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Press Release April 20 1999


In a significant move, the Government of Madhya Pradesh has filed a suit in the Supreme court challenging the existing Narmada Water Disputes Tribunal (NWDT) with a demand for constituting a new Tribunal `to adjudicate the water dispute' between Madhya Pradesh and other states including Gujarat, Maharashtra and Rajasthan. The state government has also asked for the reduction of the height of the controversial Sardar Sarovar Project (SSP) from proposed 455 feet to 436 feet. The state has further prayed the apex court for a stay on the construction on the dam till the disposal of the suit.

This suit ( O.S. No. 1 of 1999), filed recently in the Supreme Court, has brought to the fore the river water dispute between the two states, closely on the heels of disputes about Cauvery. GOMP has filed the suit against the Union Government, through its Secretary, Water Resources Ministry, the states of Gujarat, Maharashtra and Rajasthan, under article 131 of the Constitution read with order XXII, rules 1.2 and 3 of the Supreme Court rules, 1966. It is understood that the Supreme Court has sent notices to the concerned defendants to file their responses on the admission of the suit. The suit by one of the party states of the SSP and Narmada Valley Development Project when the court is hearing the public interest litigation filed by the Narmada Bachao Andolan (NBA). The court had earlier, allowed the permission for the resumption of the suspended work on the dam and raise the height of the dam by five meters, from 80.3 t5o 85 meters , added with the humps. The NBA has been opposing the further construction on the dam when all the outstanding issues regarding he dam, including the displacement and resettlement, remain unresolved. The Court had issued notices to the concerned parties which are returnable by April 28, it is learnt.

Height Reduction

The Government of Madhya Pradesh (GOMP), through the suit has contended that the Award of the NWDT, passed in 1979, has not taken into consideration the interests of M.P. and that repeated pleas to the Union government regarding reconsidering the height of the SSP went unheeded. The state government has made it clear that the reduction of 19 feet in the height of the SSP would save 5600 hectares of cultivable land, , forest and other land and would save 38461 persons ( 11000 families) from displacement. That is, according to the GOMP, 33.74% of the total displacement will be saved and 27.04% of the land will be saved from submergence. This reduction, accordingly, will have no effect on the quantum of the allotted water to the state of Gujarat as per the NWDT. The height reduction will only reduce the power generation, majority (57%) of the part of which was assured to Madhya Pradesh. However, GOMP contended, the state is ready to sacrifice the proposed power benefit for the sake of `reducing the distress of the displaced persons'.

The state government emphasised the fact that the `machinery' created for the resolution of the disputes between the states did not work and hence the state had to take recourse to legal action. It has contended that whenever the GOMP tried to raise the issue of the reduction of the height in the meetings of Narmada Control Authority (NCA) and Sardar Sarovar Construction Advisory Committee (SSCAC), the other states including Gujarat, Maharashtra and Rajasthan vehemently opposed the discussion about the issue and the differences within the states could not be resolved by the said machinery. The petition claims that the reduction in the final height of the dam was proposed within the framework of the decision ( of NWDT). It did not involve reconsideration of any aspect in the decision but only the agreement amongst the states'. The state claims that the reduction of the height from 455 to 436 feet in the dam height will not have any repercussion on the quantum of water allotted to Gujarat or the irrigation benefits from the project.

In a significant observation, the suit claims that due to delay in the completion of the SSP there would be reduction in the power generation in the SSP by 23% when compared with planning in the NWDT decision. It must be noted that the out of total power generation from the dam 57% is for M.P., alongwith Maharashtra (27%) and Gujarat (16%).

"The Madhya Pradesh government contends that over the years, the facts and figures considered by the NWDT have undergone substantial changes and the scenarios that were taken into account by the NWDT are now not relevant. This has resulted in decision becoming unimplementable in totality or interalia." Accordingly the number of project affected families (PAFs) has increased in Madhya Pradesh from 6147 to 33014 PAFs. Similarly, there has been an increase in the overall number of the oustees. Secondly, Forest Conservation Act and Environment (Protection) Act came into existence after the NWDT Award, which have altered the scenario about the availability of the land. "The necessity of the protection of environment was not considered by the NWDT. Greater awareness for the protection of environment has come after the decision" claims the suit. Thirdly, the completion of Narmada Sagar and SSP was delayed by seven years and SSP will be delayed by 10 years, which will have adverse impact on the benefits of power generation from the SSP.

Fourthly, the GOMP contends, the assessment of available water in Naramda has come about 22.50 million acre feet (MAF) and not 27 MAF as was assumed while formulating the projects. "This has vitiated the equitable distribution of waters among the states. Consequently, the storage ( including the carryover storage) at the Sardar Sarovar dam could be reduced and thereby large numbers of PAFs could be saved from the trauma of submergence and rehabilitation." Fourthly, there has been paucity of funds due to number of reasons. The state has made it clear that it is ready to forego the benefits of power for the sake of reduction of the height of the dam. It also contended that any increase in the height of the dam beyond 82.5 meters would be prejudicial to the demand of the reduction of the final height of the dam 436 feet. Therefore, the dam work must not be allowed to go beyond that until the suit is disposed off by the court, the government said.

Challenging the NWDT

While questioning the NWDT the GOMP has made it clear that the SSP was in effect imposed on the states of M.P. and Maharashtra, "without the consent of participating states. In the Annexure 1, attached with the suit, the state government has submitted a copy of its complaint made to the Union Government on 23.3.1998. The complaint makes it clear that the GOMP has been challenging the decision of the NWDT on the grounds that

  1. The NWDT virtually nullified the basin concept
  2. Waters of the tributaries of the river wholly lying one state were not wholly allocated to that state.
  3. SSP was imposed as a joint project on the 4 states without their consent.
  4. No water was allocated by the NWDT for environmental considerations
  5. The mode of compensating the states of M.P. and Maharashtra for the loss of Jalsindhi and Harinphal projects was illusory, as inflicted further injury on the two states.

The suit takes stock of the ineffective resettlement programme of the M.P. oustees in Gujarat and also dwells at length about the available quantum of water in Narmada. The complaint makes a strong plea that in view of the changed circumstances, and scenarios there is a need of changed allocation of water and planning of the projects in the Narmada valley. It also emphasises that the state government has to take into account the interests of the people residing in the state.

Sanjay Sangvai,
Narmada Bachao Andolan