Noted environmental activists Medha Patkar and Prafulla Samantara believe Union Environment Minister Anil Dave, a committed environmentalist who had worked on green projects including conservation of the Narmada river, was perhaps not allowed the space to act on his ideas to protect the displaced people of the river dam project.
"He was not allowed to do anything because the Prime Minister's Office is doing everything. The government of India is not giving importance to any ministry. That is the tragedy. He could not rescue the people. They are being forced to evacuate," Goldman Environmental Prize winner Samantara told IANS, referring to the 45,000 oustees of the Narmada Dam Project.
Condoling Dave's demise, Patkar, one of the leading spokespersons of the Narmada Bachao Andolan (NBA), said: "He was of a different nature. He was very soft spoken. Maybe he was not given the due space and role in the latest Narmada Sewa Yatra."
However, Patkar also lamented that Dave did not take a position on the dam construction. "He used to hold a number of Narmada Mahostavs. But he did not take a position on such a large construction like a Narmada dam."
"Although after becoming the minister he gave us a chance to present our case and gave us a patient hearing, beyond that nothing much happened."
"Maybe, he raised the voice inside (the central government) and it was not heard, because the Narmada issue is now being pushed by Prime Minister Narendra Modi and Madhya Pradesh Chief Minister Shivraj Singh Chouhan... I don't know."
Narmada Bachao Andolan is a social movement of adivasis, farmers, environmentalists and human rights activists against the large dams being built across the Narmada river, which flows through the states of Madhya Pradesh, Maharashtra and Gujarat.
Sardar Sarovar Dam in Gujarat is one of the biggest dams on the river and was one of the first focal points of the movement. It is one of the many dams under construction.
In February, the Supreme Court ordered Rs 60 lakh be paid as compensation to each of the 681 families of farmers possessing two hectares of land who were affected by land acquisition in Madhya Pradesh for the Sardar Sarovar Dam project in 193 villages.
The apex court awarded Rs 15 lakh each to 1,358 families who had accepted compensation earlier. It said the amount payable shall be adjusted against payments already made. On receipt of the money, the court asked the farmers to vacate their lands by July 31, 2017, failing which the authorities were allowed to forcibly evict them.
Patkar said although Dave was in favour of protection of the people, he could not raise the basic issues of the adivasis and displaced people. "Before becoming the minister, he could have done that."
"After becoming a minister, he shared with me personally that 'Narmada Valley Development Authority is not doing things right and you must question them'. That was his opinion. But that was not raised publicly," Patkar said.
Dave was to take a final call on the commercial introduction of the indigenously developed GM mustard crop.
Asked whether the GM Mustard issue would be delayed, Patkar said: "Now we can't say anything at all. Everyone is subordinate to PMO. So, the presence or absence of a person might not make a difference."
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