February 25, 2000
As concerned citizens in India and abroad, non-resident Indians, and friends and well-wishers of India, we are writing to you to focus your attention on the situation in the Narmada Valley in general and the issues related to the Sardar Sarvor Project and the upcoming Supreme Court hearing in particular.
As you might be aware, in February 1999, the Supreme Court of India lifted its stay on the construction of the Sardar Sarovar Dam and permitted the height of the dam to be increased to 88 meters. This interim decision of the Supreme Court was based on the affidavits filed by the previous state governments of Gujarat and Maharashtra, stating that they had adequate land for proper resettlement and rehabilitation of the project-affected families.
Subsequently, the Government of Madhya Pradesh has informed the Court that it has no land to resettle the project-affected families in the State. In light of the meagre benefits and the high cost to the state (including the loss of agricultural and forest lands), and in light of hardships to the people and the lack of land for resettlement, the MP government asked for a fresh review of the the Narmada Water Disputes Tribunal award and the project. There seems to be enough evidence that the situation in Maharashtra is similar.
Several villages including adivasi land and forests in Maharashtra face the danger of submergence even at the present height of the dam. From July to September 1999, at the height of the monsoons, they have faced submergence several times. The costs and the hardships to be borne by the people of Maharashtra are too harsh and for the most part, are being paid for by the most underprivileged sections of our society. Peasants, adivasis, fisherfolk and others who make up the dam-affected sustain the mselves on these lands, the forests, and the river. Without proper resettlement and rehabilitation, they face grim poverty and destitution, besides an irreplaceable loss of their ties to their homeland and culture. An article in the July 1999 edition of Frontline reports that:
Even a few hundred PAFs who were relocated more than three years ago have not been given land at the resettlement sites in Maharashtra. Frustrated, 21 such families returned to their villages, Junane and Selagda, despite the fact that they faced imminent submergence.
Or, much more recently, in January, Indian Express reported that Kisan Ramu Pawar, an 85-year old farmer from Satara district, set himself ablaze on the steps of the rehabilitation office of the Kanher dam. After his ancestral property was submerged by the construction of Kanher dam, he was unable to bear the burden of the debt caused by the lack of proper rehabilitation by the government of Maharashtra.
These reports are cause for a lot of concern with regards to the Government's ability to effectively rehabilitate the displaced. In its affidavit to the Supreme Court last year, the Maharashtra government claimed that adequate land for resettlement and rehabilitation exists. A few of us have visited the Narmada Valley and found otherwise. Even more of us have seen video footage that has captured on film the admission of Maharashtra government officials in Nandurbar district that there is no land to resettle the SSP project-affected, and that the affidavits filed by the previous administration were effectively false. In the light of this evidence, the new administration in Maharashtra should take a stand in the interests of the people and present the true picture to the Supreme Court during the final hearing due to begin from February 29.
Admission of these ground realities does not have to mean an inability to supply drinking water or to meet the irrigation and the energy needs of the people of Maharashtra, Madhya Pradesh and the drought-affected areas of Kutch and Saurashtra in Gujarat. There are viable alternatives that have been proposed which argue for freezing the dam at its current height and stopping any further hardships to the people and submergence. Yet these solutions can supply water to the drought affected areas, generate enough biomass as an additional energy resource, create better watershed management techniques, and keep the power generation at close to originally planned levels. With a genuine reexamination of the problems and a willingness to address them, an openess to viable alternatives, and sincere and bold political will, a solution can be found that will be acceptable to all parties and, best of all, preserve the interests of the most marginalized sections of our society.
It is in the light of these concerns, that we write to you with the hope that you, the Maharashtra Government and its administration, will pay heed to our demands:
Only by presenting this case to the Supreme Court will the Government of Maharashtra be pursuing the path of justice.
Mukhyamantriji, in this 50th anniversary year of the Republic of India, you have the privilege and the duty to right the wrongs done to the people of India and to the State of Maharashtra.
For true and just development in Narmada valley.