Law and reality

Published : May 05, 2006 00:00 IST

ONE accusation that is flung at the Narmada Bachao Andolan (NBA) consistently is that the organisation is against the Sardar Sarovar dam. While this was true at one time, the NBA has been forced to accept the existence of the dam and it no longer denounces its construction. Instead, its efforts have been directed at getting the exsiting laws implemented to resettle the dam-affected people successfully. NBA activists say that there is no need for judicial intervention in the matter since they are only demanding the implementation of the laws relating to relief and rehabilitation.

Ever since Independence the basin States of Gujarat, Maharashtra and Madhya Pradesh have been locked in a dispute over sharing the Narmada's waters. In order to resolve this, the government constituted the Narmada Water Disputes Tribunal (NWDT) in 1969 under the Inter-State Water Disputes Act, 1955. For a decade the Tribunal mediated between the riparian States and in 1979 gave the Award allocating the share of each. The Award also gave clear directions for the resettlement of the affected families. The most progressive aspect of the Award was its land-for-land directive, the first such in India. Earlier, resettlements depended on cash compensations and the damaging effects of this were clearly seen by the Tribunal. The main difference between the two court judgments of 2000 and 2005 and the Tribunal Award is that the judgments speak of parri passu (side by side) R&R whereas the Award is clear that all R&R should be completed at least six months prior to the commencement of any construction work on the wall. To put it in simpler terms: as the height of the dam rises, the area that is likely to come under submergence also increases. On the specifics regarding entitlements, what the Award says and what exists in reality are as follows:

Award: Land-for-land should be the basis of rehabilitation, as against cash compensation under the Land Acquisition Act [NWDTA XI IV (7)].

Reality: At the very start of the Sardar Sarovar project, Gujarat stated that it had no land to give. This was not considered too much of a hurdle since the largest number of affected people were in Madhya Pradesh, which had committed itself to land-for-land compensation. As the number of affected people grew, the non-availability of land prevented efficient resettlement. Finally, on January 10, 2001, at a meeting of the Review Committee of the Narmada Control Authority in New Delhi, Digvijay Singh, the then Chief Minister of Madhya Pradesh, stated that there was no agricultural land available and cash compensation would have to suffice. This has been in effect officially since then.

Award: The affected people have the right to choose between Gujarat and their home States for R&R [NWDTA XI IV (2)(I)].

Reality: This has, by and large, been implemented.

Award: Villages must be relocated as a community. And newly created villages must have all basic amenities [NWDTA XI IV (1) & IV (2)(iv)].

Reality: With the official stand being cash compensation, this clause was ignored by the authorities. Families who accepted cash drifted from their traditional social structures.

Award: Rehabilitation should be on irrigable land in the command area or on irrigable lands in their own State with irrigation provided at the cost of the government [NWDTA XI IV(2)(iv)].

Reality: Again, the wide use of cash compensation led the authorities to turn a blind eye to this clause. The Award also ruled on the linkages between submergence, displacement and rehabilitation:

Award: Irrigable lands must be made available for rehabilitation one year in advance of any construction starting on the dam [NWDTA XI IV (2)(iv)].

Reality: This clause was ignored as the government chose to distribute cash compensation.

Award: "In no event should any areas of Madhya Pradesh and Maharashtra be submerged unless all arrangements are made for the rehabilitation of the oustees and intimated to them" [NWDTA XI IV (6)(ii)].

Reality: Dam construction long ago outstripped R&R. About 10,000 families who were affected when the dam reached a height of 110 meters are still awaiting R&R. The additional height of 11 m under construction is expected to render 35,000-odd families homeless. There are 31 major, 135 medium and 3,000 minor dams on the Narmada and its tributaries. Many of these dams have either been completed or are nearing completion.

Lyla Bavadam
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