One more indictment

Print edition : August 04, 2001

An official report of the Maharashtra government confirms the Narmada Bachao Andolan's grievance regarding the relief and rehabilitation of persons affected by the Narmada project.

EVEN as the tribal people of the Narmada valley once again greeted the monsoon with satyagraha action, documentary evidence became available to show that the massive Sardar Sarovar dam project is an ill-planned one in respect of relief and rehabilitation (R&R). The project has been criticised by the Committee to Assist the Resettlement and Rehabilitation of the Sardar Sarovar Project-Affected Persons, which submitted its report to the government on June 29.

Members of the Narmada Bachao Andolan stage a demonstration against the Sardar Sarovar Project at Chhota Kasarwad in Madhya Pradesh on July 9.-PRAKASH HATVALNE/AP

The Committee was formed following a three-day dharna by people from the affected villages from January 2, demanding that the Government of Maharashtra undertake an independent review of the status of rehabilitation of persons already relocated at the resettlement and rehabilitation sites and of those in the submergence zone, within the framework of the Narmada Water Disputes Tribunal Award (NWDTA), the government's rehabilitation policy and the Supreme Court's order of October 18, 2000. The government also agreed to form a committee to review the cost-benefit ratio of the Sardar Sarovar Project with respect to Maharashtra.

The committee, led by Justice S.M. Daud, also comprised Manikrao Gavit, Member of Parliament, Sharad Palav, lawyer, R.V. Buskute, retired Tehsildar, Shri Nand Lal, Principal Secretary in the Maharashtra Government's Revenue and Forest Department, and K.S. Parab, Section Officer in the Revenue and Forest Department. There were three special invitees - Pratibha Shinde of the Punarwasan Sangharsh Samiti, D.M. More, Joint Secretary in the State's Irrigation Department, and D.R. Mali, Joint Secretary in the Revenue and Forest Department.

The committee's report states emphatically that the resettlement of those displaced at a dam height of 90 metres is yet to be completed owing to the non-availability of land. It recommends that the government prepare a master plan for rehabilitation in consultation with the displaced persons; undertake a fresh survey to ascertain the actual number of families that would be affected by the project before any further increase is effected in the height of the dam; alter the definition of "project-affected persons" so as to include all those affected by every type of construction related to the dam; ascertain, as part of the process of granting land rights, the compensatory acreage, using the unpublished official surveys of 1985-86; and inform the Narmada Control Authority that resettlement of persons affected by a dam height of 90 m is still due and that there is no land available for R&R in Maharashtra. The committee also suggests that Maharashtra should not approve any increase in the present dam height of 90 m until all the recommendations are implemented.

The recommendation regarding a master plan is significant in that it is an issue that has been consistently pushed under the carpet. In its judgment permitting the project authorities to go ahead with the construction of the dam, the Supreme Court stipulated that a plan for R&R be presented to it within 40 days of the ruling. That deadline expired last year.

One of the essential requirements of the NWDTA is that the rights of the displaced Adivasis are ensured before work on a dam began. It stipulates that any individual or community facing submergence owing to the proposed construction be rehabilitated one year prior to actual submergence. This norm has been consistently violated. The villages of Jalsindhi and Domkhedi are cases in point. These are on the opposite banks of the Narmada as the river flows westward, forming a natural boundary between Maharashtra and Madhya Pradesh. Jalsindhi is in Madhya Pradesh and Domkhedi is in Maharashtra. It is in these villages that NBA leader Medha Patkar's monsoon satyagrahas are conducted.

Every year the villagers and NBA volunteers conduct a satyagraha programme, standing in the water as its level rises and falls depending on the extent of the rainfall and on the release of water from upstream dams such as Bargi and Tava. People from neither village have been resettled. Every year large tracts of land are lost to the rising waters. NBA activist Clifton Rozario says: "The threat of submergence is as good as a forced eviction of the people." The stark fact is that the Supreme Court ruling came when even people affected by a dam height of 80 m were yet to be resettled.

The contents of the Justice Daud Committee Report are common knowledge. However, the formal presentation of the issues by a committee appointed by the government is expected to have some impact. Rozario says: "The findings of the committee expose the failings of the Supreme Court judgment in allowing the Government of Gujarat to add to the existing dam height. The NBA has time and again warned that the rehabilitation of people who are already affected by the present height of the dam is far from complete, and that any further construction will jeopardise the lives of thousands of families more. Up to 5,000 families (almost all of them tribal) in Maharashtra, Madhya Pradesh and Gujarat may face submergence if the monsoon is heavy this time. All will be without rehabilitation. In Maharashtra alone more than 1,000 tribal families will be faced with the possibility of losing all their property and assets."

The NBA has demanded that the government make the Daud Committee Report public and act on its recommendations immediately.

There are, however, dissenting voices within the Committee. Two members, Lal and Parab, and one special invitee, Mali, disagreed with its conclusions and recommendations and filed a separate report. They are all government employees and their report supports the government's stand on R&R.

The monsoon satyagraha is on in different areas of the Narmada valley. During the agitation in Dhomkhedi on July 19, people confronted Nandurbar District Collector Assem Gupta. The Collector, along with a group of policemen, was in Domkhedi to "rescue' them as the water released from the Bargi dam the previous day had increased the threat of submergence of the village. The residents opposed their entry and demanded that the Daud Committee Report be implemented. Refuting the government's claim that only 65 families below the height of 110 m remain to be resettled, the villagers handed over to Assem Gupta a list of over 1,000 families below 90 m that are yet to be resettled.

Meanwhile, eminent jurist and human rights campaigner Justice (retired) V.R. Krishna Iyer has appealed to the President and the Prime Minister to "intervene at once to stall the construction of the Sardar Sarovar dam until a conscientious commitment of rehabilitation has been carried out fully". He also said: "I appeal to the Supreme Court of India, hoping some humane citizen or organisation will move the highest court to exercise its compassionate jurisdiction and cosmic jurisprudence, to do complete justice (Article 142) to the imperilled Indians. The verification of rehabilitation has to be done forthwith by a Commission under the Supreme Court's direction because humanity and justice are inseparable. Sans one, the other is cipher."

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