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NBA Press Note                                                 25th June 2000


"The Government of Maharashtra has not yet been able to satisfactorily resettle and rehabilitate even the oustees displaced by the partial completion of the Sardar Sarovar dam at a height of 80.3 meters, while the land available for the resettlement of the prospective oustees was totally inadequate. Therefore the raising of the dam height of the dam beyond 85 meters would lead to the displacement, which completely contravenes the provisions of the Narmada Water Dispute Tribunal Award (NWDTA)... In no case the people were shifted a year before the submergence as the Tribunal recommends."

These are the conclusions of the recently published report of the Indian People's Tribunal (IPT) headed by Justice (Retd.) Rambhushan Mehrotra, former judge of the Allahabad High Court and the President of the Delhi unit of People's Union for Civil Liberties (PUCL). The IPT held a public hearing about the status of the rehabilitation of the resettlement of the Sardar Sarovar Project (SSP) oustees in Maharashtra and the possibilities of land availability and satisfactory resettlement. The hearings were held at the resettlement sites in Nandurbar district from March 19-21, 1999, in which the oustees on the resettlement sites, their organisation, Punarvasan Sangharsha Samiti (PSS) and the top government officials responsible for the resettlement made presentations. Local members of the legislative Assembly, political parties, journalists also participated and made presentations. Noted economist Vijay Paranjapye also was a member of the IPT team.

After the detailed hearings, field visits and perusal of the documents, the Mehrotra committee concluded that the Government of Maharashtra has violated the conditions of the Maharashtra government's Rehabilitation Policy (1991-92) about providing the land to the landless oustees and major sons and could not resettle even the oustees which were displaced till 1999. With the details of the land availability records, the Committee observed that despite the best intentions, the government officials were unable to show the lands for the resettlement to the oustees' organisations, despite the repeated appeals to show the lands during the past year.

The Committee also pointed out the serious issue of the 'encroacher' tribals and the apprehension of their displacement. "Displacing the existing population to provide land to the oustees of the SSP, will in our opinion, only give rise to more problems rather than solutions", said the committee.

The IPT recommended that the Maharashtra government should prepare a Master Plan of the resettlement according to the provisions of the NWDTA and made available to the people before any further construction on the dam. An independent committee consisting of the government officials, representatives of project affected persons and of the organisations working in the area be constituted to identify the project affected communities and families, ascertain availability, identity and adequacy of the land for resettlement. It asserted that all the stipulations regarding the community resettlement must be adhered strictly. It has also made it clear that "no further construction on the dam or an increase in height should be permitted till the aforesaid recommendations are satisfactorily complied with."

The Maharashtra government has procured over 4200 hectares of prime forest land in Taloda and Akkalkua regions for the resettlement (2750 ha. in 1991 and 1500 ha. in 1994), as it had no cultivable land for resettlement. At each phase, the government claimed that the forest land was sufficient for the resettlement, now sensing that this land too would not be adequate, the state government is in the process of demanding more forest land for the resettlement. In this case Justice Mehrotra recommended that, "Dereserving and clearing up of forest land is an environmentally damaging option for providing land for rehabilitation. Besides the identified forest lands are not free from the claims from earlier occupants. Hence, further dereserving of forest land must be stopped."

The IPT observed that "claims made by the oustees are genuine, since none of the government officials present at the time of the hearing could give facts or information to the contrary... rather they confirmed the submissions made by the people and those of the supporters, politicians, reporters etc". It observed that, "....The existence of such a large number of oustees without any land grossly violated the provisions of NWDTA... government has violated every other clause such as providing cash compensation, housing material, medical facilities, schools and other benefits."

Despite all these facts regarding the oustees upto 80.3 meters, the Maharashtra lawyer in the Supreme Court, in February 1999, was claiming that the resettlement was satisfactory and Maharashtra has the land for the oustees upto the height of the 110 meters. The state government has also been filing false affidavits regarding the resettlement. The people affected in Maharashtra along with the resettled people confronted the Resettlement officials and Collector of Nandurbar many times and challenged them to show the lands claimed to be available in the affidavits. However, the officials were unable to do so. This year, at the end of the final hearing of the public interest writ petition by Narmada Bachao Andolan against the SSP, the Court has directed the state governments of Maharashtra and Madhya Pradesh to set up the Grievance Redressal Authority (GRAs) on the lines of the GRA in Gujarat. The Court has asked the GRAs to go into the status of the rehabilitation that has been done hitherto, whether it has been according to the NWDT or not; and also assess the prospects of the future resettlement and the status of land availability for the future rehabilitation and resettlement according to the NWDT provisions.

Sanjay Sangvai