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The tribals and peasants in the Narmada valley have decided to confront and expose the respective state governments who have given false information regarding situation of displacement and resettlement in the Sardar Sarovar Project (SSP) in the Supreme Court and not to leave their lands and villages under the pressure of fraud and threat of submergence. The people analysed the recent interim order by the Court allowing the government to increase the height of the SSP upto 85 meters from 80.3 meters, thus causing more submergence in the villages during this year"s monsoon and reiterated the resolve to face any situation. The consensus emerged in a meeting of the representatives of the SSP affected villages from the three states - Gujarat, Madhya Pradesh and Maharashtra- held in village Jalsindhi on the banks of Narmada on March 6-7. The people reiterated that even on the limited issue of the resettlement, the claims of the concerned governments have been far from the actual reality, let alone the other equally important issues about the cost-benefit, environment , social justice and the alternatives.

The villagers of Manibeli, the first affected village in Maharashtra who have braved the submergence three times, were resolute not to give up in face of the pressure tactics from the government. Keshavbhau Vasave, one of the main tribal activists from Nimgavhan village in Maharashtra commented that though the benefits of the dam won"t accrue till the height of 110 meters, it is only to intimidate the tribals that the government is bent upon getting the permission to restart the work at whatever height. "With this permission in hand, the people who do not exactly fall below the 85 meters too are being made to displace and resettle", he observed. Baba Mahariya, the tribal leader from Jalsindhi reiterated the resolve not to leave the ancestral land while Khajansingh observed that the basic issues, including the displacement, that the people"s movement had raised must not be overlooked.

Resettlement: False Claims

Even in the limited perspective of resettlement that the court has adopted, the people decided to put the reality regarding the displacement and resettlement before the independent "Grievance Redressal Authority" (GRA) headed by Justice (Rtd.) P.D Desai and withstand any attempt by the government to displace them in violation of the provisions of Narmada Water Dispute Tribunal (NWDT) or other legal and Constitutional rights. After the detailed analysis the people concluded that the displacement and resettlement that has been taking place for the SSP, hitherto, has been a clear violation of even the minimum requirements of the NWDT, let alone the tribals" democratic and human rights. Even the first villages near the dam site have not been resettled in a just way even after 15 to 20 years. Those few whom the government has displaced could not be resettled in communities. The villages, families have been disintegrated. The oustees at the resettlement sites have been suffering from the land related problems and other equally grave issues like drinking water, fuelwood, fodder and grazing land, health etc. Moreover, the "offers" the governments have made regarding the land for the oustees upto 90 meters have been found fraudulent as on at least 19 sites the lands were not available; the Madhya Pradesh government itself had rejected many such lands as there were problems. Thus, the people felt, the Gujarat government had presented a picture in the Court which has little to do with the reality.

The Maharashtra government had made audacious claims that every ousted family had been provided with land. However, the government itself had agreed that at least 169 oustee families did not have land as late as February 1999 at the resettlement sites in Taloda and Akkalkua tehsils of Nandurbar district. Despite availing itself of 4200 hectares of forest land from 1990 onwards, the state government in its affidavit in March 1998 stated that 470 ha was uncultivable. The same figure came at 836 hectares in September, 1998. The government was compelled to appoint a "land purchase committee" in February this year. The resort to private lands for resettlement implies no community resettlement. This, again, constitutes violation of the NWDT provisions.

The people decided to challenge the state governments in Madhya Pradesh and Maharashtra about the false information they had provided in the Court and minutely examine the claims regarding the land availability with on the spot inspection by people, in both the state. They will also confront the Narmada Control Authority (NCA) about this falsehood and consequent violation of the tribals" right to life and other democratic, human rights.

Also, the organisation will be making the presentations to the GRA regarding the status of rehabilitation. The people made it clear that the organisation must insist on comprehensive approach towards the project and the resettlement issue as they have been raising the issue in all its aspects from last 14 years and their petition too was for a comprehensive review of the project.

Sanjay Sangvai