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The Hindu on indiaserver.com : 'S.C. concerned about impact of Narmada dam on tribals'

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Saturday, July 31, 1999


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'S.C. concerned about impact of Narmada dam on tribals'

By T. Padmanabha Rao

NEW DELHI, JULY 30. There seemed to be ``a basic misconception on the part of the petitioners - (Narmada Bachao Andolan (NBA) and certain others concerned) - in regard to the functioning of the apex court,'' Mr. K. K. Venugopal, senior advocate and `amicus curiae' in the `NBA matter' submitted before the Supreme Court.

The amicus curiae was making submissions on Thursday before a three-member Bench of the court in connection with the hearing of an interlocutory application (IA) from the State of Gujarat which complained of - ``a consistent and persistent approach on the part of the petitioner (NBA) in ignoring the apex court's directions passed from time to time, more particularly, in relation with publication of various matters in different newspapers, journals and other media touching upon the matter under consideration of the court'' (in the main PIL petition from the petitioner).

The counsel, while on this aspect, urged that ``this court does not deal with the policy underlying the decision to establish a dam or the height it has to attain'' and that ``this is a matter of policy for the elected representatives of the people to decide.''

The court in connection with the hearing of the main public interest writ petition of the NBA was ``concerned, on the other hand, with the impact of the dam on the human rights of the tribals and farmers who will be flooded out by the water spread of the dam,'' Mr. Venugopal said.

The court, originally (about four years ago), in his view, the ``amicus curiae'' submitted, granted a stay of increase in the height of the dam to monitor the relief and rehabilitation of the tribals and farmers so that their fundamental rights and human rights ``stand protected''.

It was ``in the exercise of this jurisdiction that, it (the court, few weeks ago) after elaborately and carefully hearing all the parties, permitted the increase of the height to 85 metres and the humps by 3 metres'' and that in doing so, it (the court) was ``discharging its functions under the Constitution of protecting the rights of the weaker sections of society'', the counsel pleaded.

``For the petitioner (NBA) or anyone else to attack this order and its consequences would indeed be not only shortsightedness, but also counter-productive,'' Mr. Venugopal submitted.

The Bench comprising the Chief Justice, Dr. A. S. Anand, Mr. Justice S. P. Bharucha and Mr. Justice B. N. Kirpal, on July 22 appointed Mr. Venugopal, as an `amicus curiae' to assist the court in regard to any action required to be taken in connection with the hearing of Gujarat State's IA as well as the main PIL petition from the NBA and others.

``The entire exercise undertaken by Ms. Medha Patkar (leader of the NBA) and others, in attacking the order of the Supreme Court and committing contempt of the court, is that it would result in shaking the confidence of the public in the administration of justice,'' the amicus curiae argued.

``To weaken this democratic edifice of the Court system which has reached out - (through its path-breaking rulings in anti- pollution, anti-bonded labour and forest preservation etc public interest matters) - to the common man, to the illiterate masses, to the underprivileged ones and to those who on account of poverty and illiteracy are unable to assert their rights is, to say the least, is highly counter-productive,'' the counsel said.

He also submitted that the record of the Supreme Court had shown that in the teeth of Executive's indifference and callousness, the court had stepped in to ensure that the basic rights and human rights were protected.

``To erode in any manner the high prestige and status which this institution (apex court) commands in the eyes of the people would be self-defeating,'' Mr. Venugopal submitted.

Further hearing of this case was adjourned till August 5.


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