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SC verdict provokes a
dam burst of argument

While some feel that the verdict ignores the basic principles of the Constitution, others see it as a pragmatic decision that takes into account all aspects
of development and environment, reports Rinku Pegu

New Delhi, October 19

It is clear now, even after 50 years of Independence, that when it comes to development, the might of the "state" prevails over the people's self-determination. Condemning the Supreme Court's verdict to go ahead with the construction of the Sardar Sarovar Dam on the Narmada river as per the original design, professor Anand Kumar, convenor of the Lok Shakti Abhiyan, said that it is unfortunate that "the Supreme Court has leaned towards pragmatism completely ignoring the basic principles of the Constitution, which is a commitment to the welfare state by taking into consideration the well being of all sections of the society".

The Narmada Bachao Andolan (NBA), which has been questioning the viability of the Sardar Sarovar Project (SSP) for the past 15 years, had also brought to the forefront the issue of rehabilitation of the dam displaced, who are mostly marginalised tribals.

Expressing dismay at the Supreme Court verdict, Magsaysay Award winner Aruna Roy of the Mazdoor Kishan Sabha Sangh (MKSS), said, "It is wrong to evaluate each and every project on the cost-benefit
model of development. The judgment has failed to take into account all aspects of development, especially that an organic process is involved in developmental issues.
In fact, the value of human loss and suffering can never
be compensated."

"What was the
whole purpose of going to the judiciary if the final decision
in case a dispute
arises again is left with the executive, that is, the
prime minister?

The NBA has in the past 15 years emerged as a symbol
for an alternative voice the
world over. This is why
Supreme Court lawyer and head of Lawyers Collective, Indira
Jaising, has no doubt that
the "judgment is a setback
to a people's movement in determining their own priorities".

Criticising the Supreme Court verdict, Jaising says, "The majority judgment is completely wrong as it does not make legal sense. Why wait for seven years and
suspend construction if you are finally to let it go ahead as per the original norm?"

However, Jaising sees hope in Justice Bharucha's minority judgment. Terming Bharucha's dissenting note as an honest judgment, Jaising said that it lends hope
to the struggling people and their cause, especially when big dams have come in for criticism all over the world for their adverse impact on the environment - in some cases, even accused of causing earthquakes.

Commenting on the judgment, Nikhil Dey, an activist
of the MKSS, asks, "What was the whole purpose of going to the judiciary if the final decision in case a dispute arises again is left with the executive, that is,
the prime minister? The highest judicial body in the country has put a big question mark on the future of struggling peoples."

In spite of the widespread disillusionment over the Supreme Court verdict, some environmentalists and activists see merit in the decision. Anil Agarwal, chairperson of the Centre for Science and Environment (CSE), claims that the verdict is important, as it has put environment and development into a proper perspective - as an integrated proposal. According to Agarwal, the
two concepts of development and environment cannot
be seen mutually exclusive of the other.

Echoing Agarwal's views, Madhu Kishwar, editor of Manushi (a women's issues magazine) and social activist, says, "No project is so simple to be seen
entirely as a development versus environment issue.
Now, when the polarisation is so sharpened, it is
only natural that institutions will vote for the side
of development."

Kishwar is not unduly worried about the judgment having an adverse impact on the people's mass movement. "After all, when you talk of numbers, the state too has many supporters and not just the NBA. This is clearly reflected in Gujarat itself, where people are rejoicing over the verdict," Kishwar states.

Nor is Agarwal perturbed about the judgment's social impact. In Agarwal's opinion, "People have to realise
that unrealistic demands cannot be made in the name
of civil intervention."

One thing that clearly emerges is the fact that although the highest legal option has been closed for the NBA activists, hope is not lost for the affected people in the valley. In a democratic society, everybody has the legitimate right to protest.

And as Medha Patkar, leader of the NBA, says, "The people of the Narmada valley have only known the idiom of non-violent protest and will carry on the tradition."


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