Late last month, the Supreme Court of India gave its judgment in the case of Sardar Sarovar (Narmada) Project affected Adivasis from the two villages of Picchodi and Jalsindhi (both in Madhya Pradesh) versus the Government of Madhya Pradesh and other authorities. The Court has indicated its very clear position on the interpretation of the Narmada Tribunal Award, the rights of the Project Affected Families (PAFs) as well as the Supreme Court's own earlier judgment of 2000. It is also important to understand that the judgment conveys a serious message as to the ground reality vis-à-vis the false paperwork related to resettlement and rehabilitation (R&R) of families affected by the Sardar Sarovar Dam. This order has many implications which are neither to be exaggerated nor underestimated. Intriguing are also the reactions from within Gujarat from the official quarters and the media. The latter seem to have done little or no homework.
Major Sons: The judgment brings out clearly that every major son of a landholder losing more than 25% of his/her landholding should be considered as a separate family and, as per the Tribunal's Award, they are entitled to two hectares of land each. This would necessitate that the Government of MP must take this as a legal and policy measure and plan to provide such land to the major sons.
However, GOMP has not even recorded all the major sons in the 193 affected villages of MP (cut off date being the year of issue of Section 4 notice under Land Acquisition Act); this will have to be done especially since many villages have had land acquisitions processes that started in 2000 and thereafter. The number of major sons is in many thousands. There are many major sons in every village, for e.g. 300 in Ekkalbara, 120 in Bhavaria (both district Dhar) and so on. The government will then have to locate land for all those eligible for land and house plots for all. Thousands of them are in the communities and areas affected at a dam height of 110 metres, and need to be rehabilitated right now before the dam proceeds any further.
In Maharashtra, the government has followed a policy of allotting one hectare to a major son, but with this interpretation of the NWDT Award by the Supreme Court, this is applicable to Maharashtra as well, and hence one more hectare land needs to be allotted to all those already resettled and 2 hectares to all those remaining to be resettled. This will require a large amount of land in Maharashtra too. Gujarat has already taken the right kind of policy decision and will only have to provide entitlement to those who are not recognized as major sons, whether at the original resettlement sites or in the original village.
Temporary and permanent submergence: The judgment also clearly reinforces what is clear from the definition of 'oustee' in the NWDTA: that there can be no distinction between the temporarily and permanently affected families at intermediate stages of the dam height. This takes the MP government's numbers of PAF's back to original position (before they started making this illegal distinction) and estimation that was presented before the Supreme court, prior to 2000 and in reports till 2002 but later turned around and reduced, leaving out thousands of families to be rehabilitated later. The post-judgment position (which was pre 2002) is that the number of PAFs at 110 mts in 12681 PLUS major sons that would be added. This is much higher than the false figures of 5607 or 8406 used after 2002. Out of 12681, at least 8000 PAFs PLUS newly added major sons (as PAF's) are to get some or all of their dues - land for the eligible house plot, compensation for the house, alternative site with amenities - and hence cannot be considered as rehabilitated as per the Award. These 110 mts-affected families still reside in the original villages, even though their lands, homes, property is already affected or is under threat to be affected at any point.
No submergence without rehabilitation: The Court has in the March 2005 judgment strongly reiterated - and repeatedly so - that no submergence (hence, raising the dam height) should occur without rehabilitating every person affected (whether temporarily or permanently). It is clear from the very Petitioners in whose case the Court has given directives, that there are PAFs below 110 mts - the number in all three states is not less than 10,000 PAF's, of which M.P. has about 8000PLUS PAFs, while Maharashtra is yet to rehabilitate at least 1500 PAFs, at least half of them are yet to be recognised. In Gujarat too, there are declared PAFs - but fewer - and those with very genuine claims to be declared, who are yet to be allotted land and others -hundreds- who were allotted uncultivable lands that need to be changed. All those below 110 mts were to be rehabilitated one year before reaching that height but this was not done, and the number of PAF's at any next level/ height proposed, will all need to be rehabilitated before proceeding.
Linkage between submergence and rehabilitation: The Tribunal's stipulation, one may note, is very clear on the linkage between submergence/dam construction and rehabilitation, something that this judgment too has highlighted. Clause XI, sub-clause IV (6) (ii) clearly states, "In no event shall any areas in Madhya Pradesh and Maharashtra be submerged under the Sardar Sarovar unless ... arrangements are made for the rehabilitation of oustees." The judgment has defined the concept of 'pari passu' and categorically rejected any undue haste or violation of the above clause thus settling the dispute once and for all.
Land-based rehabilitation: The land-based rehabilitation provision of NWDTA is emphasised without a doubt. The Court has underlined the Tribunal's provision of offering only cultivable and irrigable land, almost indicating that anything else is not acceptable and can be rejected by oustees. It is also made clear that the alternative land for agriculture should be allotted to a PAF, at least one year before submergence while full resettlement is to be completed at least six months before.
That in Madhya Pradesh, no PAF is as yet either offered or allotted cultivable land (with the only exception of a few of the petitioners in this very case, that too because of the case). The judgment proves this to be a gross violation that requires a major shift in the thrust and large scale, intense planning without which the project cannot proceed. It is an indirect yet unquestionable implication of the judgment that the GoMP's manipulated policy offering to and luring people with cash in lieu of land or of house plots is unacceptable. A direction to this effect was also given by the Minister for Water Resources Shri Priyaranjan Dasmunshi on March 18th, three days after the judgment. We hope this issue will not need a separate legal action. This again leads to the requirement of thousands of hectares of land to be identified by GoMP, which cannot be from their uncultivable "land bank", which includes only govt waste land or grazing land (already rejected by GRA Madhya Pradesh).
