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Muddying the waters, Soz passes the Narmada dam buck to PM

Gujarat Cong, BJP MPs urge PM to let work go on, he says no decision taken to suspend construction; Modi begins fast, says Delhi, NBA ‘hand-in-glove’

| New Delhi |
April 17, 2006 5:38:35 am

The Prime Minister’s Office (PMO) today said no decision had been taken to suspend construction work at the Sardar Sarovar project site on the Narmada after Gujarat’s Congress and BJP MPs and MLAs, sinking their differences, met Prime Minister Manmohan Singh and urged him not to stop work.

Gujarat Chief Minister Narendra Modi began a 51-hour hunger strike in Ahmedabad, protesting the recommendation of Union Water Resources Minister Saifuddin Soz to suspend work on the project until rehabilitation of dam oustees was done in a satisfactory manner.

Modi accused the Centre of being “hand-in-glove” with the Narmada Bachao Andolan and “conspiring” to halt the raising of the dam height. “The Centre is playing games with the interest of Gujarat and trying to give sanctity to the demonstrators who are against the construction of dam,” Modi told a gathering.

The Gujarat Congress withdrew its strike call following the Prime Minister’s assurance that work on raising the height of the dam would not be stopped.

Twenty six MPs of BJP and Congress from Gujarat met Singh and urged him to allow continuance of construction work on the Narmada dam.

They told the Prime Minister that the river Narmada was the lifeline of Gujarat and the decision of the Narmada Control Authority to raise the height of the dam could not be reviewed as it was taken “unanimously”.

“The Supreme Court has closed all arguments regarding construction of the dam and work on the project should not stop,” said Arun Jaitley, BJP general secretary and Rajya Sabha member from Gujarat.

The all-party delegation, including some MLAs from the state, said “We unanimously oppose any such idea of stopping the work. We strongly feel the dam and the rehabilitation work should go hand in hand.”

Flanked by Gujarat Congress president Bharat Solanki, Jaitley said, “the Prime Minister appeared to agree with our plea.”

The PMO said Manmohan Singh had received recommendations made by the review committee of Narmada Control Authority and recommendations made by Saifuddin Soz. Asked about suspension of work on the dam, PMO spokesman Sanjaya Baru told reporters: “No decision has been taken.” He said there was no question of going against the Supreme Court verdict in the matter.

In Ahmedabad, Modi, after taking blessings of several religious leaders, began his fast to protest Soz’s recommendation that work at the project be stopped till rehabilitation of those displaced by the dam was completed.

Though Modi had announced that he would protest at the Sabarmati Ashram, his government decided on another venue due to security concerns and space constraints.

With a banner reading “Narmada ka bandh nahin rukega aur Gujarat nahin jhukega (Narmada dam work will not stop and Gujarat will not bow)”, Modi sat on the dais along with his entire cabinet and senior party leaders.

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