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Wednesday, October 25, 2000


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Use pics narmada.tif and narmada1.tif (shows rehabilitated families in their colony/houses) No credit.

``The GRA has seen to the establishment of different cells... The steps which are being taken and the assistance given is much more than what is required under the Tribunal's award'': SC

Can the Narmada Bachao Andolan (NBA) and its beta noire, the Gujarat Government see eye-to-eye on any issue relating to the Sardar Sarovar Project? Or, for that matter, praise any agency dealing with relief and rehabilitation of the people adversely affected by the construction of Narmada Dam?

It is difficult to believe but the Grievances Redressal Authority (GRA) set up by the Gujarat government has gained such credibility since its inception in February 1999 that it is being looked at with confidence by the project-affected persons, the anti-dam activists and with due deference by the state government. While the Gujarat Chief Minister Keshubhai Patel publicly acclaimed the work done by the GRA and the impact of its report before the Supreme Court, the NBA expressed its appreciation of the role being played by GRA in an affidavit to the Supreme Court in February this year. It had admitted that the affected families had got access to authorities to seek redressal.

Even the Supreme Court, in its recent landmark judgment, noted that ``the GRA, of which Mr Justice P D Desai is the chairman, has seen to the establishment of different cells and have taken innovative steps with a view to making R&R (Relief and Rehabilitation) effective and meaningful. The steps which are being taken and the assistance given is much more than what is required under the Tribunal's award''. The apex court went on to say that it was satisfied that ``more than adequate steps are being taken by the State of Gujarat not only to implement the Award of the Tribunal to the extent it grants relief to the oustees but the effort is to substantially improve thereon and, therefore, continued monitoring by this court may not be necessary''.

The GRA is headed by a former chief justice of the High Courts of Bombay, Calcutta and Himachal Pradesh, Justice P D Desai. A judge with a formidable reputation, his judgments and observations had been sending shivers down the spine of state governments concerned. He had retired in 1992 and had studiously declined to take on any assignments. However, when he was persuaded to take the responsibility, including by the Chief Justice of India, he made it clear that he would not tolerate any influence.

Accordingly provisions were made to ensure that the appointment of the chairman of GRA was to be made with concurrence of the Chief Justice of India and he was not to be removed from office without his concurrence. Also, it was made clear that the decisions and directions of GRA in all matters relating to grievances/complaints of Project Affected People (PAP) were to be final and binding on the State of Gujarat.

The R&R policy of the state government is, indeed, comparable with the best anywhere in the world. It provides that every co-sharer of original joint holding, every landless labourer, even every encroacher on government and forest land and every major son of these categories of families, is to be provided two hectares of land. Every family is to be provided Rs 45,000 for the construction of the core house in addition to a free house plot of 500 sq mts. Besides, each affected family will get a subsistence allowance of Rs 4,500 and an amount of Rs 7,000 for the purchase of assets like bullocks and agricultural equipment. In addition, the rehabilitated persons will get house electrification free of cost, insurance for house, death and personal accident and dispensaries and schools in each colony set up for them.

The Rs 20,000 crore Sardar Sarovar Project over Narmada would cause partial submergence of 241 villages and full submergence of four villages in Madhya Pradesh, Maharashtra and Gujarat, displacing a total of 40,827 families. The Gujarat government has re-settled a large percentage of those who had opted to be rehabilitated in the state. However, vested interests and the sustained campaign by the NBA has been discouraging other affected persons to approach Gujarat government for rehabilitation. Officials and beneficiaries sent to Madhya Pradesh are attacked and not allowed to meet the affected families.

The GRA has been vested with vast powers. Besides seven senior IAS officers posted full-time with the Authority, it has teams for providing medical facilities, including nutritional support, school health check programme, diagnostic and health camps, medical infrastructure in colonies and to conduct regular health surveys. It also has a cell for agricultural development to test soil, provide quality seeds, supply subsidised inputs and plan afforestation.

The GRA has drawn up an elaborate grievance redressal mechanism under which their grievances are dealt with at various levels. In addition, any affected person has to just write a plain letter to the chairman of the Authority for a complete inspection of records pertaining to him. There have been some instances in which the land allotted to them was found to be less fertile and was exchanged. The Authority has created a single-window facility for grievances and the chairman and other senior official visit the rehabilitation sites to inspect the progress.

Efforts are also being made, in association with non-governmental organisations, to integrate the rehabilitated persons with the local population. Care is taken to resettle people belonging to the same ethnic or social background, according to Justice Desai. He points out that some of these persons had been elected to the panchayats and other local bodies.

However, he asserts that much would depend on the local people and those resettled on their relationship in the future. Appreciating the recent judgment by the Supreme Court, he says that the apex court has laid down basic rules for all major projects to come up in the country in the future which would involve R&R of people.

The Authority is faced with the daunting task of ensuring that each of the affected person is settled. The uprooting of people anywhere leaves a deep and ever-lasting impact on their lives. Although the loss may never be made up fully, sincere efforts to resettle and rehabilitate such people is the next best thing that could happen. At the same time, steps need to be taken that there is an exit policy so that these people do not get dependent on the government forever.

Copyright © 2000 Indian Express Newspapers (Bombay) Ltd.

   

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