The Narmada struggle
Rehabilitation scam exposed
Resettling as village units: The judgment refers to village units to be followed in rehabilitation as far as possible, referring to GoMP's own affidavit in the Court prior to 2000. This therefore becomes the principle reflected in the NWDTA as well. The judgment however restricts the PAF's choice to cultivable land within the land offered by the government but leaving the option of rejecting uncultivable land. There is no doubt that the oustees will have to fight to attain whatever is just and acceptable such as the right land, site and amenities.
False records and manipulation: The judgment reads with details and references towards the false records and manipulation of facts by the governments, especially GoMP since the case pertains to that state. It is known and already exposed by the Narmada Bachao Andolan (NBA) that the same is true about the reports of each state and the central authority itself. One may remember here the tabulated data on status and balance on rehabilitation put up on the NCA website has to be removed but that the same is now posted onto the website of Ministry for Social Justice and Empowerment, which is to monitor the entire process.
The obvious conclusion emerging out of detailed analysis of shifting claims is that the monitoring agencies including the R&R Sub-group, the NCA and the GRA itself could not do what the Court had to do itself, by the correct interpretation of the Award and the judgments as also using sanctions against errant state governments to prevent violations of those. This is exactly what the organised PAF's under the banner of NBA pleaded and prayed all through. At last their voices have been heard.
The Greivance Rederess Authority: The judgment has taken a position on issues, rejecting even GRA's orders in M.P. The Grievance Redressal Authorities that were appointed during the six year long case of NBA vs. The Union of India and Others (1994-2000) were referred to as the only resort to by every Government Authority that did not want to settle the grievances of the oustees. But PAF's were disappointed by the delayed and deficient responses of the GRAs, which did not provide them any relief.
The judgment obviously demands that the governments do their homework - correcting records, estimating the correct number of PAFs and the land required, identifying land as an exercise towards evolving a rehabilitation master plan. This reminds us of the fact that the conditional environmental clearance given by the MOEF in 1987 had stipulated action on 8 aspects including rehabilitation master plan. What can one say when none else than the apex court itself has said it - that even such a basic task remains unfulfilled even after 26 years since the Tribunal's decision on the dam was made and when the dam height has reached 110 mts. There is no doubt that the dam cannot be raised beyond 110 mts at this point of time.
It is still not too late, since the final dam height is 139 mts i.e. 29 mts yet to go, and more than 50,000 families yet to be rehabilitated under that height. When, and if at all this will happen is left to the governments to decide, while those already affected need rehabilitation here and now following the judgment.
And what is the reaction of Modi government? The first and the foremost statement from the official circles shocked us - since it referred to a lost chance to raise the dam height which could have been done if the decision to raise the height to 121 mts was hurried and made before the judgment was given.
Going by the press news, it is mainly the Gujarat and NCA who are disturbed, the reaction of the officials and Mr. Modi seem to be of two kinds (a) They have rushed the officials to M.P., apparently to find a way out, some of them have dared suggest the possibility of offering cash and more cash in lieu of land even to the major sons. (b) The state governments have continued to present false reports showing no balance of PAFs at 110 mts. Again, the attempt is to push the dam height to 115 mts, if not 121, which too would amount to contempt of Court.
The only basis created for the same is again, on paper - ex-parte-allotment of land which is neither seen, inspected nor approved by the PAFs and most of which is uncultivable. The Maharashtra and Madhya Pradesh PAFs thus are given land at sites in Gujarat where they never intended to go. The Maharashtra government's own decision, not to allot any land, ex-parte, thus is violated and so is the NWDTA and process-rules formulated by the government, right in the initial stage of rehabilitation. The reports submitted to the central monitoring agencies, NCA and its R&R sub-group under the Ministry of Social Justice and Empowerment, again, are fake. Maharashtra government, e.g., shows the number of PAFs balance to be rehabilitated at 115 mts as 15 while the real number is beyond 2000! In Madhya Pradesh, there are not less than 20,000 families below 115 meters.
Obviously, the responsible decision-makers have not yet responded or reacted towards either a commitment to compliance or a comprehensive review of SSP whether on large scale social impacts (displacement and rehabilitation) or other aspects. On the other hand, they continue to hide the truth and suppress the people's struggle wherever possible. On Holi day, when the people and activists including myself, also accompanied by two Supreme Court lawyers who had come to interpret the judgment to the people to be directly benefitted, at least 4 Police vehicles stopped us at Hapeshwar and then again at Kadipani (Gujarat) and detained us for hours without giving any reasons. When we were finally allowed to proceed, we were escorted by the police to the Krishnapura vasahat (rehabilitation site), where hundreds of oustees didn't just attend the meeting but narrated their grievances and protested against the police and the government's callous approach to R&R. The police witnessed the fire and anger of the people, especially the women.
The shocking news, next day in the vernacular media was that the BJP and Congress workers protested against us. This is not new in Gujarat, since similar harassment and illegal detention is experienced by us all every time we attempt to bring the truth out. It happened on August 7th, on December 11th and so on. One should expect it to be stopped at least after the latest judgment of 2005 which has vindicated the people's assessment of 'rehabilitation' - unattained yet claimed through manipulated reports and statistics? What happens next is anybody's guess.