Housing and Land Rights Network

Cairo, 22 November 2002

Shri Atal Bihari Vajpayee
Prime Minister of India
New Delhi, India

Your Excellency:

The Housing and Land Rights Network of Habitat International Coalition dispatched a fact-finding team to the Narmada Valley, 18–24 September 2002, to investigate the resettlement and rehabilitation issues arising from the Sardar Sarovar and Maan dam projects.  The combined effects of the monsoons and the damming of the rivers destroying households and crops provided the impetus for the fact-finding mission.   The fact-finding team visited the affected villages and rehabilitation sites, and met with officials of the Grievance Redressal Authority (GRA) and the Narmada Valley Development Authority, in Madhya Pradesh and Gujarat, and the Narmada Bachao Andolan activists.  

I am writing to share with you the HIC-HLRN team's findings as to the resettlement and rehabilitation of the people affected by the Sardar Sarovar and Maan dams.  As Prime Minister, you have a central role and responsibility to ensure and protect the human rights of all the citizens of India. The Supreme Court has entrusted you specifically with the final authority to settle such issues. We hope that the recommendations and findings we put forth will assist in ensuring the human right to housing of the people of the Narmada Valley consistent with the provisions of India's national law, as well as its international human rights treaty obligations.

Habitat International Coalition is an international nonprofit coalition of organizations and individuals working in the area of human settlements. Its Housing and Land rights Network endeavors to promote, protect and monitor housing and land rights around the world. HIC has conducted fact-finding missions on widely varying housing rights situations, such as those found in Kenya; demolitions in Palestine; the earthquake victims in Kobe, Japan; and land rights of Bhutanese refugees.

The rehabilitation provisions of the NWDT Award, the R&R policies of the State governments and the redress mechanisms largely seek to protect the housing and land rights of the people affected by the Sardar Sarovar and Maan projects. However, the fact-finding team found that, at the ground level, the safeguards are being flouted in a large number of cases, and redress mechanisms have been sidelined.  The key findings of the HIC fact-finding team are as follows:

