3 July 2001
Shri Vilasraoji Deshmukh
Chief Minister
Government of Maharashtra
Mantralaya, Mumbai 400 032

Dear Sir,

I feel privileged and am very glad to be able to submit to you on behalf of and as desired by the Chairman and its non-official Members and Invitee, the Report of our Committee to Assist the Resettlement and Rehabilitation of the Sardar Sarovar Project-Affected Persons. This Committee was generously constituted by you at the insistence of the tribals with a view to determine the present status of the resettlement and rehabilitation of the Project-affected persons.

During the past three months of its period of activity the Committee, accompanied by the Government officials, visited the affected region and its tribals from the district of Nandurbar, on three different occasions and met scores of tribals ventilating their grievances. Its extensive personal visits gave the Committee an opportunity to inspect and see for itself the serious problems confronting the project affected persons. It is important to remember that all those who are affected by the SSP (Sardar Sarovar Project) in Maharashtra, except for one single family of priests, all others are tribals.

The Government of Maharashtra has through its policies prescribed certain strict norms for rehabilitation and so have the NWDTA (Narmada Water Disputes Tribunal Award). The Narmada Control Authority (NCA) have also issued certain directives from time to time and the Honourable Supreme Court of India through its judgment have also been vocal about certain conditions to be followed in this regard. All these conditions are mandatory in the interests of the tribals. The Government Administration is supposed to follow these norms both in letter and spirit as binding pre-conditions while implementing this programme. Therefore, although one can vaguely say that the rehabilitation programme is being implemented by the Government agencies, it is indeed sad to note that in the case of these tribals it is not being carried out strictly in accordance with these desirable pre-conditions. Not only that these conditions were merely expected to be followed generally, but as a matter of fact, a strict compliance thereof in essence was demanded from the administration. It is regretted that much of the rehabilitation programme seems to have been carried out in defiance and in disregard of those governing principles.

The denial of the rights under the rules framed and the conditions laid down by these superior authorities including the Government of Maharashtra amounts not only to the cheating of the tribals but it also amounts to a self-deception of all those committed to the welfare of the tribals. It is very sad that our observation should force us to conclude in this manner.

That those who have been displaced or are likely to be uprooted and their very existence endangered because of the Sardar Sarovar Project have not all been accounted for, in fact a good majority of them have been left out from the official lists, that major sons having their own young families of infant children should have been denied their independent entitlements, that the Government should persist on making an arbitrary discrimination in respect of those suffering from the same kind of hardship and loss of property and earnings as "declared" and "undeclared" so as to accord to some and deny to many others their due entitlements under the scheme, that insistence on documentary evidence from illiterate tribals and rejection of their lawful claims for want of such documentary evidence which they can hardly produce, that water for domestic consumption including drinking and for irrigation has not been suitably and adequately provided for at the new resettlement sites, that civic amenities expected to have been provided for at the resettlement colonies are in many instances either inadequately provided or those said to have been provided are in fact in very poor condition; indeed all these are problems of great severity requiring a careful and urgent consideration.

For generations, in fact for times immemorial, these tribals have lived with dignity and without asking for any help from outside on the banks of river Narmada and in the surrounding forests. To deny them now their basis legal rights and Constitutional special privileges to which they are entitled to under the laws and the Constitution of this country, is a great inequity for all the citizenry of our country. And to deprive them of their rights over the lands which they had occupied for hundreds of years and also to deny them their land rights in the new resettlement colonies is a wrongful act of great oppression.

Even if one has to agree for a moment for the sake of an argument that it would be possible to procure land to rehabilitate each and every displaced person, one dare not deny the fact that it is wellnigh impossible to do so in view of the large number of people requiring to be so rehabilitated and the insurmountable practical difficulties involved in the process of acquiring land for the purpose. After all, where is the land to accommodate all the displaced persons according to the principles of rehabilitation that the governing authorities have been speaking of?

And sadly, what is more, and which has truly been the crux of the matter is that since not every one of the Project-affected person has been accounted for, how far it would be possible to make an accurate estimate of the agricultural lands and civic amenities that would be required to rehabilitate fully all of them in accordance with those norms referred to earlier ?

So, what should be done ? For this very reason alone, there should be undertaken an immediate fresh survey embracing every single household to ensure that there will be no omission even inadvertently, and that all those who have been accounted for have all been given their due entitlements. Law and justice are not the same things. There is a vast difference between the two. You are widely admired for your passion for justice. So to give justice to those helpless tribals, there should be a fresh census as suggested, of every single household counting every single head therein who would be entitled in his/her own rights to the benefits for reasons of being displaced because of the Sardar Sarovar Project. This census or survey has got to be independent and fair and to make it all-inclusive it should be carried out by agency which will seek participation of knowledgeable and elderly tribals from each village as well as of those self-sacrificing, devoted and educated volunteers who have worked selflessly and with a missionary spirit for tribals in the region enjoying their utmost trust and confidence. I would like to recall here how your Government had directed specifically while dealing with the Latur Earthquake calamity, that assistance and cooperation should be sought of the voluntary workers and agencies who have been working with the affected people in their interest.

Therefore, in order to get at the root of the problem, I would suggest humbly that you should summon a meeting of all concerned in your presence and under your guidance which will provide an opportunity for a bold, open and free dialogue on the real problems facing the tribals, and their reasons and remedies. The people are aware of your deep concern about this grave issue and therefore it would be reasonable to expect an open discussion on this subject which would invite participation of all at your earliest convenience. One has to remember that the tribals living on the banks of river Narmada will be facing a lot more difficult and deadly situation due to the flooding of the river in the current season of the monsoon. Many of those already been displaced are not all very well rehabilitated and resettled according to the prescribed norms. Not everyone affected has been accounted for and mere shifting of those accounted is not rehabilitation. Moreover, the list of the displaced persons uprooted from their original homes in the old villages is going to be increasingly burdened with more numbers of those requiring rehabilitation as a result of the further increase in the height of the Dam. It is, therefore, important that your Government wedded to the welfare of its people, puts an immediate stop to this vicious circle for reasons alone of humanity, compassion and justice.

From their observations and investigation, the Committee members have made some very important and useful recommendations and it is hoped that they will meet with your careful consideration.

All of us as Committee members are grateful to you for giving us this rare opportunity through this Committee, on behalf of your Government and in turn also on behalf of the people of our State to study, not just a local problem affecting the tribals from the Nandurbar district, but in a certain and definite way a problem which is larger than life as it determines the question of life and death for countless number of people finding themselves similarly trapped in very devastating situations in "projects of development" in and around our State and country.

May I suggest that I would be always available for any service in this context and with warm regards

Yours truly,
Barrister Sharad Palav