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The Hindu on : Neglect of rehabilitation

Online edition of India's National Newspaper on
Wednesday, September 01, 1999

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Neglect of rehabilitation

By Kuldip Nayar

WHENEVER THERE has been a discussion on human rights in South Asia, the name of Dr. Neelan Thiruchelvam, a parliamentarian and Constitution expert, invariably has cropped up. He was a tireless worker, trying to find some way to end the strife between the Sri Lankan Government and the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eeelam (LTTE). I met him in Colombo a few weeks before his assassination. He had invited me to what was known as the South Indian breakfast at a local, austere restaurant. The only thing he talked about was a settlement with the LTTE. He sought my assistance. I told him that I would love to help but didn't know how. I expressed my desire to meet Mr. V. Prabhakaran, LTTE chief. Neelan mentioned the name of a high-up who could arrange the meeting. When I approached the high-up in Delhi, he asked me to wait for 10 days. He never came back to me. Before I could contact the person concerned again, I read about Neelan's assassination.

I do not know who will pick up the threads again. Voices for reconciliation in Sri Lanka are being silenced, one after the other. Neelan's optimism should, however, enthuse human rights activists all over the region. He did not give up even when he received threats. Like many, I too feel disheartened. It may be the darkest period in the relationship between Colombo and the LTTE. But a dawn is always preceded by deep darkness.

* * *

See the unflappable Ms. Medha Patkar, who never gives up on the Narmada issue. She is determined to have a better deal for the tribal people, who are being uprooted. The point at issue is not the dam - it was at one time. Everything now revolves round rehabilitation. The Gujarat Government, committed to providing land for land because of the reservoir (the Sardar Sarovar), is dragging its feet on resettlement.

The award by the Narmada Water Disputes Tribunal (NWDT) says specifically that ``Gujarat shall acquire and make available a year in advance of the submergence before each successive stage, irrigable lands and house-sites for rehabilitation of the oustee families from Madhya Pradesh and Maharashtra, who are willing to migrate to Gujarat. Gujarat shall, in the first instance, offer to rehabilitate the oustees in its own territory. In the event of Gujarat being unable to resettle the oustees or the oustees being unwilling to occupy the area offered by Gujarat, Madhya Pradesh and Maharashtra shall make such provisions for rehabilitation, civic amenities, etc., on the lines mentioned above.''

Some of us met the President, Mr. K. R. Narayanan, recently to draw his attention to the lack of rehabilitation. The fact is that Gujarat has no land to offer. People of the Narmada valley, along with officials who have carried joint inspection of the land for resettlement, have found that the land is not available. Even the State's claim that the oustees have been settled does not ring true as large numbers of them are unhappy. Madhya Pradesh has filed a suit in the Supreme Court, asking for the constitution of a new tribunal to review the Sarovar project. This follows a similar complaint it submitted last year under the Inter-State Water Disputes Act (1956) to the Central Government which rejected the complaint. However, the Supreme Court has laid down that ``rehabilitation should be so done that at least six months before an area is likely to be submerged rehabilitation should be complete and should be in respect of homesteads, substitution of agricultural property and such other arrangements as are contemplated under the rehabilitation scheme.''

Apart from facing other problems, a large number of oustees have complained that they have been given uncultivable or bad land. In April this year, seven tribal oustees of Madhya Pradesh, resettled in Gujarat, died in a span of 10 days, putting a question mark on rehabilitation itself. Several experts have worked out alternative schemes which can provide the requisite quantity of water to the States concerned, while limiting the height. The Madhya Pradesh Government has itself made several such proposals. The Madhya Pradesh Chief Minister, Mr. Digvijay Singh, who met me in Delhi a couple of days ago, said he was ready for any proposal to lessen the height. Understandably, the Gujaratis want water. If the quantum is not reduced, they would have no objection to the reduction of height. Hearing about various complaints, the Social Welfare Minister, Ms. Maneka Gandhi, ordered a review of the rehabilitation work some time ago. As soon as the BJP Government in Gujarat came to know of this, it approached the BJP-led Centre. The review was stopped on the ground that the matter was sub judice. How can the review of rehabilitation be sub judice? The Supreme Court, it is true, is engaged in matters relating to the Narmada. It does not mean that everything on the subject can be stalled in the name of sub judice.

But then the Supreme Court is unpredictable. The judgment on compensation to the Uttarakhand agitation victims is an example. When men, women and children of Uttarakhand went to Delhi for a protest march, they were brutally beaten up and killed in the police firing on their way in Muzaffarnagar. Women were raped by policemen. The Allahabad High Court granted compensation to the victims. Not only that, it also ordered a CBI inquiry.

After moving haltingly, the CBI launched criminal proceedings against the allegedly guilty administrative and police officers of Muzaffarnagar. But before the inquiry could even pick up the pace, the Supreme Court announced its decision which not only quashed the High Court judgment but also talked of the State's limited resources which could not bear the burden of compensation. (Some lucky ones have already received some amount). The Supreme Court ignored its own earlier decisions (for instance, the Nilabati Behera case) on the Constitutional obligations of courts to take cognisance of violation of human rights by the state and its agencies.

The Supreme Court appears to have placed implicit faith in the various counsel appearing in the case. It observed at the outset: ``We propose to skip major portions of the judgment,'' on the basis of what counsel had said.

The people of Kumaon and Garhwal were exercising their civil rights while agitating for the creation of a separate state of Uttarakhand. The legitimacy of the demand was established by the fact that the two Houses of the U.P. Legislature had already passed resolutions recommending to the Centre to accept the demand. The fallout of the Supreme Court judgment is an atmosphere of despondency, disillusionment and a sense of demoralisation.

Sometimes, even the Supreme Court is treated shabbily. The controversy over the report by its judge, Mr. D. P. Wadhwa, on the murder of the Australian Christian missionary and his two sons has been politicised. Instead of taking the Congress(I) Government in Orissa to task for its negligence and even complicity, Mr. Justice Wadhwa has been made a target to ventilate criticism against the BJP. It is true that the party has communalised the atmosphere and its ally, the Vishwa Hindu Parishad's fundamentalism has even damaged the BJP's image. But when Mr. Justice Wahdwa does not find any connection between Dara Singh and the organisation he is said to belong vis-a-vis the crime, why do the non-BJP political parties drag in the poor judge to settle their scores?

Mr. Justice Wadhwa's one sentence, which I quote, should establish his credentials. He says: ``secularism is not simply an ideological mainstay of multi-religious India but, is in fact, the cornerstone of social life recognised by the Constitution. I think that the Chief Justice of India should not agree to nominate a sitting judge for such inquiries, which are bound to be exploited by political parties.''

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