NBA Press Note

October 18, 2000

Save The Narmada, Save Humanity!


Without Considering Basic Issues, Supreme Court Surrenders To the Pressures by Power Holders

Unfettered Dam Construction and Displacement Allowed: Assault on People and Constitution

In a most illogical, dangerous and anti-people verdict, the Indian Supreme Court has allowed the unconditional and unfettered construction of the controversial Sardar Sarovar Project (SSP), thus playing into the hands of the dam builders, dominant economic and political powers. The Supreme Court has violated the spirit of the Constitution of India and democratic governance. The court has totally neglected the fundamental rights of the most vulnerable section of our society and also the serious issues raised regarding the propriety of the dam. Instead, it has provided a weapon in the hands of the power holders to indiscriminately displace the project affected people and crush their rights.

We are afraid that this judgement, particulalry the majority judgement by Chief Justice A.S. Anand and B.N. Kirpal, will further erode the common people's confidence in the judiciary and rule of law. The court seems to have done a disservice to the Indian Constitution, Indian democracy and Indian people. The judgment is unjustifiable, reactionary and hence, unacceptable. The NBA would fight against this injustice at the hands of the judiciary tooth and nail. We call upon the people of India who value democracy and Constitution to challenge this decision and ask the court to restore the people's rights in the Narmada valley.

The Supreme Court, in its majority judgement in Narmada Bachao Andolan's Public Interest Litigation against the SSP, on Wednesday (18th October) has not taken cognisance of the serious issues regarding the incomplete studies, non-fulfillment of environment and other conditions which were put before the court. It has refused to go into the issuies of legal, constitutional violations by the dam builders. It becomes clear from some of the observations cotained in the dissenting judgement by the third judge on the bench Justice S.P. Bharucha that these issues were raised during the hearing by the NBA. The court, thus, has betrayed the tribal and peasant communities in the country at large and specifically, those in the Narmada Valley. Judiciary in this country is clearly under various political pressures and probably cannot act with the law honestly, can't decide on merit of the case alone.

In face of such a abominable surrender to exploitative powers, it is time that the President of India should intervene immediately to protect the rights of the tribals which is his constitutional obligation. For that he should stay the construction of the dam and the consequent displacement of the dam any further till the basic issues pertaining to the dam have been resolved.

No Cognisance of Serious Issues

The Supreme Court has refused to take any cognisance of serious issues like the cost-benefit, the claims of benefits and environmental aspects of the project along with the larger displacement problem. It is clear that the dam is not going to benefit the drought prone areas like Kutch and Saurashtra, in whose name the dam is being pushed ahead. The decision of the court has done a great injustice for sustainable and equitable planning for water management in these areas. Thus it has played with the future of the drought prone areas too.

The court has neglected its own orders and logic in the previous orders, which had resulted in the suspension of the work on the dam for about five years. The Supreme Court has failed to take cognisance of the serious breach of law and rules by in the project. The court hasn't had a close and deep look into the reality which is complex to be assessed from their high dias but wouldn't be difficult to be ruthlessly appraised and concluded on from the field. Basic issues remain to be probed and the Court has given the permission for the construction of the dam.

The Court has failed to link the resettlement and the construction on the dam effectively or consider the option of reducing the displacement. Even the rehabilitation process is harmed by this approach. The government is definitely going to use this verdict to displace the people without resettlement, forcing them out of the villages. The verdict has marred any prospects of the rational and natural displacement and resettlement process. It has given the weapon in the hand of the state and vested interesrts to oust the people.

The so called protective measures laid down by the court, like GRAs in three states, have failed to assess the gravity of the issue and address it. They, in fact, helped the governments to rationalise the displacement and condition of the oustes so far. It's shocking to know that the court has in a way, agreed to further construction without any plan and land to rehabilitate atleast 35,000 recognised affected families and almost the same number of unrecognised families. This will amount to nothing less than flushing people out.

The government of Madhya Pradesh had put it in affidavit that the state has no land even to resettle the oustees upto 90 meters. How can the court envisage the rehabilitation of the remaining people, when many who were displaced 10-15 years are yet to be rehabilitated? Our long past experience clearly suggest that the conditions they have put forth are not likely to be fulfilled. How far would GRAs appointed by the state governments be allowed to function and decide with full independence and truthful data, is a big question.

Court Helps the Exploitors

The judgment will become a tool in the hands of those planners, lenders and investors who are for centralised, gigantic projects at the cost of common people and nature. The judgment will be a challenge to the downtrodden, natural resource-based communities, people's organisation, civil society groups as well as politicians. It is clear that the court has acted under the pressure and influence by those in power and the vested interests. Thereby it has harmed the interests of, not only the people in the Narmada valley but also against the people in other parts of India who have been struggling against the unjust displacement and destruction. This may increase the onslaught on people's rights and resources by the national-multinational capital.

We call unto all the people's organisations and movements, democratic minded individuals to confront this anti-people and anti-Constitution act and approach of the Supreme Court, which gives a weapon in the hands of national and multinational capitalist forces to crush the people's civil and political rights. A fierce, nationwide struggle has to be launched against these politics of undermining the equality, liberty and rights of the people- the values enshrined in our constitution. The people, their movement, the socio-political activists and experts will have to make the court and the government to respect the common people and Constitutional values given by Dr. B.R. Ambedkar and Gandhi during the Freedom struggle.

Medha Patkar