More land for oustees

Union environment minister Kamal Nath will release 1,500 ha of forest land in Maharashtra's Dhule district for oustees of the Saradar Sarovar Project. This follows a directive issued by Prime Minister P V Narasimha Rao after a meeting in January with the chief ministers of Gujarat, Maharashtra and Madhya pradesh, which will benefit from the project.

The forest can be cleared only as and when required. Part of the revenue from trees felled is to be invested in compensatory afforestation in double the area and the rest is to go to Maharashtra's forest department.

Narmada Bachao Andolan (NBA) activists criticise the decision as one aimed at making money from the plantations. It said the Maharashtra government had yet to utilise fully the 2,700 ha of forest land denotified in 1990 for resettlement.

Meanwhile, though the World Bank has officially withdrawn from the project, NBA activists cite two reported letters from the bank in December to the minister of water resources, warning that non-compliance of resettlement and rehabilitation norms may have grave implications for bank-aided projects in India. Official sources in the ministry neither confirmed nor denied the reports.