IN THE SUPREME COURT OF INDIA
CONTEMPT PETITION (CR) NO. 2/2001

IN THE MATTER OF:

J.R. PARASHAR AND ORS.
PETITIONERS

VERSUS

PRASHANT BHUSHAN AND ORS.
RESONDENTS

AFFIDAVIT IN REPLY ON BEHALF OF RESPONDENT NO. 2

I, Medha Patkar, daughter of Late Sh Vasant Khanolkar, resident of 6, Prasanna, 11th Road, Christian Colony, Chembur, Mumbai (Maharasthra) (presently in Delhi) do hereby solemnly state and affirm as under:

That I am the second respondent in this petition. I have read and understood the contents of the contempt petition and my reply to it is as under:

1. In the first place I would like to point out that the contempt petition has been recklessly made, that many of the material allegations in the petition are completely false and concocted. In particular, all the allegations contained in the FIR that the petitioners have attached to the petition are completely false and defamatory. The petitioners were never threatened, abused or assaulted. Some of the slogans mentioned by the Petitioners in the contempt petition were never raised. No one in the presence of the deponent shouted "Supreme Court bika hua hai" or "Supreme Court ke judges chor hain". This court should prosecute the petitioners for perjury and contempt for having made such false and motivated charges on affidavit with the object of misleading this court.

2. It is true however that I did participate in a Dharna of the oustees of the Sardar Sarovar project outside the Supreme Court on the 13th December 2000. In order to understand and appreciate what happened at the Dharna, it is necessary to provide a background and indicate the circumstances in which the Dharna took place.

3. The Sardar Sarovar project involves the involuntary displacement of more than 2,00,000 persons directly by the reservoir of the dam and a similar number by other aspects of the project such as canals, colonies, downstream impacts, compensatory afforestation, etc. The project was taken up without any information to the oustees about the scale and impacts of the project, without any masterplan for rehabilitation, without any assessment of its environmental impacts and without any assessment of its costs and benefits and therefore without any assessment of whether the project was in the national interest.

4. I began work in the Narmada Valley in 1985 to seek information and answers to our questions related to displacement and about the rehabilitation of the oustees, as also about the environmental and other impacts of the project. I discovered that most of this information was just not available with the authorities. After several years of extensively visiting every corner of the Narmada Valley and meeting every authority associated with the project, I realized that the project was being pushed without adequate understanding of its impacts and the land based community rehabilitation of the oustees as mandated by the Narmada Water Disputes Tribunal was just not going to take place. On reaching out to the tribal hamlets and villages in Maharasthra we formed a State level organisation, followed by a similar process in Madhya Pradesh plain areas of Nimad region. The people affected by project related works in Gujrat too approached us and joined the movement. These three, together with support groups all over the country formed meanwhile, were coordinated into the Narmada Bachao Andolan. The Narmada Bachao Andolan, was primarily an organization of the oustees who were organized with the catalytic help by some of activists from outside who came to be a part of the valley. For the first several years of the Andolan, it did not take up a stand in categorical opposition of the Dam. During that time, it kept seeking information about the project and holding a dialogue at every level with each of the 3 state governments, in particular, about the rehabilitation of the oustees and the right to information regarding the project.

5. It was in 1988 after many meetings with official at high levels, during which it became clear that the governments didn't have land for all and no Master Plan for rehabilitation, that may many impact studies were incomplete and hence the clearances granted were illegal that it became absolutely clear to us, that the benefits of the project were greatly exaggerated, that it would not irrigate even half the area that it was being projected to irrigate, that it would not irrigate the main drought prone areas at all namely Kutch and Saurasthra, that that the costs of the project would be much greater than projected, that its considerable environmental costs had not even been calculated, that its downstream impacts had not been studied at all, that the oustees a few lakhs in number were not even fully recognised, that they would not be rehabilitated, that the Narmada Water Dispute Tribunal Award (NWDTA) and policies and the World Bank's manual were already violated and indeed that the project was not in the national interest, that the Andolan took a categorical stand in opposition to the project. It was as a result of the Andolan's effort that the World bank commissioned an independent review of the project under the chairmanship of Mr. Bradford Morse. The Morse Committee after intensively studying the project for more than 6 months came to the categorical conclusion that,

"We have discovered fundamental failures in the implementation of the Sardar Sarovar Projects. We think the Sardar Sarovar projects as they stand are flawed, that resettlement and rehabilitation of all those displaced by the projects is not possible under the circumstances, and that the environmental impacts of the projects have not been properly considered or adequately addressed."

