Aamir refuses to apologise
Friday, May 26, 2006
MUMBAI: Aamir Khan, who is currently in the eye of a storm — mainly in Gujarat—for his alleged comments on the Narmada dam issue, on Thursday refused to apologise for his public support to the Narmada Bachao Andolan. "I will not retract my steps nor will I apologise to anyone simply because I’ve not done any wrong," said the superstar whose film Fanaa is set for a troubled release on Friday. 

Khan's comments at a press conference here came even as the BJP said that it was willing to put an end to the row if he apologised for his stand on the dam and the recent demolition of illegal shrines in Vadodara. "We can end this row if he apologises to the people of Gujarat on the two issues. That’s all," BJP leader V K Malhotra told reporters in New Delhi. 

Attacking the BJP for trying to give the issue a violent turn, Khan said it was a pity that the ruling party in Gujarat viewed him as anti-Gujarat and was trying to stall Fanaa . "I honestly take my case to the people of India. Let them decide who believes in what ideology," he said. 

The star admitted that he was not aware of the technical details of the Narmada issue, like whether the height of the dam should be 121 or 122 metres or "any such matter, because I’m not an engineer. My only plea is that those who’ve been rendered homeless should be given a roof. Is that so wrong?" 

Saying he had the highest regard and love for the people of Gujarat, Khan categorically denied making any anti-Gujarat statements. "How can I? I was stationed there for more than six months while filming Lagaan . And my team and I were there to help the victims of the earthquake when it rocked Gujarat." 

He said he maintained his stand on the issue. "I want the farmers who are rendered homeless because of the dam to be rehabilitated. And I think I’m completely justified in my demand." 

Reiterating his secular credentials, Khan said, "I don’t think of myself as a Hindu or a Muslim, a Sikh or a Christian. I’m an Indian. And it is for the people of India to decide what is right or wrong." 

Answering criticism that he had only spoken about Gujarat in isolation and not about the crimes in Kashmir, for instance, the actor replied, "What is happening in Kashmir is also sad. A crime is a crime and I don’t condone it, no matter who is behind it." 

Making it clear that he would not seek any 'political' help, Khan said, "I'm also asking my countrymen to come up with the best solution. After all, I’m being targeted."

SC to decide on Sardar Sarovar Dam today

New Delhi, May 7
The Supreme Court will decide the fate of the Sardar Sarovar Dam tomorrow. The Narmada Bachao Andolan (NBA), Madhya Pradesh and Gujarat have filed their written arguments in the court. The NBA, in its arguments filed yesterday, contended that the rehabilitation of displaced people was yet to begin.

According to the Madhya Pradesh Government’s affidavit, work on providing civic amenities like water, electricity and roads was yet to be completed.

As per its own admission, it had paid cash compensation only to 1,000 families while the remaining 3,000 families had been paid only a part of the compensation.

Another important point of the NBA, seeking a stay against the ongoing construction of the dam, was that Gujarat had been able to utilise only 15 per cent of water available for generation of power.

As per the Supreme Court orders in 2000 and 2005, no construction of the dam was permitted unless all oustees were properly rehabilitated.

Madhya Pradesh, in its submissions, contended that the oustees had been substantially rehabilitated and there was no justification in stopping the work of raising the height of the dam from 110 metres to 121.92 metres.

Gujarat was also opposing the plea of interim stay against the ongoing construction of the dam.

According to Gujarat, the work of the dam, when completed, would provide drinking water to an additional 2,000 villages in drought-prone areas of Kutch and Saurashtra.

The states of Gujarat, Madhya Pradesh, Rajasthan and Maharashtra would benefit in terms of availability of water for irrigation.

A Bench headed by Chief Justice Y.K. Sabharwal would decide tomorrow whether the ongoing construction work of the Sardar Sarovar Dam should be stopped or not.

The Centre was in favour of continuing the construction work as it was a step in the direction of progress.

Aamir Khan supports Narmada, Bhopal victims
NEW DELHI: Film star Aamir Khan on Friday turned environmental activist as he strongly came out in support of evacuees of the Narmada dam and the victims of the Bhopal gas tragedy who have been protesting here demanding rehabilitation and adequate compensation. 

"I do not know about the issue completely so I would not like to comment on whether the height of the dam should be raised or not. But what I know is that thousands of people have been affected due to the building of the dam (in western India) and they have not been given proper rehabilitation by the government," said the film star, who was mobbed by the media and a large crowd that came to see him in his new avatar. 

