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Narmada: A protest and some promises

Published : Jul 04, 2003 00:00 IST

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Medha Patkar.-R. RAGU

Medha Patkar.-R. RAGU

IN 1993, Manibeli in Maharashtra hit the headlines as the first village in the State to be submerged as a direct consequence of the Sardar Sarovar Project (SSP) dam. At the time the height of the dam was 69 metres. None of the 80 affected families of Manibeli were resettled successfully. Now, 10 years later, the number of SSP-affected families in the State has risen to 3,000 and almost all of them are tribal. Despite its failure to undertake relief and rehabilitation (R&R), the State government assured the Narmada Control Authority (NCA) that it would resettle the displaced prior to this monsoon, thereby allowing the Authority to grant permission to raise the dam height to 100 m.

On May 26, anti-dam activists sat in protest in front of the office of the Nashik Divisional Commissioner demanding the R&R of the 3,000 families. When no action was forthcoming, Medha Patkar, leader of the Narmada Bachao Andolan (NBA), announced that she would undertake an indefinite fast from May 30. She called off the fast on June 4 after the government conceded the following demands:

1. Land records of the project-affected families (PAF) should be corrected so as to include the undeclared PAFs.

2. Village-wise rehabilitation should be undertaken as opposed to dividing families in a village as per the level of submergence, which in turn is related to the height of the dam.

3. The record of land acquisition should be checked and the cut-off date of 1987 for defining major sons should be accepted. All the families that would be temporarily marooned should be included in the list of affected families.

4. The planning and monitoring of rehabilitation should be carried out only through the Rehabilitation Planning Committee and Overview Committee. No decision on raising the dam height further should be taken unless these committees certified the completion of rehabilitation.

5. The data required by the Cost Benefit Evaluation Committee, which was set up to see whether the dam is beneficial to Maharashtra, should be made available to the people by the Government of Maharashtra.

The NBA acknowledges that the State government has shown a degree of cooperation in its interactions. For its part, the government has admitted that it has been remiss in collecting data about the number of affected families and in implementing R&R. However, it has chosen not to correct its mistakes with regard to R&R. An NBA activist remarked: "I don't know if the government is ignoring or trivialising the struggle."

There are two clear indications of this Janus-faced attitude. One is the lack of progress in the work of the A.P. Bhave Committee. The committee, also known as the Cost Benefit Evaluation Committee, was formed by the government in September 2001 for getting a cost-benefit analysis of the SSP done. Committee members have threatened to resign if the government does not provide the relevant documents for the evaluation process. Based on the material made available to it so far, the committee has made a statement to the press that there will be no irrigation benefits from the SSP to Maharashtra, and the cost of the power made available will be so high as to be unviable. The other, more serious, reason is the non-implementation of the report of the Justice S.M. Daud Committee to Assist the Resettlement and Rehabilitation of the displaced. Among the main tasks of the committee was assessing the availability of land and reviewing the process of rehabilitation and ascertaining whether it has been done in accordance with the Narmada Water Disputes Tribunal Award (NWDTA) and government policies.

The committee, in its report submitted to the government on June 29, 2001, stated that the resettlement of those affected at 90 m was incomplete. In keeping with NWDTA rules, which say that resettlement of affected families should precede submergence by at least six months, all further construction on the dam should have been halted immediately. But that was not the case. The government accepted the report but assured the NCA that it would complete R&R to the necessary extent. Based on the assurance, the NCA permitted construction to continue.

The Daud Committee report brings out the inherent inadequacies of the resettlement process - the non-availability of land, an incorrect enumeration of the project-affected, the non-granting of land rights, an unequal resettlement policy, the defective definition of project-affected persons, corrupt practices of officials, and so on. The report places most of the blame for such deficiencies on the absence of a master plan for rehabilitation. It also suggests that submergence preceded rehabilitation in the case of many Adivasi villages. The committee has reported that there is no land available at present. It is stated in the report that "... from what has been ascertained by us, it does not appear that land is available for the resettlement of the PAPs in conformity with the Award of the Tribunal, the policy of the government and the verdict of the Supreme Court, especially in view of the fact that all those who have been shifted in the past or those presently affected at 90m height of the dam have not been provided suitable land."

There are several serious shortcomings, especially with regard to the quality and availability of land and the provision of civic amenities. It has acknowledged the effort of the government in resettling PAFs but added that what has been done is not enough. The report states: "In fact the attempted rehabilitation is substantially less and at times in breach of what has been required by the Tribunal Award, the government resettlement policy and the verdict of the Supreme Court. Those affected at 90 m were to be resettled by 31st December 2000, even that has not been accomplished. Moreover, NWDTA had insisted on rehabilitation preceding submergence. Obviously, this has not been complied with."

The committee points to the absence of a master plan as being one of the instrumental determinants for the inadequate rehabilitation process. It says: "One of the contributory factors is the absence of a master plan which ought to have been formulated by the Maharashtra government to ascertain the precise number of PAFs and the land requirements for their resettlement, its failure to ascertain from the PAFs their option as to the resettlement in Maharashtra and/or Gujarat and the piecemeal measures taken by the government whenever a clamour arose either for expediting the SSP or for doing justice to the displaced tribal people. A failure to prepare a Master Plan which was even found desirable as a pre-requisite by NWDTA and the Supreme Court, is clearly a serious lapse giving rise to numerous problems including omission and underestimation of PAFs, vitiating the very process of resettlement and rehabilitation."

Lyla Bavadam

(This story was published in the print edition of Frontline magazine dated Jul 04, 2003.)

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