"Important assumptions upon which the Projects are based are now questionable or are known to be unfounded. Environmental and social tradeoffs have been made and continue to be made without a full understanding of the consequences. As a result, benefits tend to be overstated, while social and environmental costs are frequently overstated. Assertions have been substituted for analysis."

"Every decision as to the Sardar Sarovar Projects have always been, and will continue to be, a decision for India and the States involved. Together they have spent a great deal of money. The foundations of the Dam are in, the Dam wall is going up, the turbines have been ordered. No one wants to see this money wasted. But we caution, it will be more wasteful to proceed without full knowledge of the human and environmental costs".

6. After this, the World Bank set some benchmarks for the steps to be taken for the rehabilitation of the oustees. Since they could not be complied with by the project authorities, the World Bank withdrew from the project.

7. Around this time, the Ministry of Environment also pointed out that in view of the failure of the project authorities to carry out the environmental impact studies and the consequent violation of the conditions on which the conditional environmental clearance was given, the environmental clearance had lapsed. However, despite all this, the work on the project was not stopped and in 1993 the first set of villages came under submergence due to the project. Due to the agitation of the oustees, the government of India formed a 5 member group to review various aspects of the project. In the next year and a half, the Five Member Group submitted its unanimous first report which showed the serious problems with the rehabilitation of the oustees and in the assessment and mitigation of the environmental impacts of the project. The Report recommended the concerned governments to prepare a Master Plan for rehabilitation for all categories of the project-affected people and also to complete the impact studies. It was the Apex Court itself that asked the Review Group to give its second report on four specific aspects including rehabilitation, environmental impacts, hydrology and height of the dam. The consensus part of the report reiterated its recommendations on environmental impact assessment and also on planning and execution of rehabilitation. The rest of the report had a divided opinion. Two of the four honorable members of the group (one had dropped out of the second investigation and report), found such enormous problems with the project that they recommended a comprehensive review of the project.

8. However, despite all this, the government neither ordered a review of the project nor stopped further construction of the Dam thus bringing more and more oustees within the zone of submergence. Since 1993 a number of tribal houses in Maharasthra, Madhya Pradesh, and Gujrat got affected, many were washed away with all the belongings and several hundred acres of land with standing crop, got destroyed. It was at that stage that we decided to approach this court and filed a writ petition seeking a review of the Sardar Sarovar project after giving an informed hearing to the victims and also to establish an independent body to ensure proper rehabilitation of the oustees prior to submergence.

9. In the court, we pointed out that not a single oustee had been offered land in M.P. (which is true even today) where the bulk of the oustees have to be resettled. The total official number of oustee families has now gone upto 35716, almost all belong to tribal, dalit, other lower caste (about 70%) and farmer caste-communities. The M.P. government had admitted this on affidavit and this was also confirmed by the Grievance Redressal Authority of M.P. Despite the fact that the NWDT Award categorically prohibits any submergence without rehabilitation and despite the fact that the court refused to consider restructuring the project on the ground that the Award is sacrosanct, the court still permitted raising the height of the Dam to 90 metres, thus allowing the submergence of the lands and homes of hundreds of families without rehabilitation.

10. In the court, we had also shown that though the Tribunal mandated community rehabilitation of the oustees, this had not been done even for the vast majority of the reservoir-affected families who had been relocated over last 20 years and this was not even being offered to the remaining oustees. Despite these admitted facts, the court still permitted further construction and submergence without rectifying the situation.

11. In the court, we demonstrated by documents of the Ministry of Environment itself that there had never been any comprehensive Environmental Impact Assessment of the project, which is also starkly brought out in the minority judgement of Justice Bharucha who directed such an assessment before the project could proceed. Despite this, the majority judges still allowed the project to go ahead without any such assessment.

12. The Court dismissed the comprehensive and cogently reasoned Independent Review Committee report of the World Bank summarily by saying that it had not been accepted by the Indian Government or the Bank. The Court also did not pay any attention to the report of the Five Member Group which had been set up by the Government of India and whose second report came on the directions of the Court. The Court in its Judgement of 18th October went so far as to eulogise large Dams without any evidence for the same before the Court and after having specifically restrained the petitioners from making submissions on the pros and cons of large dams in general.

13. In such circumstances, the judgement of the Court left the NBA and indeed most independent observers and commentators stunned and angry. A very large number of independent and eminent observers, journalists and writers have written scathing articles criticizing majority the judgement in most trenchant terms. Copies of some of the articles by some eminent and independent commentators including Shri Ramaswamy Iyer (former water resources secretary) and a book by Shri L.C. Jain (former member of the planning commission and Vice -Chairman of the World Commission of Dam) and who were members of the Five Member Group are collectively annexed as Annexure A (Colly) to this affidavit.

