dams,
      five of which are the major ones: The Sardar Sarovar, the
      Maheshwar, the Upper Veda, the Lower Goi, and the Man.

      After the October 2000 Supreme Court decision, the height of
      the Sardar Sarovar dam continues to rise. This was a bad
      judgement and it empowered governments to be even more
      repressive against our movement, to be totally unconcerned
      about rehabilitating people. The Sardar Sarovar is
      half-built now. Thousands have been displaced already. But
      because of our fight we have slowed construction, and they
      haven’t been able to raise the height of the Sardar Sarovar
      and displace people the way they would have wanted to.

      After people are dislocated it becomes very, very difficult
      to organize them. They are scattered. Hundreds of villages
      of people have been scattered in Gujarat, and we just lose
      them in many cases.

      In the Maheshwar struggle, we have had victories. The
      Maheshwar project has been going on for six years--it was
      the first private hydro project in India. The state had to
      pay 6 billion Rs. The money was to come from the
      multinational corporations at first, but because of our mass
      movement, we captured the dam site on ten separate
      occasions. We blocked roads for 3 and a half months, made it
      impossible for materials to get to the site in spite of
      arrests and beatings. Now the funders--Bechtel, Ogden,
      Pacgen in the US and Byernwerg, Simmons in Germany all left
      this project. The German government wouldn’t give export
      guarantees to any corporation for the project. Over the past
      two years we found many financial irregularities. Madhya
      Pradesh has just attached all the property of the dam for

      We are also fighting power sector reforms. We held a big
      yatra, a long march, for fifteen days last month against it.
      The government is trying to unbundle the Electricity Board
      for privatization. Rates are increased every year. Farmers
      can’t pay their bills. This is a conspiracy against farmers.
      The WTO imposes trade regulations that prevent the
      government from protecting the domestic market and
      subsidizing farmers, so the prices farmers get for their
      products collapse. Meanwhile all of their inputs--seeds,
      electricity, fertilizer--are going up in price! The idea is
      to destroy the agricultural economy and capture the world
      market. And the result is that there are hundreds of
      suicides of farmers every single month in India.

      Our mobilizations on issues like this bring out large
      numbers of people. The Maheshwar dam protests regularly drew
      10,000, sometimes 25,000, to take over the dam site.

      The Upper Veda and Lower Goi dams could still be stopped. In
      Man, we are still fighting for the rehabilitation of people
      displaced by the dam. There was a long sit-in in Bhopal, a
      hunger strike for 30 days. We have just handed in our report
      on the grievances of the dam-affected people.

      What kinds of repression does the government use against the

      You cannot uproot people who do not want to leave their
      homes without doing violence to them. Where people are not
      ready to move, the police just use force. Recently a village
      called Bhavariya in Madhya Pradesh was supposed to receive
      dam-affected people. The people of Bhavariya didn’t want to
      give their land up for the newcomers. The newcomers didn’t
      want to leave their homes and go to Bhavariya. But this was
      the government’s plan for ‘rehabilitation’. So 500-600
      police came, destroyed crops, beat people, and arrested and
      jailed people.

      So there is this kind of direct repression. There is also a
      repression in forcing people to take cash compensation
      instead of agricultural land as compensation. Not
      rehabilitating people and raising the height of the dam and
      flooding people out is itself repression.

      What are the demands of the NBA?

      Our demands are very clear. From a social, environmental,
      even a financial point of view this project is not viable.
      It is also not required. The promise was that the water
      would reach the drought-prone areas of Gujarat--the Kutch,
      and Saurashtra. But the command area map shows that only 9%
      of Saurashtra and 1.6% of Kutch get any water from the dam.
      Instead, the water goes to the already rich areas of
      Ahmedabad and Baroda. So the project does not deliver what
      is promised and is not viable. We do not want this project.

      For what has already occurred, we want the state to fulfill
      its own laws. The state says no displacement without
      rehabilitation, and rehabilitation means land for land, that
      people move as a unit, as a village. All that is in the law
      but it has not been fulfilled.

      How does the NBA work?

      We work at various levels. Most of our work is at the
      grassroots. But we now have state, national, and
      international-level work that we do. There are academic
      tasks, studying plans and reports, and media work of all

      Our primary work is in the villages, maintaining constant
      touch with people, developing leadership and trying to have,
      and empower, many good activists. We are fighting the state,
      and the state will always try to attack and weaken an
      organization like ours, so it’s very important to develop
      broad leadership that can withstand such attacks.

      Part of your work is in Gujarat, which saw a devastating
      earthquake two years ago followed by a horrific pogrom last
      year. Has the rise of the Hindu Right in the state, and the
      communal violence, like that of the pogrom in February-March
      2002 and the attack on the Hindu temple in September,
      changed the context in which you are trying to organize? And
      also, do you believe there is a link between the
      globalization model of the big dams and communalism?

      Is it more difficult to work in Gujarat? Yes. We have been
      made enemy #1 because of our anti-communal stand. People are
      afraid, there is more repression, our meetings are broken up
      by goons and disrupted, so it is more difficult to organize.

      Is there a relationship between globalization and
      communalism? Look. 36% of Indians don’t get one meal a day.
      There are 60-70 million unemployed people. There’s violence
      against women. Children dying from preventable diseases. Of
      course politicians want to create an illusion. They play the
      communal card so these issues don’t come up, all these
      issues that are products of globalization. To suppress them,
      to keep them off the agenda, politicians use communalism.
      That’s why we mobilize against both communalism and

      Do you think the same is true of war? Between India and
      Pakistan, for example? Or the US war against Iraq?

      It is the same thing. In India, we have a government that is
      fundamentalist. On the other side, in Pakistan, we have the
      same. Both sides are interested in tension. The people on
      either side of the border, ordinary Indians and Pakistanis,
      are not interested. Neither people wants war. But
      politicians talk about war so they don’t have to deal with
      the real problems of poverty and violence in the country.

      This is true with Iraq also. How could it be about weapons
      of mass destruction, when the whole world knows most of the
      weapons of mass destruction are in the US? It is about oil.
      We talk about this in the Valley. It is important. We are
      organizing events against the war in Iraq as part of our

      The NBA is an integral part of the NAPM, the National
      Alliance of People’s Movements. NAPM in turn, along with
      other forces, was a key part of the Asia Social Forum in
      Hyderabad. What is the relationship between the NBA and left
      political parties?

      I’m not very active in the NAPM, so I can say only a few
      things. The NBA used to be very distant from left parties
      and trade unions of the left parties, because of their
      position on dams. But they have been supportive in the
      anti-privatization fight in Maheshwar and on other actions.
      We were all together at the ASF, so we have a certain amount
      of contact.

      The social forums, like the World Social Forum here, is so
      important because it shows that the same process is going on
      everywhere. You don’t get that feeling in India. Just
      yesterday--on January 26, in Indore in Madhya Pradesh,
      100,000 RSS members (Hindu Right organization) marched,
      armed with swords, in the streets. There is no way we can
      fight that without strength at the grassroots. We can talk
      about coordinating our efforts, because to fight a global
      enemy we have to have a global movement, but the most
      important thing is to build that strength at the grassroots.

      Dan Clore

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