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News ::
Public Hearing on the Narmada Dam held in Boston
04 Dec 2000
Indian students and community members gathered to hold a public hearing on the Narmada dam at MIT. One of the key flashpoints in the struggle over the nature of development, the Narmada dam was recently given the go ahead by India's Supreme Court, after years of opposition by local and international activists fighting to save the Narmada river and valley. This has prompted renewed resistance in the form of non-violent disobedience.
Abbreviated Summary of Jan Sunvai: Public Hearing on the Narmada Dam

The Indian Student Association at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, Sangam, organized Jan Sunvai, a public hearing about the controversial Sardar Sarovar Dam on the Narmada River in Western India on December 2, 2000. More than 75 students, scholars and activists attended the hearing. Dr. Jaspal Singh of the International Committee on Rights pointed out in the beginning that the Narmada issue shows the sharp conflict of authority between Authority and Condition and raises the most important question of our times in South Asia - who should decide?

The panelists in the Jan Sunvai were Vinay Kumar, a doctoral candidate at MIT, Shrinaath Chidambaram, a former financial consultant to the World Bank and an active volunteer of the Association for India's Development (AID), and Dr. Sanjeev Khagram, a senior advisor for policy and strategy on the World Commission on Dams (WCD) and Assistant Professor of Public Policy in the Kennedy School of Government, Harvard University.

Vinay Kumar traced the history of the Sardar Sarovar project from its inception. He emphasized the exclusion of the people in the planning of the dam by authorities at all levels. The resistance to the project which is today spearheaded by the Narmada Bachaon Andolan (Save the Narmada Movement or NBA) started as a Right to Information campaign, and then evolved to its present stand after the realization that fair rehabilitation for all is impossible.

Shrinaath Chidambaram described the developments in the valley since the SC 'stay' of 1995. He pointed out that the neglect of people's needs has led to a feeling that the government's role has been destructive to the region. In the Narmada valley, women have always been at the forefront of the movement. The latest judgment of October 2000 dismisses the concerns raised by the NBA while allowing the dam to proceed which had raised questions about the accountability and credibility of the judiciary itself.

Dr. Sanjeev Khagram fielded questions that ranged from the performance of dams in general to the relavance of the NBA to the fundamental questions of development and democracy. The WCD report shows that the popular ideology of big dams being essential to development is grossly overstated. Never in the history of dam building has a comprehensive needs or options assessment been done. He pointed out the NBA has inspired grassroots movements around the world and its questioning led the World Bank to do an independent and internal evaluation of all its dam projects.

Questions from the participants in the hearing ranged from those specific to the Narmada Valley and the NBA, its non-violent character and future options for the movement to the use of natural resources and the access of the people to governments, the basic tenets of democracy and the character of the nationalist states and judiciaries. The hearing culminated with a discussion on the role that the South Asians expatriates can play in affirming people's rights.

-- Vinay Kumar

-- Photos courtesy of the Boston Global Action Network
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We Are In Solidarity With You!
08 Dec 2000
Please know that the direct action community of the San Francisco bay area is in full support of the opposition to this ridiculous scheme of a dam project in Gujarat. Peaceout.
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