Movement Mauls Maheshwar
The Maheshwar Dam was due for construction across the Narmada River in the state of Madya Pradesh in Central India. The 400 megawatt project would submerge some 2500 acres of land and affect 2200 families in 61 villages, and is a part of the Narmada Valley Development Project; a plan to build 30 major, 135 medium and 3000 small dams on the Narmada River and its tributaries. The scheme has been assigned to an Indian textile company, S. Kumars, which is seeking help from transnationals Siemens and Asea Brown Boveri (ABB).
There has been ongoing resistance to the Narmada Project since it started and the most recent phase of this began on 3rd October 1997 when over 10,000 people demonstrated at the construction site of the Maheshwar dam. The people demanded a complete halt to construction and warned that they intended to launch a major campaign against the project if it was not halted by 31st October that year.
This did not happen and an occupation of the dam site by over 20,000 villagers started on 11th January 1998 when a "Village of Struggle" was established. On the 26th of the same month six people started a hunger strike demanding an end to the construction work. Because of these events the Madya Pradesh state government invited members of the Save the Narmada Movement (NBA) to a special meeting of its Maheshwar monitoring committee on 15th January 1998. As a result of this on 30th January a halt to the project was called and, as the news of imminent victory spread in the villages, thousands of villagers started pouring into the occupation site and the crowd eventually swelled to over 8,000. At midnight an official came to the site and announced that the project was to be cancelled pending a review process. He brought written government orders compelling the Energy Department to stop work on the construction of the Maheshwar power house and dam as well as halting the land acquisition process.
People from all over India have hailed the importance of this victory, which is not only the first milestone in the fight against the destructive development symbolised by dams, but has also emerged as an important symbol in the on-going struggle against globalisation. The NBA has said that this victory was only possible because of the firm determination of the people to fight and the tremendous support they received from concerned people and organisations all over the world.
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