Sardar Sarovar Project
  1. Submergence due to the monsoons and raising the dam’s height have destroyed the crops and homes of SSP-affected villages in Nandurbar District (Maharashtra) and Jhabua District (Madhya Pradesh), rendering the villagers homeless.  These people now face a severe food and drinking-water shortage. Many of these villages have been acquired, but the people have not moved, as they have not been allotted suitable alternate land.
  2. The rehabilitation sites that the team visited are not ready for habitation. At Gahelgaon and Gopalpura rehabilitation sites, Dhar District (Madhya Pradesh), there are only barren plots for housing with no provision for agricultural land. These are meant for persons affected at a dam height of 95 m. The few constructed houses are unoccupied, and basic amenities like drinking water, electricity, transport, health services and education are yet to be provided. Houses without agricultural land leave the oustees with no livelihood options. The State cannot claim to have rehabilitated them.
  3. The residents of Chikalda, also in Dhar District, affected at the dam height of 95 m have not been resettled at all. The rehabilitation site chosen for Chikalda was at the submergence level and was abandoned by the government. The Action Taken Report of Madhya Pradesh government shows them erroneously as resettled.
  4. In its submission to the SC in May 2002, the MP government stated that project-affected persons owning land have not been given land. This is clear violation of the NWDT Award.
  5. Instead of working toward a composite rehabilitation that addresses issues around at least maintaining the current standard of living, the SSP authorities are issuing ex-parte allotments. The State sends a notice to the oustees informing them of the allotment of a house or land to them. They are then counted as rehabilitated on government records, even while living in their original villages. The oustees are not given a chance to verify the cultivability of the land, or the house. Oustees from MP have complained that they have been allotted land in Gujarat, when they wanted to stay in their home state, and to which they are entitled. The Task Force set up by the Maharashtra government has discovered that, in many instances, the land allotted as ex-parte was being cultivated by  someone else or the land was uncultivable. The Maharashtra government has taken a decision to discontinue ex-parte allotments.
  6. The Task Force set up by the Maharashtra government to survey and ascertain the actual number of affected persons has issued its report in September 2002.  It shows an increase in the number of affected persons. The number of project affected families to be rehabilitated at 95 m has increased to 1295 from 17.
  7. The Chairman of Maharashtra GRA, in his submission to the Supreme Court, in May 2002, has admitted that he had reservations about the resettlement of project affected families up to 90–95 m.  He also has stated categorically that the government does not have enough land for rehabilitation of the affected persons.
  8. The Chairman of Madhya Pradesh GRA has admitted that he has no infrastructure to verify claims of the Narmada Valley Development Authority. This has serious implications for the putatively independent and impartial functioning of the GRA. The affected people told the HIC-HLRN fact finders that the person against whom they had complained for falsely including families in the rehabilitated list was himself sent to investigate the matter. This violates basic principles of justice. The independence of the GRA becomes even more crucial after the Supreme Court has said that with GRA in place there is no need for the Court to interfere.
  9. Some villages have just been declared as affected as recently as September 2002.
  10. The affected people in Alirajpur Tehsil, Jhabua district, who are predominantly tribal told the FFT that though they have been cultivating the land for generations, their names do not figure in land records and now their lands are going to be submerged and they are not entitled to any compensation. To protect their land and housing rights, land settlements had to be updated, so that they are given titles to the lands that they hold.
  11. There is evidence of the Madhya Pradesh government trying to alter the NWDT Award, as it is unable to rehabilitate affected persons according to its provisions. In deciding how many affected families needed to be rehabilitated at dam height of 95 m; it has differentiated between temporary and permanent submergence. The MP government suddenly reduced by 40 the number of families to be rehabilitated at 95 m, as it claimed the families did not need to be rehabilitated because they came under "temporary" submergence. The NWDT Award’s definition of oustees categorically includes people residing in permanent or temporary submerged areas. In all the years the dam has been constructed and rehabilitation work done, this differentiation between temporary and permanent submergence has never been made. The Narmada Control Authority and the Gujarat governments have, at different stages, proclaimed that they would not differentiate between temporary and permanent submergence.  This issue holds serious implications on the right to housing, land and livelihood of the people after the floods of this year's monsoons. The people in areas temporarily flooded have suffered loss of home and crop and, even when the waters recede, they will not be able to grow another crop for the rest of the year. They and their cattle have no access to clean drinking water.
  12. The NWDT Award requires rehabilitation to be complete six months before raising the height of the dam. By the States' own admission, the affected families were being rehabilitated even in March 2002, when the approval to increase the height was given in May 2002.  The government is trying to interpret Supreme Court directions “ensure relief and rehabilitation pari passu with the increase in the height of the dam,” as rehabilitating anytime before increasing the height of the dam. Such an interpretation cannot protect the rights of the oustees. After moving to rehabilitation sites, a number of issues may arise that would need redress before a family is said to be rehabilitated.
Maan Irrigation Project
  1. On 20 July 2002, police forcibly evicted the residents of Khedi Balwari, the first village to be submerged. The sluice gates of the dam were deliberately closed, though the affected persons had not been rehabilitated. The villagers testified that the police dragged them into buses and took them to rehabilitation sites 45-70 kms away. While pushing people into buses, children - the smallest being a couple of months - were separated from their parents and left behind. The women complained that they did not know the whereabouts of their children for over a week.
  2. The Grievance Redressal Authority, whose orders are final and binding on the government, has said "the Rehabilitation Policy of the MP Government states clearly that the resettlement of the people affected should be done well in advance of submergence. In this matter, the full rehabilitation has not yet been done, nor has full compensation been paid. In these circumstances, to forcibly evict the people and take them at [sic] places 45–75 kms away from their present homes, where even the facilities are not yet ready, can never be called as appropriate or correct."
  3. Due to the heavy rains and closing of the dam's sluice gates, the homes and crops in several villages were flooded, and the people were living in tin sheds in relief camps. Rendered homeless, they also suffer a severe food shortage.
  4. The project-displaced tribals were not given access to full information about entitlements under the Madhya Pradesh Rehabilitation and Resettlement Policy. Ten years ago, they were handed cash compensation. Not only is this in violation to the MP policy, but it is now an accepted fact that giving displaced tribals cash compensation leads to their further impoverishment and violates their human rights. The Government of India has acknowledged this in their submission to the Supreme Court stating that cash compensation ultimately has resulted in displaced and resettled families becoming unsustainable. This type of rehabilitation programmes has deprived the poor, illiterate tribals from their lands, homes, natural environment, culture and socio-economic survival.

