| NBA Press Release
|| 26 August 2005
Land mark Order by High Court prevents submergence of 91 villages in Indira Sagar; Establishes legal regime, orders monitoring by the NCA
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Through a landmark order that has brought tremendous relief and been widely welcomed by thousands of affected families in the three Districts of Khandwa, Dewas and Harda, on the 17th of August 2005, the Madhya Pradesh High Court has restrained the Indira Sagar dam authorities from submerging the 91 dam affected villages which had been notified for submergence in June 2005. The Honorable Court ruled that Project authorities are required to comply with the Orders of the Supreme Court and the provisions of the Narmada Waters Disputes Tribunal Award and upheld the principle that a “clear six months breathing time” should be given to the oustees after the distribution of rehabilitation entitlements to them. The Honorable Court noted that that the rehabilitation of the oustees of 91 villages was far from complete and that the “compliance is nowhere near what the Narmada Award and Supreme Court expect before submergence”. In the circumstances, the Court ordered that the rehabilitation & resettlement of these 91 villages must be completed by the 31st of December 2005 and it is only after this that the State Government could issue a fresh Notification for the submergence of these villages next year, during the monsoon of 2006. The Order on the Interim prayer was passed by a Division Bench of the Madhya Pradesh High Court comprising of Chief Justice R.V.Raveendran and Justice Shantanu Kemkar in a case filed by the Narmada Bachao Andolan. The Advocate General of Madhya Pradesh Shri R.N.Singh argued for the NHDC and the State government, and Ms. Chittaroopa Palit argued on behalf of the Narmada Bachao Andolan.
Ordering the setting up of a legal regime involving proper monitoring and grievance procedures, the Court directed the Narmada Control Authority to involve itself in the monitoring of the R&R measures of 91 villages, and the Grievance Redressal Authority to hold regular weekly hearings at dam site in order to ensure that by the end of this year all oustee families of the Indira Sagar Project receive their rehabilitation benefits. Significantly, the Order also required that the NHDC undertake a comprehensive survey of the backwater effect of further increasing the level up to 262.16 M (FRL). It may be noted that the NHDC had ignored the impact of the backwater effect on the villages although it is required by the NWDTA to compulsorily acquire all houses falling within the backwater levels. The number of families to be affected by backwater may go up to over 20,000 families. In its Order for the first time, the Project authorities and the State Government were also made accountable for their failure to rehabilitate in due time and directed to pay a package of over Rs. 10 crores to all oustees of 91 villages who were forced to leave without compensation and rehabilitation because of the fear of submergence.
The Narmada Bachao Andolan and the oustees of the 91 villages welcome this Order. It is clear that the Rule of Law has been established for the first time in the Indira Sagar Project where hitherto only lawlessness by the NHDC (Narmada Hydro-Development Corporation) and the Madhya Pradesh Government and the rule of force flourished without any checks and balances whatsoever. This decision will not only give the several thousand oustee families of the 91 villages affected at FRL the minimum time of one year to prepare for their resettlement and rehabilitation but also bring into the fold of rehabilitation for the first time the nearly one lakh people in the back water effect who had been hitherto excluded from the rehabilitation process. The NBA would also like to point out that the submergence to full height would only bring an additional benefit of less than 1% of Madhya Pradesh’s current electricity needs.
This Order of the High Court and the timely prevention of the submergence of 91 villages has broken the history of extreme callousness and repression in the Indira Sagar dam (ISP) in the Narmada valley in Madhya Pradesh. Ever since the dam was handed over by the State government to the Narmada Hydro-Development Corporation Limited (NHDC) – set up as a joint venture between the State Government and the NHPC (National Hydro-Power Corporation), a regime of extreme callousness about human life and rampant corruption has taken root and flourished in the area. Between 2002 and 2004, the NHDC removed 118 villages and the Tehsil town of Harsud with the liberal use of terror and intimidation tactics. They bulldozed entire villages, uprooted hand-pumps and destroyed all sources of potable drinking water in the height of summer, conducted flag marches by Special armed forces and at every juncture threatened and removed people with the fait accompli of impending submergence. In a majority of cases, when they were evicted, the oustees of these villages were yet to receive their full entitlements.
