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The Hindu on indiaserver.com : A digressive issue

Online edition of India's National Newspaper on indiaserver.com
Monday, August 16, 1999


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A digressive issue

IT IS AMPLY clear from the recent developments that notwithstanding all the public sympathy they have generated, in substantive terms the activists and supporters of the Narmada Bachao Andolan (NBA) have merely contributed to a digression from the central issues arising out of the Sardar Sarovar Project (SSP). For even as the rising waters of the Narmada continue to submerge villages in Maharashtra, the two hearings in the Supreme Court in July, thanks to the NBA's own pronouncements and those of its supporters, in the main got diverted to addressing an interlocutory application (IA) from the State of Gujarat. Those who have sought to read too much into the court's admonition of the NBA for attempting to undermine its dignity and influence the course of justice must remember that it had, through two orders issued in April 1997 and November 1998, prohibited the parties from going to the press and utilising any other forum and warned them of punishment for contempt. The appointment this July of Mr. K. K. Venugopal, senior advocate and president, Supreme Court Bar Association (SCBA), as amicus curiae to take action on the IA is a necessary fallout of the spate of criticism of the Supreme Court's interim order last February, allowing the Government of Gujarat to increase the height of the dam.

The court's concern for the plight of thousands of families facing resettlement would seem unmistakable considering that the allowed increase of the height of the dam was a rather nominal 5 metres (from 80.5 metres) compared to the height of 132.68 metres agreed upon by the Chief Ministers of Madhya Pradesh, Maharashtra, Gujarat and Rajasthan as recently as in 1996. The court's order was coupled with one requiring the constitution of a grievance redressal authority whose periodic reports were to determine the future course on the dam project. For his part, the amicus curiae has indicated the appropriateness of issuing a warning to the NBA of the consequences of its actions, over either imposing a fine or a jail sentence or removing the Andolan as a petitioner from the main Public Interest Litigation (PIL) case, even though it was guilty of contempt under Section 12 of the Contempt of Courts Act, 1971 by disobeying the apex court's orders of April 1997 and November 1998.

Surely, the NBA must have been prompted by the human rights- sensitive and environment-friendly mood of the country's courts and in particular the lead role of the apex court when it sought judicial intervention way back in 1995. More so, considering that it did so years after the campaign against the SSP had haunted the national consciousness as a mass movement. Having done so, it is obligatory on its part to scrupulously follow the rules of the game. The pronouncements of the court on the SSP will undoubtedly make a significant impact on the course of the ecological movement in the country as a whole. To that extent, it would be in the larger interest, not merely of its own, for the NBA to eschew acrimony and adopt moderation. That perhaps calls for keeping celebrities at a distance.


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