Report of the Committee to Assist the Resettlement and Rehabilitation of the Sardar Sarovar Project-Affected Persons (Government of Maharashtra)

Background

Narmada Bachao Andolan for long has been demanding the review of the displacement and rehabilitation status of the adivasis in Maharashtra affected, along with other oustees, by the Sardar Sarovar project. In the initial phase from 1985-88, it questioned the claims of resettlement and the people also inspected the lands earmarked for rehabilitation. However, on realizing the impossibility of rehabilitating thousands of Project affected families (PAFs) and the irreversible and adverse social, environmental and economic costs of the project it decided to oppose the displacement and the dam itself.

Though the NBA demanded a review of all aspects of the dam, it has expected the governments concerned to follow at least the provisions of the Narmada Water Dispute Tribunal Award (NWDTA) and ensuring the rights of the displaced adivasis. According to Award, the construction and submergence are linked with the resettlement of the people below that height of the dam. Before any village and oustee face submergence, they should be fully resettled a year before. What has happened has been a gross violation of the NWDTA and year after year the land and houses of the adivasis have been progressively submerged without them having been fully resettled. The submergence threat was used to oust the people without rehabilitation. Despite the fact that the people below 80 and 85 meters were not fully resettled and hundreds of families did not get land, state government claimed of resettling the people up to 90 meters and land availability up to 110 meters in the Supreme Court and in Narmada Control Authority (NCA). Thereby it facilitated the increase in the height of the dam bringing more submergence and forced eviction.

Even after the Supreme Court's direction to follow the NWDTA, the situation remained abysmal. Hence, NBA demanded that the government of Maharashtra undertake an independent review of the present status of rehabilitation, the plight of those already relocated to the Resettlement & Rehabilitation sites and those in the original villages, all within the framework of the Award, rehabilitation policy and the order of the Supreme Court. Village representatives from the valley held a three-day dharna in Mumbai, on January 2-4, 2001, demanding the review of the situation of displacement and the cost-benefit of this project for Maharashtra. The Chief Minister of Maharashtra, Mr. Vilasrao Deshmukh declared the formation of the two independent committees, one for reviewing the rehabilitation status of Maharashtra oustees and other for the cost-benefit of the SSP for Maharashtra.

'Committee to Assist the Resettlement and Rehabilitation of the Sardar Sarovar Project-Affected Persons', was formed under the chairmanship of Justice S.M. Daud (Retired) and consisting of Shri Manikrao Gavit, Member of Parliament, Barrister Sharad Palav, Shri R.V. Bhuskute, Shri Nandalal, Principal Secretary (Revenue and Forest Department, Government of Maharashtra) and Shri K.S. Parab, Section Officer (Revenue and Forest Department, Government of Maharashtra). The Committee also consisted of Special Invitees, Smt Pratibha Shinde of Punarwasan Sangharsh Samiti (PSS), Shri More, Joint Secretary, Irrigation Department, Government of Maharashtra and Shri Mali, Joint Secretary, Revenue and Forest Department, Government of Maharashtra.

One of the main tasks assigned to the Committee was to assess the availability of land for the resettlement of the yet-to-be-relocated adivasis. Also, to review the process of rehabilitation of the affected adivasis and ascertain whether it has been in accordance with the NWDTA and the Government policies. The Committee also had the option of making recommendations for better resettlement in the resettlement colonies among other issues.

The Committee has finalized its Report and submitted it to the government on 29th of June for further action.

The Process

The Committee visited four submergence villages and met adivasis from almost every affected village. They also visited all the five resettlement colonies established by the government of Maharashtra in Taloda and two resettlement sites in Gujrat where PAFs from Maharashtra affected villages have been resettled As stated in the report "To enable us to make appropriate recommendations, we have made extensive visits to the villages in the submergence areas as also the lands / sites / villages proposed or actually found functioning as resettlement villages. The meetings held there for the tribal villagers were in the nature of "gramsabhas" (village meetings), which came to be attended in large numbers by tribals from the affected villages situated near and far."

The Committee has also prepared a record of the various depositions made before it by the affected adivasis and the Government officials, which forms an intrinsic part of the report. Commenting on this the Committee states that "The "Transcripts" of the depositions made by the aggrieved PAPs speak of several complaints about mismanagement of the R&R (Resettlement and Rehabilitation) programme at the hands of the government officials. There being no evidence to the contrary, we see no reason to disbelieve the accounts of the tribals particularly as the narrations were made in the presence of the Government representatives..."