The NHDC had planned to follow the same path with the people of 91 villages to be submerged in the last phase. On the 31.12.2004, the Madhya Pradesh Government had issued a notification requiring that the 91 villages affected by the Indira Sagar dam in the last phase must be vacated by the 30th of April 2005 and submerged by the 30th of June 2005 by closing the 20 gates of the dam. The recent Order of the High Court implies setting aside of this Order and permits a rise in the water level of the Indira Sagar Dam up to 255 meters but not beyond, on condition that “there is no submergence of the 91 villages mentioned in the Notification dated 31.12.2004 during the monsoon of 2005-2006.”
It may be noted that the Honorable Court permitted rise in water level up to 255 meters as they were “informed by NHDC that at this level, there will be no submergence of any of the 91 villages mentioned in the impugned notification dated 31.12.2004, even taking into account the backwater effect.” However, it has now come to light that the data submitted by the NHDC under oath in the High Court as back water impact at 258 m dam height is the same as the impact at 245 meters dam height given in the Report of the Central Water Commission (CWC) of July 2005 that had been commissioned by the NHDC on the directions of the High Court. Clearly, this is perjury and the NHDC cannot be permitted to endanger the lives and properties of the residents of the 91 villages by raising the dam height any further on the basis of false submergence data.
It may also be noted that despite a continuing Order of the Honorable Court restraining the administration from using coercive measures against the residents of the 91 villages, on the 3rd of August this year, the SDM and SDO (P) of Kannod, Dewas brutally demolished 23 houses of oustees in Village Fatehgarh in Dewas. The NBA has filed a petition against these officers for contempt of Court, and notices have been issued by the High Court in this regard.
Thus it is amply clear that the NHDC and the State Government are not to be believed whether in regard to the non-submergence of the 91 villages or in its use of coercive measures. It is in this context that the Narmada Bachao Andolan intends to continue and intensify the process of vigilance, struggle and demanding accountability from the institutions and fighting corruption, and state terror. In a meeting held on the 24th of August 2005, the oustees have come together to form a Vigilance and Coordination Committee in order to monitor the submergence in the coming days and ensure compliance.
It may be noted that the Order of the High Court of 27th July 2005 had noted that no agricultural lands and house-plots had been offered to the oustees by the NHDC, and even compensation had not been paid to the villagers within the stipulated time. Expressing its shock the Court had stated “It is not understandable, how the State Government could have issued the notification dated 31.12.2004 asking the landholders and householders of the 91 villages to vacate when hardly 60% of the awards had been passed on 31.12.2004 and less than 10% of the compensation amount had been disbursed as on that date. To repeat, the passing of awards was completed only on 30.4.2005, the last date fixed for vacating the 91 villages, and brisk payment of compensation amount commended only after 30.4.2005. When even the acquisition process was not complete and awards were not passed and compensation amount and other Rehabilitation Grants were not paid, obviously it is impossible for the landholders and householders of the 91 villages to shift from their villages and settle themselves elsewhere. Even if many have shifted, it is clearly out of fear of submergence.” It may be noted that although the Narmada Control Authority (NCA) is mandated to monitor the implementation of R&R measures of the oustees of the Indira Sagar Project through a Notification of the Ministry of Water Resources and the Environmental clearance of the Ministry of Environment and Forests. Despite this since 2001, the Madhya Pradesh Government and the Central Ministry of Environment and Forests have colluded to block the monitoring of the Indira Sagar Project. As a result, there has been no monitoring at all which led to the complete breakdown of rehabilitation and resettlement of the ISP oustees. The critical monitoring by the NCA has now been restored by the Court.
It may also be noted that thousands of families in the Indira Sagar Project have been excluded from being considered as Project affected families because of the large-scale corruption in ISP. In the last few years, there has been a regime of loot and extortion has been unleashed on the affected villages. Many NHDC officials have been caught red-handed by the CBI exhorting bribes from the oustees. Now, the High Court has directed that the GRA should hold regular sittings at least once a week at Indira Sagar to receive, consider and dispose of the complaints and grievances of the oustees and to ensure that by the end of this year the R&R benefits are fully extended to all Project Affected Families/oustees.Jayant Pandey