NBA Press Release
  15 September 2002
Save The Narmada, Save Humanity!

Dubious Order Again In Narmada Matter: SC Avoids Responsibility To Protect people's rights

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By dismissing another writ petition of the Narmada Bachao Andolan regarding the resettlement and submergence of the oustees of the Sardar Sarovar dam, the Supreme Court has once again condemned the people's rights and democratic process in India. The Court has once again missed an opportunity to rectify its past mistakes and revealed its ignorance and insensitivity as it did not care to see how the tribals and peasants in the Narmada valley are being evicted without any semblance of resettlement and without even recognizing their land rights.

It is clear that the Supreme Court bench, headed by the Chief Justice B.N. Kirpal, dismissed the writ petition filed by NBA on May 39, without going into the details of the case. This was clear when the order was given on September 9 in the court. The Andolan lawyer, Mr. Prashant Bhushan, made a strong plea to the court to go through the petition and affidavits submitted to the court. He contended that there was no proper mechanism existing in Maharashtra as the Grievance Redressal Authority (GRA) had resigned long back.

These GRAs in all the three states had not visited the affected villages and gave the consent for raising the height of the dam from 90 meters to 95 meters without finding out whether the Project Affected Families have been properly rehabilitated. Therefore the people had to face unprecedented submergence, which destroyed their fields and houses and threatened their lives. In such case the Court must intervene to protect the rights and lives of the people, he pleaded.

According to the NBA's affidavits there are over 40,000 families to be rehabilitated at complete dam height. There has been no resettlement or land available for the oustees even below the 90 meters or present 95 meters. This amounts to about 3000 families at 90m and 8500 at the 95m level. The SC has ignored the the reports of investigations of independent committees or even the state-appointed committees like Justice (rtd) Daud Committee in year 2000. The recently appointed Task Force by Maharashtra government to review the status of rehabilitation and the possibility of further resettlement, availability of resettlement land etc., has found more than 1000 families still to be rehabilitated below the present dam height of 95 meters. According to the Narmada Water Dispute Tribunal (NWDT), the dam height can be increased only after a year of land-based resettlement of the affected people below that height. The Supreme Court, in its order in October 2000, has endorsed and emphasized this provision.

Now, the government has been flagrantly violating the NWDT and the Court order itself; and the Supreme Court of India is avoiding its responsibility to caution the state which is its duty under Article 32 of the Constitution. However, the Court has miserably failed in upholding its Constitutional obligations. Even in this particular writ petition, the earlier bench of M/s Variava and Hegde differed on whether to suspend the work on the dam or not. It means that the Court considered this matter as relevant and its responsibility. However, the other bench just dismissed the matter without ever looking at the merits of the case. This is sad commentary on the judiciary.

Maharashtra Decision

In this context, the Court has now ordered that the individual oustee(s) can approach to the Court if they are not satisfied with the ruling of GRAs. It did not want the NBA to come to the Court but the individual oustee(s). This is both strange and it smacks of the ignorance of the organizational and political processes in India. The organizations like NBA or others like Chhattisgarh Mukti Morcha(CMM), Tarun Bharat Sangh(TBS), or Mazdoor Kisan Shakti Sangathan (MKSS) are the organizations of the affected people themselves. NBA is not different from the Adivasi oustees. That is precisely the way the Courts in India have been approaching this issue particularly for the public interest litigations (PIL). And now, does the Court want to change that approach and de-recognize the organized people's power? If so, there are number of basic legal- political issues involved which need to be addressed and which the court has not done so far.

The Maharashtra government has also failed to fulfil commitment it made to the NBA and independent persons like respected political leaders Prof. N.D. Patil. The Chief Minister, Mr. Vilasrao Deshmukh had promised that the state government would place before the Court the findings of the Task Force. The Task Force found that there has been no land or plan of resettlement ready for the 1000 families below 90 meters, or for overall additional 2800 dam affected families in the state. Mr. Deshmukh also promised to oppose the increase in the height of the dam through an affidavit. However, even after the recent submergence, which destroyed hundreds of fields and over 50 houses, the Maharashtra government did not say anything about it in the Court. This seems to be deliberate conspiracy of silence, which facilitated the infamous Narendra Modi to get the required ruling. The biased Court ruling could not have come at a better time for Modi.

In the context of the growing menace of dispossession and destitution of the common people, the highest court of India has again tried to escape from its responsibility to protect the constitutional and human rights of the victims of unjust displacement. However, the people in the Narmada valley would confront the Grievance redressal Authority and the state governments even outside the Court. The struggle for justice and rights will continue.

Keshav Vasave
Noorji Padvi
Kamala Yadav
Medha Patkar