The Findings

The report brings out the inherent inadequacies of the resettlement process that range from non-availability of land to the incorrect enumeration of the project-affected adivasis, non-granting of land rights, unequal resettlement policy, definition of project-affected persons, corruption practices of officials, among others.

The report places most of the blame for such deficiencies on the absence of master plan for rehabilitation. It also suggests that submergence has preceded rehabilitation in the cases of many adivasis and their villages. In a nutshell, the report clearly shows that the stipulations and provisions of rehabilitation in the NWDT Award, State Resettlement policy and the judgment of the Supreme Court have been violated.

The Committee has reported that there is no land presently available. It is stated in the report that "...from what has been ascertained by us, it does not appear that land is available for the resettlement of the PAPs (Project Affected Persons) in conformity with the Award of the Tribunal, the policy of the Government and the verdict of the Supreme Court, especially in view of the fact that all those who have been shifted in the past or those presently affected at 90 mt height of the dam have not been provided suitable land."

It pointed out that the non-availability of land has resulted in displaced adivasis still languishing without land allotment in the resettlement colonies. There are several serious shortcomings especially with regard to land quality and availability and provision of civic amenities too. It has acknowledged the effort of the government in resettling PAFs but has added that it is just not enough and will require more application of mind, resources and effort.

The Committee is emphatic in stating that the resettlement of those affected at 90 m. is yet to be completed due to the non-availability of land. "In fact the attempted rehabilitation is substantially less and at times in breach of what has been required by the Tribunal Award, the Government resettlement policy and the verdict of the Supreme Court. Those affected at 90m were to be resettled by 31st December 2000, even that has not been accomplished. Moreover, NWDTA had insisted on rehabilitation preceding submergence. Obviously, this has not been complied with."

The Committee points to the absence of a Master Plan as being one of the instrumental determinants to the inadequate rehabilitation process. "One of the contributory factors is the absence of a Master Plan which ought to have been formulated by the Maharashtra Government to ascertain the precise number of PAFs (Project Affected Families) and the land requirements for their resettlement, its failure to ascertain from the PAFs their option as to the resettlement in Maharashtra and/or Gujrat and the piecemeal measures taken by the Government whenever a clamour arose either for expediting the SSP (Sardar Sarovar Project) or for doing justice to the displaced tribals. A failure to prepare a Master Plan which was even found desirable as a pre-requisite by NWDTA and the Supreme Court, is clearly a serious lapse giving rise to numerous problems including omission and underestimation of PAFs, vitiating the very process of resettlement and rehabilitation."

In the course of the report the Committee has stated that, "Our conclusions and recommendations are based upon our personal observations and a careful study of the various submissions made to us by the tribals and their spokespersons, including the NBA and PSS and the concerned Government officials. The contributions of all these people enabled us to gain an objective view and understanding of the myriad issues confronting the tribals and the Government. All those who are now engaged in search of a solution to these aggravating problems need take cognizance of what is being said by the people who have experienced hardships... "

