Where are your glasses, dear editors?

No one asked, what will happen to the 9000 villages that were to receive water out of the Narmada water that is allocated for `municipal and industrial use`.

Himanshu Upadhayaya

On April 22nd and 23rd, a blunt headline in several newspapers read, ?Centre orders probe into foreign funds received by Narmada Bachao Andolan (NBA)?. It appeared to be originating from the  Press Trust of India. The Zee News byline said it was reported by New Delhi bureau. The content of the news smack of a witch-hunt and vilification wherein media forgot to ask all of the wh- questions. On a closer scrutiny it is found that the Union Government has filed an affidavit in the court where it is underlined that in the year 2000 and 2002, the Ministry of Home Affairs had undertaken examination of account books and NBA was given a clean chit by none other than L K Advani.

Examine this. A Public Interest Litigation is being heard by the Supreme Court. The petitioner has prayed for an enquiry into the source of funding of a well-known social movement, making allegations that the struggle that it has waged is at the behest of foreign powers that want to stall `development`. Every time the case is posted for a hearing, we witness media going overboard and allying itself with the petitioner in judging the respondent without letting the latter make an argument in its own defense. Is the clamor all for hiding a few disturbing facts and figures that have started to appear on the benefits of Narmada Dam?

On March 25th, The Times of India reported in a news item that Gujarat Government has sought a high level inquiry into allegation that NBA was illegally receiving funds from abroad.

On March 30th, an audit report on Gujarat (Commercial) was tabled in Gujarat assembly. The audit findings reported that in deviation from Master Plan, Gujarat Water Infrastructure Limited had commissioned and executed a sub project NC 14 (Narmada Main Canal - Gandhinagar) at a cost of Rs 39.39 crore for supplying 255 MLD water to Gandhinagar city, Thermal Power Station at Gandhinagar, etc at the cost of depriving drought prone regions. Further, it was found that while going by Indian Standard (IS) Code of basic requirement for water supply, drainage and sanitation, the domestic water requirement for Gandhinagar should have been 49 MLD, the city had actually received 90.10 MLD Narmada water, i.e. almost double of standard requirement. The audit pointed out that such a DIVersion was at the cost of depriving the drought prone villages the benefit of drinking water from Narmada Dam.

There was more. The audit report also scrutinized what was the true story of much touted claim of Narmada water reaching Kutch. It pointed out that in deviation from Master Plan that envisaged supply of 232 Million Litres per Day (MLD) water for Kutch of which 45 MLD was meant for industrial use, industries in Kutch were actually allotted 61.91 MLD water (more than one third excess allocation than what was envisaged in Master Plan) as per figures available as on March 31, 2006. On this being pointed out in July 2006, management of Gujarat Water Infrastructure Limited (GWIL), and Gujarat Government replied that Sardar Sarovar Narmada Nigam Limited had increased in May 2006 the allocation for industrial water from 0.2 MAF (674 MLD) to 1.0 MAF (3369 MLD) from which the excess allocation would be adjusted.

The otherwise all too active media was silent on these revelations. Here was an indication that after two decades long propaganda that Narmada Dam will take the drinking waters to more than 9000 drought affected villages, Gujarat was suddenly revising the industrial allocation of Narmada water by changing priorities. No one appeared to raise an eyebrow asking, what will happen to 9000 villages that were to receive 0.86 MAF Narmada water, out of the 1.06 MAF Narmada water that is allocated for ?municipal and industrial use?.

There were only two exceptional news stories on these audit comments in local editions of two English newspapers, but even those stories failed to grasp the grave implications of SSNNL`s decision to revise industrial allocation upward five fold (from 0.2MAF to 1.0 MAF) by leaving aside for villages and urban centers a meager 0.06 MAF Narmada waters to meet drinking water needs. While the one written by D P Bhattacharya of The Indian Express emphasized on the diversion of water to Gandhinagar and industries (the other filed by Rajiv Shah of The Times of India laments the fact that Gujarat is slow on the reforms and cost-effective water still remains a distant dream.) Even these two news items remain confined to pages on local supplements and could never be part of ┬┐national news┬┐.

Meanwhile, print spaces and airwaves time were agog with reporting and even exercising a spin on the affidavit that Madhya Pradesh had filed in the Supreme Court, taking a position similar to Gujarat. Distressed by judgment by media - there is a wrong term used by colleagues from human rights and media studies when they identify such a process as trial by media as such hot pursuit by media of persons facing a legal trial never even gives them an opportunity to argue in defense - NBA`s counsel Indira Jaisingh pleaded before the bench hearing the case to restrain NCCL from approaching the media. The bench declined this plea.

Just coincidentally in the same week (first week of April) the apex court heard a contempt petition filed on the unfulfilled rehabilitation of Narmada Dam oustees and asked the concerned state governments to file a status report on the rehabilitation. Again, on April 23rd, the apex court asked the Madhya Pradesh government to file a detailed report on rehabilitation within two weeks. Can we ask why the state governments that remain eager to burn midnight`s oil to stand by allegations levelled against NBA, repeatedly default when it comes to telling the apex court the true story of rehabilitation status of oustees?

Even as the apex court is scheduled to hear the NCCL petition making allegations on NBA receiving foreign fund on April 24th, we witnessed spin doctors working overtime and allegations against Narmada Bachao Andolan flying high on the print space and airwaves while continually maintaining a deadly silence on the comments that are critical of the acclaimed benefits. Isn`t it time to ask editors like Chandan Mitra and Shekhar Gupta, where are your glasses, dear editors?


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