Interim Report of the Public Hearing on the Sardar Sarovar Project

4th November, 2000, Parade Ground, Red Fort, Delhi

Jus. (Retd.) D. S. Tewatia, Jus. Jaspal Singh, Harubhai Mehta, Mohini Giri, U. R. Ananthamurthy, Ashis Nandy

Indian People's Tribunal on Environment and Human Rights,
5th Floor, Jain School,
84 Samuel Street, Dongri,
Mumbai - 400009

The Indian People's Tribunal conducted a public hearing on the Sardar Sarovar Project on 13th November, 2000. The hearing was held at the Parade Ground opposite the Red Fort and was attended by a large number of intellectuals, activists, NGOs and lawyers. Approximately 5,000 people from the Narmada Valley were present at the hearing and deposed before a distinguished panel presided by Jus. D. S. Tewatia, retired Chief Justice of the High Courts of Calcutta and Chandigarh.

The request to conduct a tribunal had come from the National Alliance of People's Movements (NAPM) in the wake of intense and extreme debates raging across the country over the Sardar Sarovar Project. Numerous reports and studies have raised the viability of the dam and questioned its environmental and social impact. Yet many questions dealing with rehabilitation, resettlement and the overall cost benefit analysis still needed to be answered. The day long public hearing sort to remove the veil from over some of these issues and present a glimpse of the ground realities.

The Panel:
The Tribunal had an eminent panel of six members. The seventh member, Mr. N. Ram, editor, Frontline, took ill at the end moment and was thus unable to travel to Delhi. The final panel was as follows:

  • Jus. (Retd.) D. S. Tewatia, Former Chief Justice, High Courts of Calcutta and Chandigarh
  • Jus. (Retd.) Jaspal Singh, Former judge, Delhi High Court
  • Mr. Harubhai Mehta, Senior Advocate, Gujarat High Court and former M.P.
  • Ms. Mohini Giri, Former Chairperson, National Commission for Women
  • Mr. U. R. Ananthamurthy, Writer, Gyan Peeth recipient
  • Dr. Ashis Nandy Former Director, Centre for the Study of Developing Societies, social psychologist

The Issues

The hearing was conducted on the following issues:

  • Genesis of the Project
  • Costs and Benefits
  • Social Impacts
  • Environmental Impacts
  • The State, the Law and the People
  • Gujarat: the Mirage of Benefits
  • Alternatives
  • Issues relating to other dams in the Narmada Valley
  • The Justification of the SSP

Depositions Depositions were made on the above issues by the people from the Valley. Vania, Dedlibai, Beliben, Pratibha Shinde and Arundhati Dhuru from the Adivasi region, Kamla Yadav and Mansarambhai from the Nimad region along with Noorjibhai, Mukesh Bhai, Manglya, Dinkar Dave from Gujarat, Bablu Patwa, Guliabai and Urmila Patidar made depositions on their plight in the Valley as a consequence of the Sardar Sarovar Project.

Representatives and leaders of the Narmada Bachao Andolan (NBA) deposed on technical issues and those related with the law, specially with those related to the acquisition of land, revenue surveys and settlement, the myth of rehabilitation and cost benefit analysis and the unviability of the SSP as a large dam. Shripad Dharmadhikari, Silvy, Alok Agarwal and Medha Patkar made depositions on behalf of the NBA.

Absence of Government Representation

The IPT had invited the representatives of the Government of India and those of the Governments of Gujarat, Maharashtra and Madhya Pradesh and the Narmada Valley and SSP authorities. Invitations were sent to the Chief Ministers of M. P., Maharashtra, Gujarat and Rajasthan, Chairperson, Planning Commission, Chairperson, Narmada Control Authority (NCA), Chairperson, NCA Environment Sub Group and Chairperson, Rehabilitation and Resettlement Sub Group.

However, not a single representative of the abovementioned governments and government agencies were present, making the hearing acutely one-sided. Nor were information or messages communicated to the Tribunal about their absence or stand on the matter. The government was in fact totally silent.

Conclusions

After hearing the daylong proceedings, the panel has arrived at some immediate and interim findings, which are attached herewith. The full report from the panel will be published at a later date.


Interim Report of the Public Hearing on the Sardar Sarovar Project

Jus. (Retd.) D. S. Tewatia, Jus. (Retd.) Jaspal Singh, Harubhai Mehta, Mohini Giri, U. R. Ananthamurthy, Ashis Nandy

In a daylong hearing organised in the Parade Grounds opposite the Red Fort, organised by the Indian People's Tribunal on the Sardar Sarovar Project before the panel, the speakers on the listed topics primarily highlighted the following facts:

  1. At no stage, the affected people were given a hearing either by the state authorities or the Narmada Tribunal.
  2. The Government in the first instance launched the project and then thought of getting mandatory clearances which should have been done before start of the execution of construction work. And at every state confronted with a fait acompli the affected persons and authorities which had to accord clearances.
  3. The engineers and the bureaucrats enticed the Government into undertaking the project with projecting costs which happen to be very wide of mark and also projecting the benefits which too are appearing a mirage.
  4. Such Projects have very long gestation period. When ultimately benefits fall far short of projected benefits and costs had escalated to may times of the initially estimated cost, there would be none the citizen can hold accountable for cheating at such a scale, because by then those who had been feeding on the fat funds not only may not be there in the government, they in fact by then may have (left for heaven or hell) quit the world.

