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Trampled on Forever

ECONOMIC AND POLITICAL WEEKLY Trampled on Forever The situation in the Narmada valley has become a matter of deep public concern as tens of thousands of families in Madhya Pradesh, Maharashtra and Gujarat face the threat of displacement without resettlement and rehabilitation (R&R). This will become a reality if the decision of the Narmada Control Authority (NCA) to allow the height of the Sardar Sarovar dam to be raised from 110.64 metres to 121.92 metres is implemented, without ensuring proper R&R of those who will be displaced. Three activists of the Narmada Bachao Andolan (NBA), including Medha Patkar, have been on an indefinite fast in New Delhi from March 29, demanding immediate cessation of work on the dam beyond the present height of 110.64 m. As we go to press, Patkar and one of her fasting comrades have been taken, without their consent, to hospital. The NBA claims that 35,000 families in the three states will be displaced when the dam height is raised to 121.92 m, the official numbers for Madhya Pradesh and Maharashtra are 27,000 and 3,000, respectively. Despite a promise in the National Common Minimum Programme not to permit displacement without the provision of a proper R&R, the United Progressive Alliance (UPA) government is less than concerned that the people affected by the Sardar Sarovar project are rehabilitated in accordance with the Narmada water disputes tribunal (NWDT) award and the Supreme Court orders of October 2000 and March 2005. The court had established a standard of land-based rehabilitation to be completed six months prior to submergence. While the state governments of the three states claim that rehabilitation has been completed, field reports indicate that this has not been the case in the villages which will be submerged when the Sardar Sarovar is raised to 121.92 m. This has now been implicitly acknowledged by union minister of water resources Saifuddin Soz, who has questioned the NCA

April 8, 2006 ECONOMIC AND POLITICAL WEEKLY
Trampled on Forever The situation in the Narmada valley has become a matter of deep public concern as tens of thousands of families in Madhya Pradesh, Maharashtra and Gujarat face the threat of displacement without resettlement and rehabilitation (R&R). This will become a reality if the decision of the Narmada Control Authority (NCA) to allow the height of the Sardar Sarovar dam to be raised from 110.64 metres to 121.92 metres is implemented, without ensuring proper R&R of those who will be displaced. Three activists of the Narmada Bachao Andolan (NBA), including Medha Patkar, have been on an indefinite fast in New Delhi from March 29, demanding immediate cessation of work on the dam beyond the present height of 110.64 m. As we go to press, Patkar and one of her fasting comrades have been taken, without their consent, to hospital. The NBA claims that 35,000 families in the three states will be displaced when the dam height is raised to 121.92 m, the official numbers for Madhya Pradesh and Maharashtra are 27,000 and 3,000, respectively. Despite a promise in the National Common Minimum Programme not to permit displacement without the provision of a proper R&R, the United Progressive Alliance (UPA) government is less than concerned that the people affected by the Sardar Sarovar project are rehabilitated in accordance with the Narmada water disputes tribunal (NWDT) award and the Supreme Court orders of October 2000 and March 2005. The court had established a standard of land-based rehabilitation to be completed six months prior to submergence. While the state governments of the three states claim that rehabilitation has been completed, field reports indicate that this has not been the case in the villages which will be submerged when the Sardar Sarovar is raised to 121.92 m. This has now been implicitly acknowledged by union minister of water resources Saifuddin Soz, who has questioned the NCA’s decision. At the heart of the issue is what has been obvious ever since execution of the Sardar Sarovar project began in the late 1980s: In none of the three states is there adequate land available for comprehensive R&R of the kind laid down by the NWDT award and subsequently held up by the Supreme Court. This has become more and more obvious as the height of the dam has been raised and a larger and larger number of people are threatened with displacement. The three states have tried to get round the R&R norms by offering cash to the projectaffected people (PAPs), expecting them to buy land wherever they can find and afford it. A starker example of the state’s insensitivity to the PAPs cannot perhaps be found. What have also become obvious are the shortcomings of the court order of 2000, which linked progress on dam construction to progress in rehabilitation. Given the stakes involved, there was always the possibility of the NCA, consisting of representatives of the three states, knowingly or otherwise taking decisions based on false claims. This has now become a reality. As it is, the R&R subgroup of the NCA is yet to ensure that all the persons who have been displaced so far are fairly rehabilitated – land for land and with decent civic amenities. The idea of relevant “stakeholder” representation in the subgroups on R&R and environment does not seem to have even occurred to the various powers that be, exacerbating thereby the impasse between the state and project authorities, on the one hand, and the NBA, a representative organisation of the victims of the project, on the other. The R&R subgroup is charged with monitoring the process, but does it even bother to make periodic field visits to check the facts? Earlier, when it was proved that the subgroup was not doing its job of monitoring rehabilitation in the field, the court ordered the setting up of state-level grievance redress authorities (GRAs) to monitor rehabilitation. Yet, the GRAs have no veto power; they are merely available for consultation. The UPA government has so far seemed quite willing to give in to the pressures exerted by the Gujarat and Madhya Pradesh governments (the former enthusiastic about the project and the latter indifferent to rehabilitation

needs) and acquiesce in their resort to cash inducements and threats of violence. It is high time the uniongovernment instead engage in a process of dialogue and legitimate consent, formally involving a genuine representative of the victims of the project – the NBA.

The Indian power elite needs to be constantly reminded, perhaps echoing Shakespeare in The Merchant of Venice (Act 4, Scene 1): “You take my life when you take the means whereby I live”. The Supreme Court had done this way back in 1986 in Olga Tellis vs Bombay MunicipalCorporation(AIR1986 SC 180) when it stated: “Deprive a person of his right to livelihood and you shall have deprived him of his life…” But even after more than 15 years of protests against the Sardar Sarovar, the elite seem not to care, perhaps because most of the victims of the Narmada dam projects are tribals. Yet, be it the Sardar Sarovar project, or Kalinga Nagar in Orissa, or Polavaram in Andhra Pradesh, those who are expected to “pay” the price of development are telling us that they will not be trampled on forever. EPW

Economic and Political Weekly April 8, 2006

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