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Mainstream, VOL LII No 37, September 6, 2014

Sardar Sarovar Evictees Wait for Justice

Saturday 6 September 2014, by Bharat Dogra


The recent decision to raise the height of the Sardar Sarovar dam by 17 metres has been widely criticised by social organisations led by the Narmada Bachao Andolan (NBA) as well as many eminent citizens on the ground that it violates the legal rights of about 48,000 families in the submergence area of this dam to cultivable land-based rehabilitation. As several reports have pointed out, thousands of farmers, including tribal farmers, workers, fisher folk, artisans, are still living in the submergence zone while legal provisions and human considerations demand that they should be satisfactorily settled before submergence of their villages can be allowed.

Even though the government has claimed that rehabilitation has been more or less completed, it is clear that rehabilitation has been interpreted rather differently by the government to mean merely the completion of certain activities—for example, the marking out of certain resettlement sites. It is an entirely different matter that most of the evictees have not yet been rehabilitated here. This is what explains the wide differences in the data on rehabilitation presented by the official agencies and the NBA.

Keeping in view the legal as well as ethical considerations, there is an urgent need to protect nearly two lakh people from arbitrary and illegal submergence, and this is why the decision to raise the dam height by 17 metres is being opposed.

There is also a big scam as encashment of rehabilitation entitlements has led to large-scale corruption which is being inquired into by the Justice S.S. Jha Commission. Corrective measures based on these findings are still awaited.

Even the utilisation of extra water will not be possible till the canal network of the project is completed or at least makes considerably more progress. There is a lot of opposition among farmers also to give up their land for canals.

The NBA has therefore asked the government to stop decisions on raising the dam height “till all rehabilitation and environmental safe-guard measures are complied with, as per law, all the costs and benefits are fully reviewed, all judge-ments of the Supreme Court and orders of Grievance Redressal Authority are executed and inquiry by the Justice Jha Commission is complete, report submitted and lawful action taken.....”

Clearly the NBA is asking mainly for the proper implementation of the laws, legal directives and legally stipulated arrangements in the right spirit, instead of mere window-dressing carried out by the authorities. The stand taken by the NBA is important keeping in view the injustice suffered by millions of evictees earlier in the case of numerous other projects and hence should be widely supported.

The demand of proper, updated, honest cost-benefit evaluation of the Sardar Sarovar Project is also an important one, considering the fact that cost estimates have risen from the original Rs 42 billion (when the cost-benefit exercise was first done) to between Rs 700 to 900 billion at present. Now that massive social and environmental costs are also better known, it will be very useful to know what an honest social cost-benefit exercise tells us at this juncture.

What may be most relevant would be to do a social cost-benefit analysis of rasing or not raising the dam height. Let all the facts be debated openly, so that the possibilities of saving nearly two lakh people from submergence can still be explored to the maximum extent.

Bharat Dogra
C-27 Raksha Kunj
Paschim Vihar
New Delhi-110063
Tel: 011-25255303