    And this is the basic reason no effort is made to consider alternative schemes involving small money but holding out promise of at least equal benefits, if not more and without adverse impact on the environment. Social and ecological as also without creating misery to citizens at a scale obtaining in the wake of the construction of the present Narmada Dam.

  5. It has been very strongly highlighted that whereas the scheme to rehabilitate should have actualized before they were about to be displaced, but here in the present case affected persons are being displaced and neither the scheme to rehabilitate nor the land on which it was to take shape is there.
  6. Attention is invited to the fact that the citizens are treated as subjects if not as slaves. They have only such rights as the ruler in his magnanimity deems necessary and the Constitution is ignored with contempt as a scrap paper.
  7. The prescriptions for rehabilitation and resettlement that it should be completed well in advance before the actual submergence are observed in breach only. Rehabilitation and resettlement is utterly neglected by the authorities concerned. The project affected persons are not given any role in the process of rehabilitation and resettlement.

Interim Conclusions

From the evidence it is obvious that the Sardar Sarovar Project is primarily an enterprise of motivated politicians, bureaucrats and professionals. The project has little to do with what people wish (nobody at any stage has asked them) or can do by themselves to solve their water problems (as can be seen by the small scale projects successfully implemented by many draught affected villages of Saurashtra and North Gujarat).

The cost escalation of the project, it seems from the evidence, is itself an indicator of its main purpose to benefit its sponsors. It has increased from Rs. 4,000 crores to Rs. 21,000 crores. Many expect it to go up to Rs. 45,000 crores. This cost does not cover the irreversible costs of destruction of forests, the life support systems of the tribal forest dwellers, and the loss of their cultures and knowledge systems.

The Project according to the evidence adduced, cannot and does not intend to meet the needs of the people of Gujarat, Madhya Pradesh and Maharashtra. Against all available data, the state governments (particularly the Gujarat government) has persisted with the project for reasons that have more to do with the vested interests of the enthusiasts then with the needs of the people. The callous attitude towards rehabilitation is an indicator of the amoral nature of the Project. An even better indicator is the way all dissent against the dam has been throttled Even small meetings of protesters and even discussions of the issue have been systematically disrupted, and protesters physically assaulted by the hoodlums of the supporters of the dam or by the law enforcing agencies.

The Narmada project is the ultimate symbol of the pathology of the developmental process in India. It reveals the psychopathic dimensions of our public life better than almost any other political or economic scam in the past fifty years.

Other Salient Points

  • The entire dominant perception on development needs an overall review with a view to ensuring that development does not revert to disaster or deprivation of anyone even the man sitting on the last rung.
  • Rehabilitation and Resettlements (R & R) should form an integral part of any development project. Project affected persons should be provided with R & r promising a better standard of life and prospects at alternative settlements provided. The evidence adduced indicate that people already affected by the construction completed upto 88 Mts. are also not fully rehabilitated and resettled.

    The prescription for R & R, that it should be completed satisfactorily and well in advance before actual submergence, are observed in breach only. R & R is utterly neglected by the authorities concerned. The project affected persons are not given any effective role in the arrangement of the R & R.

  • The permission to raise the height of the dam above 88 Mts. should not have been given until all environmental and social impact surveys were completed.
  • It would have been quite fair and proper if the authorities concerned including those enjoined with the task of R & R had chosen to appear and present their side of the picture despite invitations extended by the Indian People's Tribunal. We therefore feel highly handicapped on account of not being able to hear the other side of the case.
  • People affected by the acquisition of land for Kevadia Colony and other structures for administration of the SSP and people displaced on account of construction of canals and not recognized as project affected people and officially excluded from the benefits of the Award of the Narmada Tribunal. This is unjust discrimination.
  • If people's aspirations are not taken into account, it is an infringement of their fundamental rights. The state has no right to intervene and displace the cultures of the adivasis.
  • The Supreme Court judgement will have to be reviewed. An appeal should be made to the President of India for the same.
  • Women who are subjugated due to gender discrimination would suffer more and it would have a direct affect on the next generation. Since a majority women are affected the National Commission for Women should be moved to action as they are mandated to "safeguard" women's interests.
  • There is a lack of accountability on the part of both the executive and the judiciary. If the law cannot deliver the desired results, then who will be answerable? If the gestation period is so long and there is a long succession of governments then whose accountability are we talking about?
  • What is needed is a dialogue and not a deadlock.
  • A workable action plan should be formulated after consulting the people.
  • Is Rs. 45 crores is not equal to getting alternate methods of electricity and water?