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Protesters Arrive to Demonstrate Against Dam Project

September 27, 1989

HARSUD, India (AP) _ At least 5,000 people arrived in a remote central Indian village Wednesday to protest a dam-building project that environmentalists say will displace about 1 million people.

Archaeologists say some of the country’s richest prehistoric sites and oldest fossils also will end up under water when four dams are built on River Narmada.

The Save Narmada Committee is battling the government to stop the project. It staged the two-day protest.

″We expect thousands more to come from all parts of the country Thursday,″ said group spokesman Vinod Raina.

The Narmada river originates in Madhya Pradesh state and flows through Maharastra and Gujarat states before emptying into the Indian Ocean.

Raina said about 5,000 people arrived Wednesday for the protest in Harsud, about 150 miles from Bhopal, capital of Madhya Pradesh state. He said the protesters should number 50,000 by Thursday.

In addition to the four major dams, the government plans to build about 3,000 smaller ones on the river and it’s 41 tributaries.

Environmentalists working with the Save Narmada Committee say the project will flood 864,500 acres of forest and 494,000 acres of cultivated land. As a result, more than a million people will be displaced, they say.

The government says the project is essential because it will irrigate vast tracts of land in the three states, generate electricity and solve the drinking water problem in neighboring Gujarat state, which often suffers from drought.

It also has said it will provide land for people who are displaced by the flooding.

″But why should we leave our village and the soil where we were born?″ said Nagin Chand Misrilal, a trader in Harsud, one of 573 villages that will be under water when the dams are completed.

″The trouble with people today is that they think the society is only of human beings and nature is a commodity,″ he said.

Raina said the protesters will form a human chain in the area.

″It will be symbolic in that we will not let the government destroy our land,″ he said.

Over the years archaeological teams have found hundreds of fossils of extinct animals and ancient stone-age implements fashioned by prehistoric humans.

Among the activists expected in Harsud were Sunder Lal Bahuguna, who led a successful campaign against tree cutters in northern India by urging activists to hug trees to stop cutters.

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