"This is an emotional reaction after seeing the struggle of the activists," he said about his presence among the activists at the Jantar Mantar near the business district of Connaught Place. 

He added: "I was not aware of the agitation of the two groups but last week when I was in Delhi, I saw these people sitting at the Jantar Mantar and came to know about them." 

Khan was accompanied by his co-stars and director of the recently released hit film "Rang De Basanti". 

"I wanted to come and meet them, and I also asked my friends to come and support the cause for which these activists have been on fast for so many days," he said. 

The star's support for the Narmada Bachao Andolan (NBA) activists came a day before the cabinet is expected to meet and discuss the issue. 
A fact-finding team sent by the government to visit the villages in Gujarat, Madhya Pradesh and Maharashtra that would be affected due to the construction of the dam has returned and is expected to present its report at the cabinet meeting. 

Well-known environmental activist Medha Patkar has been on an indefinite hunger strike since March 29 against the raising of the height of the Sardar Sarovar Dam. The activists of NBA allege that over 35,000 people, displaced by the dam, have not been rehabilitated. 

Khan also appealed to Prime Minister Manmohan Singh to give the protesters proper attention and time so that they can present their problems before him. 

"I request the prime minister to give them proper rehabilitation and compensation according to the norms. Every Indian in the country has the right to get proper food, land and employment and the government should give these people the kind of agricultural land promised to them and source of employment," he said. 

"The farmers who have been displaced should be rehabilitated well by the government and this should happen in absolute terms and not just on paper. We know there is corruption in the society and we must come together in support of the activists," he said. 
Khan added: "I have come here for the sake the farmers who give us food to eat and it is the responsibility of the government to rehabilitate these people," said Khan. 

Speaking in support of the victims of the Bhopal gas tragedy of 1984, the actor said that people have been demanding basic rights like safe drinking water and compensation, which they have not been given by the government even though it has been over 20 years of the tragic incident

Narmada talks hit roadblock Modi to go on fast
New Delhi, April 15
Deep divisions emerged at today’s meeting of the six-member Review Committee of Narmada Control Authority (RCNCA). The BJP Chief Ministers from Madhya Pradesh, Gujarat and Rajasthan pushed for raising the height of the Sardar Sarovar Dam to 121.92 metres from 110.64 metres, as decided by the Narmada Control Authority (NCA). But the Maharashtra Chief Minister along with two union ministers emphasised suspension of work on raising the dam height till rehabilitation work is done according to the Supreme Court guidelines. 

At the end of the three-hour meeting, it was a three-three tie on all resolutions moved in the committee. Gujarat Chief Minister Narendra Modi announced hours after the meeting that he will go on a 51-hour fast at Sabarmati from tomorrow to protest against the Centre’s “anti-development” decisions and convey opinion of people of Gujarat on raising the height of dam. 

Water Resources Minister Saiffudin Soz told mediapersons that the resolution moved by him, Environment and Forest Minister A Raja and Maharshtra Chief Minister Vilasrao Deshmukh said that as relief and rehabilitation work in Madhya Pradesh had not been completed according to norms laid down by the Supreme Court, the RCNCA suspends permission of NCA till such time as rehabilitation work is completed in accordance with the norms. 

Mr Soz said the Sardar Sarovar Dam needs to be constructed as it will provide benefits to the people in MP, Maharashtra, Rajasthan and Gujarat. Having indicated earlier that the Prime Minister may take a decision on the controversy over the dam height, Mr Soz came out with a statement later clarifying that there was no consensus at the RCNCA meeting whether construction of dam should be suspended as relief and rehabilitation of project-affected families had not been to the requirements laid down by the Supreme Court. 

“Hence it is open to the Supreme Court to consider whether construction of dam should be temporarily suspended till such time as rehabilitation is done according to the laid down directions. Minister of Water Resources has not ordered suspension of the construction work of the dam,” the statement said. 

Mr Soz, who met Prime Minister Manmohan Singh after the RCNCA meeting, said the issue was taken to the PM as it had remained unresolved.

Rajasthan Chief Minister Vashundhra Raje moved a resolution at the RCNCA meeting saying that grievances related to rehabilitation and resettlement had not been forwarded to the Grievance Redressal Authority which has been specifically set up for the purpose. 

Madhya Pradesh Chief Minister Shivraj Singh Chauhan moved a resolution saying that all concerned parties should give priority to completion of Sardar Sarovar Dam so that the participating states could contribute in enhancing growth rate of the country. He said that Narmada Water Disputes Tribunal Award and guidelines of the Supreme Court should be adhered to on rehabilitation of project-affected people. 

