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The Hindu on : Narmada Dam: all aspects taken care of

Online edition of India's National Newspaper on
Saturday, June 19, 1999

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Narmada Dam: all aspects taken care of

Mr. L. Mansingh, Managing Director, Sardar Sarovar Narmada Nigam Ltd., Gandhinagar (Gujarat), writes:

This is with reference to an article in TheHindu of May 25 by Justice V. R. Krishna Iyer (Retd.) under the heading `The Sardar Sarovar Project'. We have great respect for Shri Krihsna Iyer's views and his activism in support of human rights. There can be no two views about the basic tenet of his argument that while irrigation and power generation are welcome, displacement of families should be minimised and environmental aspects should be safeguarded.

He also makes the point that such project should be particularly the rehabilitation part, subjected to independent, preferably judicial scrutiny and verification. The article gives the impression this has not been done in case of the Sardar Sarovar Project.

It is obvious that Justice Krisna Iyer has not been adequately briefed about the Project. The project is based on the Award of the Narmada Water Disputes Tribunal, which was constituted by the Government of India under the Chairmanship of a sitting Judge of the Supreme Court and consisted of two sitting Judges of High Courts as members.

The Tribunal deliberated on all the relevant issues concerning the Project, including relief and rehabilitation (R & R) of the project affected families (PAFs), for 10 long years from 1969 to 1979. The Tribunal not only gave full opportunity to the concerned States of Gujarat, Madhya Pradesh, Maharashtra and Rajasthan but also consulted top experts in the field independently and gave what is generally considered to be an extremely well drafted, self- contained Award.

As far as R&R of the PAFs is concerned, the Award perhaps for the first time, has introduced the concept of land for land by providing for allotment of equivalent amount of land, subject to a minimum of 2 ha. for all those who lose more than 25 per cent of their holdings in the submergence of the reservoir.

It has also laid down minimum facilities to be provided at each R&R sites. The rights of the PAFs and their entitlement as also the responsibilities of the States concerned are detailed in the provisions of the Award.

It is relevant to note that the Award provides for the mechanism for the monitoring of the implementation of the Award in the form of the Narmada Control Authority (NCA). The NCA and its sub- groups have been statutorily notified by the Government of India and function independently of the participating States with its own secretariat.

As to whether the Project has been finalised after due consideration of all aspects or not, it is relevant to mention that the Government of Gujarat set up a high-level Narmada Planning Group (NPG) to act as the thinktank to ensure that the Project not only adopted the best norms and technologies available anywhere in the world but also avoided the pitfalls based on the experience gained over the years in the implementation and running of large water resources projects.

The NPG had eminent economists and technical experts based on whose input the project was not only formulated and finalised but also continues to provide relevant inputs during its implementation. The NPG was instrumental in carrying out as many as 75 studies by reputed Indian and International organisations. More than eight studies are at present under way covering various aspects of the Project including environment.

It is relevant to mention here that the Government of India took more than six years to scrutinise and finally clear the project. It is also the first major river valley project to have been subjected to detailed environmental scrutiny after which it was given clearance subject to certain specific conditions the implementation of which is regularly monitored by the environment sub-group of the NCA chaired by the Secretary to the Government of India, Ministry of Environment and Forests and consisting of, amongst others, independent experts.

As regards independent scrutiny of the R&R of the PAFs, the participating States are obliged to carry out the resettlement of the affected people as per the mandate of the Narmada Water Disputes Tribunals Award (NWDT). However, the Government of Gujarat has further liberalised the R&R package subsequently over and above what is provided in the Award.

The main benefit of this liberalisation goes to such categories of affected people as landless labourers, encroachers etc. in the affected villages who have been made eligible to the same R&R package with the result that a large number of PAPs, even persons as well as their major sons on a specified cut off date are now eligible to minimum 2 ha. of land as well as other facilities such as a house plot of 500 sq. mtrs. and a core house.

One of the main criticism against the Project that such projects benefit only rich farmers in the command area at the cost of the poor who are displaced by the project is blunted by the fact that the minimum 2 ha. of agricultural land is allotted to each eligible displaced person in the command area of the Project as mandated in the NWDT Award.

The R&R work is mandatory and reviewed on a regular basis by the R&R sub-group chaired by the Secretary to the Government of India, Ministry of Social Justice and Empowerment and consisting of, amongst others, non-official social scientists. This is part of the statutory mechanism notified for the supervision and monitoring of the implementation of the Project by the Government of India.

As regards judicial scrutiny, on a letter written by Shri B. D. Sharma, the then Commissioner of Scheduled Castes and Scheduled Tribes, the matter was considered by a three-Judge Bench of the Supreme Court of India headed by the Chief Justice in writ petition (Civil) No. 1201 of 1990. The court while making it clear that it was not their intention to hold up the progress of work and on the other hand, they would like it to be completed expeditiously so that the time lag may not affect the construction of the Project, directed that the R&R sub-group should visit the R&R sites and file reports to the court which they have since been doing earlier on a monthly basis and subsequently on a quarterly basis So far, 19 field reports have been filed with the court.

Subsequently, the Narmada Bachao Andolan (NBA) filed writ petition No. 319/94 against Union of India and Others. The matter is still subjudice. The court has been holding regular hearings on the petition, mainly with reference to R&R for over a year and after hearing all the parties concerned for 15 days on a continuous basis, it allowed construction to be resumed in the sluice gate portion of the dam to raise it from the then height of 80.3 mtrs. to 85 mtrs. excluding humps for the safety of the dam vide its order on 18th February, 1999.

During the said hearings, the Government of Gujarat offered to set up an independent high-level Grievances Redressal Authority to look into the grievances of all Project Affected Families resettled in Gujarat with the commitment that the directions of the Authority will be binding on the Government.

With the approval of the Court, Justice P. D. Desai Retd. Chief Justice of the High Courts of Himachal Pradesh, Calcutta and Mumbai was notified as the Chairman of the Authority. It was directed by the court vide the said order to verify the R&R arrangements made by the Government of Gujarat for resettling affected families upto the dam height of 85 mtrs. and thereafter for the resettlement of those affected between the dam heights of 85 to 90 mtrs.

The Authority has submitted its report to the Court. In spite of the fact that the petitioners themselves welcomed the setting up of the Authority and the appointment of Justice P. D. Desai as the Chairman, during arguments in the petition filed by them recurring press reports and articles making derogatory remarks against the Authority have been appearing since the said order was passed. The matter has been taken with demonstrations and dharnas to the streets.

The petitioners had assured the court that such things will not be repeated and denied having made any such statement when Gujarat and Maharashtra as the respondents had drawn the attention of the Hon'ble Court.

In view of the above position, it cannot be anybody's case that the SSP has not been subjected to detailed independent scrutiny or even judicial scrutiny. The fact of the matter is that there is perhaps no other project which has been subjected to such detailed scrutiny at all stages over a prolonged period including the scrutiny of the Highest Court of the land.

However, in spite of the matter, being subjudice in the Supreme Court, there appears to be an orchestrated campaign in the media which virtually reveals the mind set of a certain group of people who are obviously not willing to agree or even consider any point of view if it does not match their own.

While in a democratic set-up like ours there has to be open debate and consensus on every major issue, the nation cannot accept a position where a particular point of view is sought to be thrust upon the vast majority of the people in total disregard of decisions taken validly after detailed scrutiny and consideration of all relevant aspects as well as judicial pronouncements even by the apex court particularly with reference to a project in which over Rs. 8,000 crores of public money has already been invested.

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