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Press Note 11.4.99


The reported move to scuttle the three member committee appointed by the Union Social Justice Department, to reassess the Narmada project resettlement situation only shows the government's aversion to face the reality. This has reinforced the apprehensions about the undemocratic and fraudulent means the government has been using to suppress the truth and the people. Even such a small gesture towards the oustees, of little consequence, could not be tolerated by the dam proponents. After the infamous mess about the public hearing of World Commission on Dams in India, the Prime Minister was again compelled by the Gujarat government and vested interests to toe their line unquestioningly, disregarding the people's rights and norms of governance.

The reasons given for quashing this committee on behalf of the Prime Minister are spurious and would create more confusion regarding the role of the Union government and the matter in the Supreme Court. Firstly, the committee was the Ministry's own committee, reporting to the Minister. The Central government has the responsibility to have an independent assessment of the claims made by the state governments. The committee is a body within the ministry. The apprehension that such committee may create legal confusion is misplaced.

The reference to P.D. Desai Committee as the Grievance Redressal Committee is also unwarranted. The Desai Committee is a body set up by the state government, though endorsed by the apex court, and has a mandate only to look into the condition of the oustees resettled and land available only in Gujarat. It has to look into the post-facto grievances of the already displaced people. However, there was a need go beyond this restricted agenda and examine the claims of land availability in all the states and the status of rehabilitation of the oustees resettled in Madhya Pradesh and Maharashtra - matters which the Desai Committee is not expected to look into.

The committee was to make an assessment of the land availability for the resettlement of the Sardar Sarovar Project (SSP) oustees and the status of those who have been resettled till now. This was important in the context of the claims made by the governments in the court. It was pointed out by the Narmada Bachao Andolan, through its surveys and land inspection by the people accompanied by the officials, that the land claimed to be available for resettlement was not available. Moreover, those who were displaced hitherto could not be resettled fully and according to the norms set up by the Narmada Water Disputes Tribunal (NWDT). Thus, despite tall claims, the ground reality was different. The Andolan has challenged the government's claims through the "Manav Adhikar Yatra" ( Human Rights March).

The decision by the Prime Minister shows that the Government of India is wary of knowing the truth about the resettlement and unwilling to fulfill its responsibility. The state governments - Gujarat, Maharashtra and Madhy Pradesh - are interested parties and their claims must be assessed by the Centre. This would have, in fact, helped the Court proceedings. However, the reported move has once again revealed the government's callous disregard for the truth and rights of the tribals. This fear of being exposed was also visible at the time of the proposed public hearing of World Commission on Dams in Bhopal. At that time too, the Gujarat government had acted in the same manner and pressurised the Centre not to allow the Chairman of the Commission and the entire WCD in India. In a similar way, this move too has further damaged the image of the government in the context of the true situation and protection of tribal's rights.

The Andolan expects the Minister for Social Justice to stand by her decision and resist unwarranted interference in the discharge of the duties of the department. We also expect the Prime Minister to act more like a statesman and not succumb to the pressure of party fiefs. NBA would continue its effort to expose the government claims in and outside the court.

Sanjay Sangvai