Mr Modi, who held a Press conference later, alleged that the Centre had “succumbed to pressure from Ms Patkar.” Maintaining that three-fourths of the participating states were in favour of retaining the dam height, he accused Maharashtra Chief Minister of taking an “anti-development” stand on the dam issue. 

He said the infrastructure for getting 1450 MW power from the dam was ready and the power potential can be realised by raising the dam height. Mr Modi claimed that the unresolved issues at the RCNCA meeting could not be taken to the Prime Minister unless decided at the meeting.

He said the Centre would be “responsible” for any backlash against the attempts to stop work on raising the dam height. The Chief Minister said the Centre had not called the RCNCA meeting for the last two years.

Medha Patkar hospitalised, critical
New Delhi, April 5
The Delhi Police tonight shifted Narmada Bachao Andolan leader Medha Patkar, who is on an indefinite hunger strike on a street here, to a hospital after her condition turned critical.

“We have taken Ms Patkar to Ram Manohar Lohia Hospital”, Additional DCP (New Delhi) Manish Agarwal said.

He said she was taken to the hospital after doctors informed the police that her condition was critical and she had been refusing to undergo any medical tests.

There has been no arrest or detention of Ms Patkar or any NBA activist, he added.

Ms Patkar has been on fast for the past eight days in protest against the government’s move to raise the height of Sardar Sarovar Dam and demanding rehabilitation of the people displaced by the project. 

Earlier, the government today made a fresh appeal to Ms Patkar to call off her indefinite fast and decided to send a three-member minister team to the dam site in Madhya Pradesh to ensure rehabilitation of displaced persons.

Briefing newsmen after the meeting, Defence Minister Pranab Mukerhjee said the Union Cabinet discussed the fast being undertaken by Ms Patkar, which entered the eighth day today, and expressed concern over her health condition.

The meeting was chaired by Prime Minister Manmohan Singh.

The ministerial team comprising Mr Saifuddin Soz, Ms Mehta Kumar and Mr Prithviraj Chavan would visit the site tomorrow to see the progress of the rehabilitation programme of the displaced persons.

The government would fully implement the Supreme Court directives on the rehabilitation scheme, Mr Mukherjee said adding that keeping that in view, she had been requested to call of her strike.

The Cabinet also gave its approval for withdrawal of the Arbitration and Concilliation (Amendment) Bill, 2003, which had been pending in the Rajya Sabha, and approved the implementation of the Supreme Court orders for disbursement of additional compensation to Bhopal gas victims.

Medha Patkar’s condition worsens
New Delhi, April 4
Efforts by the government to persuade Narmada Bachao Andolan (NBA) leader Medha Patkar to break her fast having failed, her condition is stated to have worsened. Ms Patkar continues her struggle against the plans of raising the height of the Sardar Sarovar Dam and refused to break her fast even as Union Water Resources Minister Saifuddin Soz met her on the seventh day of the agitation today.

Ms Patkar is seeking the rehabilitation of all families displaced by the dam. Even the minister’s assurance that he would travel to the site to take stock of the demands did not appease her and two other activists who are on indefinite fast. 

Meanwhile, a stream of visitors met her and expressed solidarity. These include former Prime Minister V. P. Singh, Arundhati Roy, Ms Mohini Giri, Mr Surendra Mohan and Kumudini Pati.

Yesterday, Ms Patkar rejected a glass of juice that the Prime Minister sent to her, saying that she would not compromise.

The Prime Minister had sent the Minister of State in his office, Mr Prithviraj Chavan, Mr Soz and Social Justice and Empowerment Minister Meira Kumar to the dharna site yesterday. 

The NBA has been staging protests here since March 17 against the decision of the Narmada Control Authority to raise the dam height. It says that nearly 35,000 families would lose their source of livelihood and homes due to the submergence in the dam’s waters once the decision is implemented.

The NBA says that the Sardar Sarovar Project has uprooted communities living in the Narmada valley for the past many centuries. 

The UPA’s Left allies have been supportive of Ms Patkar’s struggle and are mounting pressure on the government to intervene in the matter. CPM Politburo member Brinda Karat and Central Committee member Subhashini Ali visited Ms Patkar yesterday.


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Film star Aamir Khan on Friday turned environmental activist as he strongly came out in support of evacuees of the Narmada dam and the victims of the Bhopal gas tragedy who have been protesting here demanding rehabilitation and adequate compensation