14. Despite the anger at the judgement, it was decided by the Andolan to file a review petition in this court pointing out the grievous errors in the Judgement. This was done within 30 days, but for a long time the review petition was not even taken up by the court for consideration. It has now been dismissed, more than 4 months after it was filed, without even giving the petitioners an oral hearing despite a strong dissent by Justice Bharucha.

15. It was in such circumstances, when the review petition was not being taken up for hearing, that the members of the NBA, especially the oustees, whose lands and homes were going to be submerged this monsoon on account of the judgement of this Court, decided to come to Delhi and have a dharna outside the Supreme Court. It was decided that they would try and meet the judges and explain their plight to them and even request the judges to come to the valley to see the reality for themselves. It was of course clear that in keeping with the completely peaceful and non violent character of the NBA, this dharna too would be completely peaceful. It was decided that the people would carry placards drawing attention to the reality and the injustice of the judgement. The object was not to pressurize the court into giving a favourable judgement in the pending review but to bring to the notice of the court and the people the plight of the oustees who would be losing their lands and homes this monsoon without rehabilitation.

16. I believe that in a democratic society, where the court plays such an important role in the lives of people, the court should be influenced by exposure to such reality and to the plight of the poor and the downtrodden. I do believe the court often gives judgements in ignorance of the ground realities because of lack of exposure to it. I believe that it is often necessary for the judges to make field visits themselves in order to have a proper and sensitive appreciation of the reality at the ground. The NBA always wanted the judges to visit the valley and see the condition of the oustees themselves, but that did not happen. So the people of the valley decided to come to the Court to meet the judges and explain to them what was happening in the valley. If such attempts to influence the judges in this way is considered contempt by this court, then I plead guilty.

17. In the morning of 13th December when I and this group of about 500 persons, mostly from the valley reached the Supreme Court in a procession, the gate No C of the Supreme Court was already closed by the Security guards. Since the gate was already closed, as decided earlier we sat outside the gate. We asked the security guards that we wanted to meet the Chief Justice and submit a memorandum. We were however not allowed to go inside initially. Later however, a group of representatives was allowed to go in and hand over a memorandum at the office of the Registrar.

18. While sitting outside, the people did raise slogans against the Sardar Sarovar project. They also raised slogans against the judgement of the court. Some people made angry speeches against the injustice meted out to the oustees. In some speeches some people also spoke about corruption in the judiciary in general and about how divorced the courts were from ground realities. I also made a speech and raised some slogans. I however take responsibility for all the speeches and slogans that were raised by the people there that day. To my knowledge, no slogan was raised or speech made impugning the integrity of the judges in connection with the Sardar Sarovar Judgement. To my knowledge nobody said , " Supreme Court ke judges chor hain" or Supreme Court bika hua hai".

19. The NBA representing the people in the valley and all our supporters across the country have strong faith in the Constitution and also the judiciary and its role in upholding the Constitution, and the rights granted to the citizens especially to the underprivileged and tribals. We therefore, believe that we have a role and a duty to critique not just the economic and political decisions but also the laws and the actions of the Judiciary. Any judgement that can be that can be proved to be in violation of the Rights of the people guaranteed by the Constitution and thus unjust, we believe, needs to be analysed and critised. This had been done time and again, by eminent persons and organisations in the past. Since the judgement on Sardar Sarovar Project is unjust, as it denies justice, rejects the plea for right to life and livelihood by not just those affected by SSP but all development projects, as a responsible citizen and concerned activist, well informed about the stark ground reality that a formidable human tragedy to occur in the Narmada valley, I decided to join hands with the tribal and peasant populations in the Narmada valley in critiquing and rejecting the judgement while making a legal appeal and a public call for the review of the same.

20. Let me add here that the common people in the Andolan had great hopes from the Court, and expectations that the judgement would expose the false claims by the State and protect their life and sources of livelihood. It was with the strength of our belief and hope that we continued to painfully collect all detailed information from the ground, analyze and present it to the court and plead for judicial scrutiny and investigation. The court did take the action of staying the dam for 5 to 6 years which we felt grateful for. But without the situation having changed much, and despite clear evidence of the fact that the Award of the Tribunal and the rehabilitation policies were being violated, the court still allowed further construction of the Dam which would have a devastating impact on the lives of thousands of families this monsoon. The fate of thousands of other tribal and peasant families have been sealed by this judgement.

