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Rehabilitation of Sardar Sarovar Project displaced: Did three govts lie to the Supreme Court?

Bhopal: Have the Maharashtra, Gujarat and Madhya Pradesh governments hoodwinked the Supreme Court and the nation on the rehabilitation of the people displaced by the construction of dams on Narmada?

A panel of four retired judges called the ‘Independent People’s Tribunal on SSP’, which was on a fact-finding mission into the Sardar Sarovar Project (SSP)-affected area of the Narmada valley since September, has exposed the fallacy of the three governments’ claim about complete rehabilitation of affected people.

While exposing gross violation of the Narmada Water Disputes Tribunal Award and Judgements of the Supreme Court, the panel has expressed grave concern at the possible displacement of about 2.5 lakh people and “mass violation of the constitutional right to life, destruction of livelihoods, as also wiping out of an entire culture and civilization.”

Firstpost had last year reported anomalies in the claims of the governments. The Madhya Pradesh government had set apart Rs 5.51 crore to provide emergency relief to people in the submergence area of the dams. The National Alliance for People’s movement (NAPM) had then questioned the need to spend so much if all evictees were already rehabilitated as per the directions of the Supreme Court.

Water Resources Minister Uma Bharti had also glossed over the issue, saying the Social Justice ministry’s reports show the rehabilitation had been completed. Critics had disputed Bharti’s claim and demanded that these reports be made public.

According to Alok Agrawal of the Narmada Bachao Andolan (NBA), contingency funds were earmarked in the past too. Last year they were disputed after the government claimed all evictees have been rehabilitated.

The controversy gained currency after Narmada Control Authority (NCA) allowed the Gujarat government to raise the height of the Sardar Sarovar Dam in that state from 121.92 metres to 138.62 metres by installing gates on it. The Madhya Pradesh High Court later stayed the operation of the order that came less than a month of Modi government’s ascent last year.

The deficient flow in the river led to another question on whether a taller Sardar Sarovar dam could slake the parched fields of Gujarat or meet the power generation needs of Madhya Pradesh in the event of a sluggish monsoon? Was the government driven by just political greed?

Now the four-member panel endorses the view that NCA’s permission to increase height of the might be legally untenable. Justice (retired) VD Gyani (MP High Court) said the findings would be placed before the Supreme Court soon. The other members of the panel of are Justice PC Jain (Rajasthan), Justice Nag Mohan Das (Karnataka) and Justice NK Mody (MP).

During their field visit on 11 September and representations made by affected people from three states and the organisations working for them, the judges found enough evidence that rehabilitation and resettlement of people affected by the 121.92 metres height was nowhere close to complete.

At least 33 villages in Maharashtra and 193 villages and a town (Dharampuri) in MP were yet to be completely rehabilitated.

“Children are still going to same schools and people are casting votes in the same booths from years in the villages that the MP government has claimed have been completely shifted and resettled. What does that prove?” Justice Gyani said. Due to faulty assessment of backwater levels over 15,000 families that would be affected by the raised height of the dam have not even been recognised project-affected families (PAFs).

Justice Gyani said increasing in the height of the dam would affect thousands of the people and should not be allowed before the rehabilitation and resettlement (R&R) of all affected people was completed by the three state governments.

Medha Patkar of the NBA says, “Our demand is the withdrawal of permission for further construction and installation of a gate of SSP till all the affected families are rehabilitated and resettled according to norms,” she said. Representatives of various state government agencies concerned including the Narmada Valley Development Authority (NVDA) did not attend the tribunal despite invitation, according the NBA.

Justice Rajinder Sachchar, who was present during the media briefing over the panel’s observations earlier this week, said those who once considered SSP as the 8th Wonder of the world are disillusioned by it. Even the media has underexposed the limitations of the project and the cover up by the governments, he said.

The governments of the three states have so far maintained a studied silence on the issue.

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