On the basis of these findings HIC would like to make the following recommendations to Your Excellency:

Sardar Sarovar Project
  1. The fact-finding team gathered evidence that rehabilitation and resettlement of the SSP-affected people at 95 m (present height) is not complete. Raising the height of the dam will render them homeless and endanger their lives. To protect their human right to adequate housing, the dam should not be raised further until all presently affected families have been rehabilitated.
  2. The persons whose homes and crops were destroyed during the monsoons should be compensated, and the State should ensure their food supply.
  3. To protect people's right to livelihood, affected persons entitled to land under the NWDT Award should be given agricultural land. This land should be within 2–5 kms of their allotted house plots as directed by the MP GRA.
  4. The rehabilitation sites should have all basic amenities in place and provide livelihood options at the time of resettlement. Rehabilitation sites should be allotted upon genuine and effective consultation with the affected persons to protect their human right to housing.
  5. Gujarat and Madhya Pradesh governments should discontinue the practice of ex-parte allotments, as they violate the NWDT Award and the right to adequate housing of the affected persons. (It should be noted that the Maharashtra government has discontinued such practice.)
  6. In Madhya Pradesh, there is confusion and misinformation about availability of land, the numbers of entitled persons requiring land, etc.  A mechanism needs to be in place to ascertain the exact number of affected persons and, especially, to what extent have they been rehabilitated.  The State GRA or government should set up an Expert Committee or Task Force similar to the one in Maharashtra to ascertain the exact number of people being affected and what their rehabilitation status is. The Expert Committee should be comprised of government officials, representatives of the affected persons and activists of the Narmada Bachao Andolan. Alternately, the National Human Rights Commission could appoint a rapporteur to monitor the decisions of the GRAs.
  7. The GRAs should be provided with adequate infrastructure to enable them to function independently and impartially. The role of the GRA is crucial to ensure the protection of affected persons' rights; whereas, the Supreme Court has said that, with the GRAs in place, the Court should not interfere.
  8. The State governments should not be allowed to violate the provisions of the NWDT Award. Madhya Pradesh government is liberally interpreting the land-for-land provision and the “temporary” and “permanent” submergence criteria so as to deny the basic rights intended in the Award.
  9. Rehabilitation should be complete at least six months before raising the height of the dam as required under the NWDT Award.
Maan Irrigation Project
  1. The closing of the sluice gates of the dam has resulted in forced evictions of the affected persons. The sluice gates should be opened and work on the spillway stopped until rehabilitation of the affected persons is completed in accordance with MP R&R policy and international human rights standards.
  2. Under international human rights law victims of human rights violations are entitled to reparations. Affected persons whose lands have been submerged arbitrarily during the monsoons, thus violating their right to housing, should be compensated for the damage to their lands, crops and homes.
  3. The persons responsible for forcibly evicting the affected persons and, thereby, subjecting them to cruel and inhuman degrading treatment should be criminally prosecuted and punished.
  4. The relief camps should continue as long as required, and the State should provide affected persons with food, livelihood and transport (as the roads have been flooded).
  5. To protect the human right to adequate housing of the indigenous people affected, the State bear the duty to rehabilitate them by providing comparable, alternate land for that lost.  

HIC and HLRN submit the above recommendations with the hope that they will assist Your Excellency in protecting the human right to adequate housing of the people of the Narmada Valley, fellow citizens for whom you bear a special responsibility under the provisions of India's national law, as well as its international human rights treaty obligations.

Your Excellency, please be assured of my highest consideration.

Joseph Schechla
Housing and Land Rights Network
Habitat International Coalition

Mr. L. K. Advani, Deputy Prime Minister
Mr. Narendra Modi, Chief Minister of Gujarat   
Mr. Digvijay Singh, Chief Minister of Madhya Pradesh
Mr. Vilas Rao Deshmukh, Chief Minister of Maharashtra
Mr. R. Jeyasaleen, Executive Member, Narmada Control Authority
Mr. Gopal Reddy, Chairperson R&R Sub-Group, Narmada Control Authority
Mr. Jual Oram, Minister for Tribal Affairs, Ministry of Tribal Affairs
Mr. Arjun Charan Sethi, Minister for Water Resources, Ministry of Water Resources
Mr. T. R. Baalu, Minister for Environment and Forest, Ministry of Environment and Forest
Justice J. S. Verma, Chairperson, National Human Rights Commission

Mr. Juan Somavia, Director General, International Labour Organisation
Mr. Sergio Vieira de Mello, United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights
Mr. Jaap Doek Chairperson, Committee on the Rights of the Child
Ms. Virginia Bonoan-Dandan, Committee on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights
Ms. Ayse Feride Acar, Chairperson, Committee on Elimination of Discrimination against Women.
Mr. Miloon Kothari , Special Rapporteur on adequate housing , UN Commission on Human Rights
Mr Rodolfo Stavenhagen, Special Rapporteur on human rights and fundamental freedoms of indigenous people, UN Commission on Human Rights

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