For 25 years now, they have struggled to get justice. In a peaceful and democratic manner, over 200,000 people displaced from the rising waters of the Narmada dams, have waited endlessly for a rehabilitation package, which is their legitimate right. Justice has been denied to them.
Yesterday, July 24, about 200 displaced people were present in the Gandhi Bhawan, in the heart of Bhopal city, to listen to the conclusions and recommendations of the three-member Independent People's Tribunal on displacements in the Narmada valley. Chaired by Justice (Retd.) A P Shah, former chief justice of the Delhi and Madras High Courts, I had the privilege and honour of being part of the panel. We had travelled through some of the affected areas in the Narmada valley in the first week of the month, and then spent some days putting it all together in the form of this report.
Twenty five years after the work for a series of dams on the mighty Narmada began, the displaced people, a majority of them being adivasis, have been treated worse than cattle by successive governments. Looking at their plight, and their lost years, and knowing that they will continue to be deprived of justice, I wonder why have these people not picked up arms? At a time when the UPA government is asking the naxalites in neighbouring Chhatisgarh State to give up arms and come to the negotiating table, I fail to understand why the government is not talking to those who never picked up the gun?
Narmada valley is not far away from Bhopal.
I bow my head before these poor and hapless for teaching us the true meaning of ahimsa. And yet, the nation has failed them. Every political party is responsible for this crime, a crime against humanity. Every bureaucrat who has been posted with the Narmada Valley Development Authority (NVDA), Narmada Control Authority (NCA)and the Grievance Redressal Authority (GRA) is guilty. They need to be simply hauled up and put in jail. Ministry for Environment & Forests, and Ministry for Water Resources and Planning Commission have been a willing partner to the crime.
I am saddened by what I saw, by what I heard. I can never forget the pain in the eyes of the women whom I met, the tears all dried up in the long drawn struggle for the past quarter of a century. We as a nation are responsible for inflicting these displaced people with so much of scorn and indifference that deep down in their hearts they know we (the fortunate) are not the people they fought to be independent for.
And yet they have not given up on hope.
Let me just read out a couple of paras from the report.
1. It is clearly established that the Governments of Madhya Pradesh, Maharashtra and Gujarat have violated the rights to life, livelihood and rehabilitation of thousands of oustees of the Sardar Sarovar Project, guaranteed by the Constitution and re-affirmed by numerous international conventions ratified by India by causing illegal and unjustifiable displacement of adivasis, and other farmers.
2. We wish to state at the very outset that our Tribunal was shocked to note as to how the NCA and the NVDA have stated that there are '0 families' who are to be rehabilitated, when in fact, in every village, hundreds of people not only welcomed us, but demonstrated to us the full community life, with the houses in various mohullas, schools, panchayat, bhawans, temples, masjids, agricultural fields, trees etc and narrated not just their individual complaints but the overall situation and problems with adequate analysis.
3. The Supreme Court in its judgement of Mar 15, 2005, whereby it upheld the Narmada Award 1979 and reiterated that land based rehabilitation of project affected persons (PAF) along with provisions of house sites with requisite amenities must be completed one year before submergence. The judgement admitted the entitlements of minimum of 2 hectares of cultivable, irrigable and suitable agricultural land to all major sons and unmarried daughters of landholder PAFs.
4. As a consequence of the progressive Rehabilitation Policy, as a part of the Narmada Tribunal 1979 and protracted struggle by the people, about 10,500 adivasis families have been given land in lieu of the land submerged or acquired for the project in Maharashtra and Gujarat, but to this date not a single family has received acceptable agricultural land in Madhya Pradesh.
5. Madhya Pradesh government has expressed its inability to provide 'land for land' saying it has no surplus land for rehabilitation, and nor can it buy land for the oustees since the land prices have gone up in the recent past. But it expects the oustees to purchase suitable land with the compensation package being provided under 'Special Rehabilitation Grant' that replaces land allocation with a cash package. However, in case of Madhya Pradesh, the Writers and Publishers Limited, Indore, is nationally the 7th largest multi product Special Economic Zone (SEZ) in terms of area, slated to come up on 4,050 hectares of land and has already received the "in principle" approval. The total land that this one single SEZ occupies is approximately the total land that would be required to rehabilitate most of the SSP oustees.
6. Chief Minister Shivraj Singh Chauhan while addressing the Pravasi Bhartiya Sammelan in New Delhi, Jan 2010, had invited the NRIs with open arms to set up industrial units."Madhya Pradesh has no law and order problem, land is available in plenty, and clearances for setting up industrial units can achieved very fast."
So you can see. No limitation of land for industries and SEZ, but no intention of providing land to the oustees, even going to the extent of defying the Supreme Court orders. As an oustee asked us at the Public Hearing at Badwani on June 3: "Does the Supreme Court apply its contempt laws on the State governments also? Or is it only meant for lesser mortals like us?"
Indian People's Tribunal releases report on Narmada Projects
By Mahim Pratap Singh
The Hindu, June 25
The Indian People's Tribunal (IPT) released its report on issues of massive displacement, rehabilitation, environmental compliance and overall cost-benefits of the big dam projects like, Sardar Sarovar, Indira Sagar, Omkareshwar and Jobat, here on Thursday.
The report was released by A.P. Shah, the former Chief Justice of Delhi and Madras High Courts, and agricultural analyst, Devinder Sharma, in the presence of Narmada Bachao Andolan (NBA) leader, Medha Patkar and other activists in Bhopal.
It was brought out following the public hearings conducted during a two-day visit to the affected areas of the Sardar Sarovar Project by Justice Shah, Devinder Sharma and Prof. Jaya Sagade, Vice Principal Indian Law Society, Pune.
Both Justice Shah and Mr. Sharma expressed shock and concern over the magnitude of “planned displacement and unplanned developmentin the valley”, including sustained non-compliance of environmental guidelines and violation of law.
The report observed that since there had been “serious non-compliance on the pari-passu implementation of rehabilitation and environmental measures, we have appealed to the Prime Minister to constitute a High Level Committee of Ministers, officials, experts and representatives of the people's movements to undertake a comprehensive review of all the projects, and take a decision not to further fund or carry forward the project-work until this process of review is complete”.
The Tribunal also noted the “grave consequences” of the badly plannedcanals, running though the agricultural fields in Indira Sagar and Omkareshwar.
Responding to the serious allegations of legal and human rights violations in the Jobat-dam area ,the Tribunal re-asserted the right to land-based rehabilitation of all those displaced, which is already guaranteed in the State Rehabilitation Policy of Madhya Pradesh and in the clearances granted to the projects by the Ministry of Environment and Forests (MoEF).
Welcoming the findings and recommendations by the Tribunal, Medha Patkar stated that the Report affirmed the seriousness of the issues that people have been continuously raising for all these years, with little response and concrete action from authorities, both at the Central and State.
The report recommended that the concerned state governments and the Centre purchase private land for rehabilitation . A comprehensive survey of all affected families must be undertaken in consultation with the Gram Sabha to ensure compliance with the Panchayats (Extension to Scheduled Areas) Act, 1996, and regulatory bodies and ministries like the MoEF , Narmada Control Authority and Grievance Redressal Authority must act strongly to ensure compliance with law and norms of the Projects, the tribunal said.