21. The court is well aware of the special principles of positive discrimination in favor of tribal people, stipulated in the 'Schedule V' of the Constitution. Peace and good governance, that is promised to them has rarely been ensured to these communities, who live on the natural resources and are least dependent on money and market. Their land, water, forest and fish has been taken away in the name of progress, public purpose and development projects, which are neither fully evaluated nor are they compensated. This is the case with the Sardar Sarovar project as well. Over last 20 years, the tribal families in the three affected states have suffered and withstood the threats of eviction and submergence, betrayals and actual loss of livelihoods and life supporting natural resources. The torture and loss both can never be compensated in monetary terms. Thousands of tribal families who are in the original villages and hundreds in resettlement sites, whose life resources are either already affected or are to be affected in the coming monsoon, have the same fate as those ousted for projects such as Bhakra Nangal (Punjab), Hirakund (Orissa), Ukai (Gujarat), Gandhi Sagar (Madhya Pradesh),Koyna and Jaikwadi (Maharasthra) and Bargi and Tawa dams in the Narmada basin. This is inhuman, unacceptable and intolerable to, the affected people, the activists as also thousands of supporters all over. A critical assessment of the judgement and the serious injustice it has caused, is therefore, considered by us to be not only fully justifiable but our duty.

22. During the dharna at the gate of Supreme Court , I did meet the first Petitioner Parashar who came in the evening and started shouting to the policemen present there that the dharna should not be allowed. He also came up to me and said loudly that the dharna cannot be allowed outside the Court. I only asked him whether he had read the judgement. While he was answering the question by dodging the main issue, he kept on threatening us with legal action, by filing of complaint and of seeking support from the Solicitor General . The police officials in the meanwhile took Mr Parashar aside and the matter ended there. The allegation that the petitioners were threatened or abused or assaulted are totally false and can be attested by the large number of policemen and policewomen who were present there that day. No one was drunk. The Dharna was completely peaceful and nobody could have apprehended any threat from anyone participating in the Dharna.

23. I believe that in a democratic society, all persons have the right to protest and demonstrate against any action of any organ of the State including the Judiciary. The oustees of the Sardar Sarovar project do not lose this right merely because they have filed a petition in the Supreme Court or that a review petition on their behalf is pending. I believe that I too have that right and do not lose it merely because I have taken these issues to Court on behalf of these people. The only way to have some kind of accountability of the judiciary today is for the people to comment frankly and fearlessly on the actions and judgements of the Courts. If this is not going to be allowed by invoking the power of contempt against persons who comment adversely, even trenchantly against the Courts actions and judgements, it will render the judiciary totally unaccountable and unresponsive to the needs of the people. I believe it is important for the judiciary to be accountable not just to the Law but also to the people. I do not agree with those who say that justice must be blindit cannot be blind to the suffering of the poor and the downtrodden.

24. The Superior Courts have recently shown a disturbing tendency to use the power of Contempt against persons who have been criticizing the Courts and their judgements. A judiciary which insulates itself from criticism by using the power of Contempt, is bound to become insensitive to the people that it is meant to serve. This does not bode well for the future of our republic.

25. In conclusion, I wish to say that I have worked for last 16 years for the cause of lakhs of people , tribals and peasants who will be adversely affected by the Sardar Sarovar project and other gigantic projects in the Narmada Valley and elsewhere. I have raised the issue of such mega projects, the development, planning, democratic and human rights, economics and consumption of monetary and natural resources by such projects. I have also suggested just and sustainable alternatives in water, energy and other sectors. Most of those that I work with in the Valley are going to lose their lands, their homes, their forests, their community, their culture and indeed their very identity because of this project. I have taken up their cause because I can feel their loss, I can identify with them-they are indeed like my family. I will continue to fight for them in every forum and in every way that I can. I will continue to challenge the unjust system that deprives common people especially the natural resource based communities who pay the cost for the benefit of those who already have much more than them. I will continue to help them raise their voices in protest against this system even if I have to do so against the Judiciary and the Courts. I will continue to do so as long as I can, even if I have to be punished for contempt for doing that.

Deponent


Verification:

I the deponent abovenamed do hereby verify that the contents of the above affidavit are true to best of my knowledge and belief and nothing material has been concealed therefrom.

Verified at New Delhi on this, the 20th day of April 2001.

Deponent


Settled By:

Sh. Shanti Bhushan.
Senior Advocate.