The Climax at the Apex

…No matter how big a nation is, it is no stronger than its weakest people, and as long as you keep a person down, some part of you has to be down there to hold him down, so it means you can not soar…

Marian Anderson

No consortium of giant construction companies, contractors, engineers, bureaucrats and politicians could have jointly come out with a statement on the cause celebre of the SSP than the majority judgement given by the apex court. Well in a democracy the minority never counts!

Any protagonist of large dams or any political leader taking refuge behind the life line of Narmada could not have found, such powerful comrades in arms than the learned Lordships of the apex court. However one wonders why it took more then half a decade to pronounce the well-conceived opinion of the lordships. It would have saved a lot of taxpayers’ money and man-hours at SSP had the petition been dismissed ab ovo. But may be, the learned Lordships had some sound reasons, not comprehensible to ordinary citizens like yours truly here.

However, at least for me the judgement surely illuminates the hidden truth that the fundamental rights of the riparian people are of no consequence when the issue involved is that of a large dam. And any genocide can be legally absolved in the national interest. It was a very fine gesture on the part of the lordships, not to have included in their judgement the quote from the late prime Minister Morarji Desai, who as the then finance minister had said in a public meeting, in the submergence zone of the Pong Dam in 1961 “ we will request you to move from your houses after the dam comes up, it will be good, otherwise we shall release the waters and drown you all.” At least the lordships showed magnanimity while pronouncing their judgement and kept an option for the PAPs to be drowned pari passu along with the height of the dam.

And to me the lordships seem to have had another constructive point to make. What, if the SSP is stopped or postponed, would happen to the giant construction companies, bureaucrats engineers, government sponsored media people and the political leaders at all the levels from panchayats to the parliament would do? Surely we do not want them to be jobless and increase unemployment just for the sake of a million uncouth adivasis or the riparian people.

It also tells me that the lordships get annoyed with the word – “Review”. And that is the explicit reason why the lordships had denied reference to any debate about large dams per se. Let us not forget the fact that the lordships have the sacred right to deny any reference to an issue upon which they have their learned opinions. And due to their duty as wise people they can pass any judgement irrespective of allowing you to raise an issue, even if the very nature of the petition is all about that.

And what about the sacrosanct sanctity of the Tribunal Award! Does it not clearly stipulate that a word from it cannot be changed or challenged? Award is an Award?

You have all the opportunities, to amend, interpret, review, challenge or even infringe the constitution ? But award is a sacrament. What if there are lapses? The lordships’ function is to uphold the

law and not the lapses. That is the NCA’s responsibility. And have they not provided a redressal authority as well? It is none of their fault if an adivasi is illiterate or has no money to go to Ahmedabad and find out the office of the authority and give him a written complaint. The lordships also threw illuminative light on public interest litigation as well. How can any body file a public interest petition against the public interest project like the SSP? What public this Narmada Bachao Andolan is talking about? A small minority of good for nothing adiwasis? Is it not a fact that the SSP aims to bring them into the mainstream, of the Indian populace, which extends from Kasmir to Kanya Kumari and from Dwarka to Dibrugarh.

Let me request the lordships to pardon the andolan people for being thoughtful and concerned. They were really knavish enough to understand the lofty ideals of natural justice so well inherent in your judgement. I really advise them to read what a “great leader” like Adolf Hitler had said. Though I personally dislike the man. But then even Devil has sometimes moments of profound truth. Did he not say, What luck for rulers that men do not think! ”

If every gujarati started thinking about the cost-benefit, the socio-economic and environmental impact, the massive problem of displacement and whether the SSP will bring what it professes to bring, where will it end? It is good that they do not think! Otherwise what will happen to the rulers, the consortiums of big business, bureaucrats

and all the advocates of progress? And to be frank, the politicians have exhausted all their slogans from Jay Jawan jay Kisan to Garibi Hatho, from

Ram Mandir to Naya Gujarat. Now the poor fellows are left with the slogan “Narmada our Life Line.” And it will certainly not befitting for the wise men of the apex court to let aside their rights.

All said and done, I cannot resist an opportunity to humbly suggest to the Hon. lordships to take a much-deserved vacation after the pain of having to sit through the hearings of this case. I request that the lordships, may not go to their usual places like Dargeeling or Simla or any resorts abroad but for a change visit Raanital of Jabalpur, an exquisite place where the oustees of the Bargi dam can welcome them in their huts made of gunny bags and plastic waste. I am sure the lordships would be delighted to enjoy a ride in their ramshackle bicycle rikshas and hear their stories about how they are grateful to be assimilated into the mainstream, leaving their, homes, land and cattle.

I would also request to the lordships to take their families to add some flavour to their vacation and visit the basti near Surat railway station where they can meet some of the gentle adivasis from the village Mokhdi (the very first village to be submerged). And please do not be disheartened if they wave some soiled papers and ask you to find their allotted lands. It has become a habit with them. Even their children now do not believe them that they once lived on the banks of a beautiful river and were proud owners of land.

And as a finishing touch to your LTC vacation you would just love to visit a resettlement site and experience the wonderful adventure to stay in a tin box. You may take some guests as well, because many of them are vacant and there are about 200 sites to choose from. They are too good for the humble folks to live in. But please do not take with you as a travel guide the copy of the award or papers containing the provisions of the resettlement package. Let a PR officer accompany you. He will definitely show you where the roads and schools and hospitals and water facilities etc are going to be constructed. You might have come across the guides who show you historical monuments and tell the stories of the lofty heroes and gory battles. At the sites of large dams a new breed of guides are employed. They show you what will come where. They have been doing so since the day Sakkar Barrage was built. No wonder they are expert par excellence. They can even take the apex court for a joyous ride.

We are lovers of mythology. No wonder the myths can influence sound judgement. Power to the people is a modern day myth. And so is the myth of SSP. But, what of that? Didn’t our beloved Panditji said something about Temples of Progress.

Ashwinee Bhatt

Gujarati Author