The Findings

  • "First and foremost, there should be a change in the definition of PAF / oustees, to include all categories of people affected by dam related works"
  • "The cut-off date for major sons / unmarried daughters should be that on which the tribal inhabitant gets his resettlement entitlements in actuality as per the Award on his removal from his home and land both included in the village to be submerged." This essentially means that every major son / unmarried daughter who is 18 years or above on that particular date is entitled to the same resettlement entitlements. This change should be affected in the original and resettlement villages.
  • "For ascertaining the acreage, which a displaced agriculturalist amongst the tribals has in possession and hence is entitled to, unpublished official surveys of 1985-86...should be treated as the base for completing the process of granting land rights in the original villages. This should be completed presently before any further displacement takes place." The adivasis are being treated as encroachers and not land holders since the process of providing land rights, which was initiated by the Government of Maharashtra and then inexplicably stopped midway without even informing the adivasis. The Committee has strongly recommended that this incomplete process should be taken to its logical end of acknowledging the adivasis as rightful owners of the lands that have been in their possession for generations now. This change should be affected in the original and resettlement villages.
  • A fresh survey has to be undertaken to ascertain the actual number of families to be affected by the project. "Much has been made of the survey of PAPs (Project Affected Persons) carried out by the Government agencies for ascertaining the true number of families to be affected. From the Government side an attempt has been made to give finality to the last survey carried out. We are not satisfied by this approach...A fresh door-to-door census will prove the disparity between reality and the results of the Government survey carried out in the past and hence this new survey ought to be carried out as a matter of urgency...This survey has to be carried out prior to any further displacement or submergence or further increase in height of the dam."
  • On the issue of ex-parte allotment of land the Committee records that "...One seriously doubts if this is permissible having regard to the Tribunal Award prescribing options to the oustees...Moreover, since the ex-parte allotment is a "deemed settlement" in the eyes of the NCA (Narmada Control Authority), this device ought not to be used by the Government to inflate the number of resettled PAFs in the context of a pre-requisite for the permission for further progress in dam construction where in fact they have no suitable lands to offer to all recipients of such notices..."
  • "The present resettlement colonies are facing multiple problems in relation to those who have already been shifted there. Their basic problems, with regard to agricultural land and civic amenities, still remain unmet. While this situation prevails, these sites should not be burdened with further exacting demands in relation to new oustees to be shifted there. Unless those already shifted are fully cared for by resolving all their problems with a time bound framework, especially land related, there appears to be no room for further resettlement at these sites."
  • The PAFs should also be provided monetary compensation for the losses caused by depriving them of forest and river produce. Even those who have been deprived of their agricultural land houses because of submergence without having been placed in possession of agricultural land and houses in resettlement should be compensated monetarily. This change should be affected in the original and resettlement villages.
  • The Committee has recommended the formation of a Committee including representatives from Narmada Bachao Andolan and Punarwasan Sangharsh Samiti to oversee the process of resettlement.
  • A Master Plan should be prepared and the draft should be circulated widely amongst the people and their sympathizers and finalized after due deliberations.
  • "Government on its part should strictly comply with the conditions laid down by the Supreme Court for raising the height of the dam beyond 90 (ninety) meters. The present situation is such that there are still hundreds of families who are affected at 90m and are yet to be offered any proper resettlement options. In this regard, the contradictions between the ground reality and the figures furnished by the Government are eloquent and it will be necessary for the Government to correct its figures. Since the earlier data has been placed before the Narmada Control Authority on the basis of which certain vital decisions were taken, the correct version should be notified to the NCA. The Government should not use incorrect information merely because a stamp of finality has been conferred upon it at the Mantralaya level. In any case we would like to bring to the Government's notice its responsibility to see that it does not accept any proposal to raise the height of the dam beyond its existing height of 90 (ninety) meters unless the obligations laid down by the NWDTA and Supreme Court are fulfilled as a whole in regard to those PAFs affected at 90m and yet to be resettled.
The findings of the Committee have clearly proven the claims of NBA in regard to the sorry state of resettlement being carried out by the State. We demand that the report of the Committee be published and made available by the Government immediately. It is imperative that the Government accepts the recommendations of the Committee in toto and act on them immediately.

The prevailing situation in Madhya Pradesh, where 35, 716 families in 193 villages will be affected (at 90m 33 villages are affected) is such that the Government has openly declared that it has no land for resettlement. There are depositions of adivasis in the report that prove that there is a scarcity of land in Gujrat too. On one hand, in Gujarat, while the lands allotted to 'resettled' families are plagued with serious problems like dabh grass, water logging, etc on the other the actual families displaced has been deliberately underestimated. While the governments have no land for those affected by submergence it has also ignored thousands others affected by dam related works. Those adivasis from whom lands have been already been snatched way back in 1961 for the Kewadia Colony (950 families in 6 villages), those affected by the canal network (1,69, 493 families out of whom at least 25,000 families to be rendered as landless/ marginal farmers), Shoolpaneshwar Sanctuary (38,000 adivasis in 104 villages), Downstream impacts affected (10,000 families) in Gujarat and thousands affected by compensatory afforestation, catchment area treatment and secondary displacement in all three States are being denied any resettlement at all.

On the basis of the shocking conclusions of the report and the sorry state of affairs in Madhya Pradesh and Gujarat too, there clearly is a need for an independent review of the entire rehabilitation process in the Sardar Sarovar Project before any more displacement is caused.

Until such a comprehensive review is carried out the progress of the project should be suspended and no further displacement be forced.

Narmada Bachao Andolan
12th July 2001