Narmada: Politics to outdo law and justice again?

Sardar Sarovar with 10 times costs and only 10% benefits needs review, not funds
The controversy over the giant Dams and large Dams on the Narmada river, altogether 30 large and 135 medium Dams, displacing a few million people, not even fully and fairly counted, and destroying thousands of hectares of agricultural land and forest, affecting the whole riverine ecosystem is decades old. Yet, the same is again reaching its peak in the case of the Sardar Sarovar Interstate Project. The Dam, with the wall completed upto 122 mts, as per the demand by the Government and politicians of Gujarat and Madhya Pradesh is to be pushed ahead by raising piers and erecting gates 17 mts high even when 2,00,000 and more people; adivasis, farmers, fish workers, artisans, traders live in the village communities and township densely populated with pakka houses, markets, best of agriculture and horticulture since generations. Read more

The demand that the Centre must fund the Project with thousands of crores or declare it to be a ‘national’ project, contrary to the stand of its own sanctioning and monitoring authorities, is also indicative of Gujarat’s politics, stinking of irrationality and immaturity, showing neither prudence
nor progressive outlook. The Finance Ministry has declared 3000+ crores in the latest budget, but this cannot and should not be done, without looking back and looking forward to the reality of the Project – its claims and achievements.

History of Injustice can’t be repeated:
The absolutely illegal push given to the Dam in the past (1987 – 2006) violating conditions on rehabilitation and environmental mitigatory measures is tried again, when on both grounds and on the issue of costs and benefits too, the Project stands fully exposed. It is obvious that the Report by the Group of three Ministers including Former Union Minister of Water Resources, Shri Saifuddin Soz, Former Union Minister for Social Justice and Empowerment Ms. Meira Kumar and Union Minister of State for Earth Sciences, Shri Prithviraj Chavan after their visit to the Narmada valley in 2006 was most truthful and depicts the situation of “Rehabilitation on Paper” and “Massive corruption”, which is the reality further confirmed, even today.

There are thousands of families , including adivasis who have lost their lands and habitats since 1994, who are yet to be given their land entitlements in Madhya Pradesh (with the largest submergence and ‘oustees’) as also in Maharashtra and Gujarat where the Governments are not able to allot land to the
eligible, since private land is not being purchased at the market value, any more. Not even one resettlement site for its own adivasis wishing to resettle in Madhya Pradesh, as per legal provision is located and established by the state of MP, while the corporates are given land as per their whims and
interests, at whatever costs, financial to social and environmental.

Corruption worth a few hundred crores in rehabilitation exposed by the affected farmers of Narmada Bachao Andolan has resulted in the High Court appointing a Judicial commission of Inquiry in Madhya Pradesh and its investigation is on.

There is no political will to investigate and punish the guilty and hence the GoMP has challenged the Orders in the Supreme Court where hearing is yet to take place. It is unfortunate that the Narmada Control Authority, which is a central body also is not taking a clear position favouring the High Court’
Judgement on the judicial commission on corruption and irregularities leading to derailment of the Rehabilitation Policy.

Drowning the lands and living communities with full life on, without an alternative source of livelihood (land for farmers, fisheries for fish workers) is absolutely in violation of the Narmada Water Disputes Tribunal Award (NWDTA), which is a decree; four judgements of the Supreme Court;
constitutional and human rights, and justice. Is the UPA Government, with its Ministry of Social Justice and Empowerment incharge of rehabilitation and the Narmada Control Authority (NCA) with the statutory mandate, ready to permit these gross violations is a question.

Experts establish serious environmental non-compliance:
The Project, along with its feeder Project, Indira Sagar Project (ISP) cannot proceed further in the present situation, due to serious environmental non-compliance, concluded by an Expert Committee chaired by the Former Director-General, Forest survey of India and presently, Chairman of the Expert
Appraisal Committee of River Valley Projects, Dr. Devender Pandey. The Committee which has been appointed by the Ministry of Environment and Forests, which leads the Environmental Sub – Group of NCA, has brought out in its Second Interim Report that even after 20 years since the two giant Dams were cleared by the MoEF, there is an unprecedented apathy exhibited from the fact that the command area development plans necessary to prevent severe destruction of land with water-logging and salinization and ensure benefits are not even ready and final, nor approved by the Central Authority i.e. MoEF.

The unfounded hope of securing fulfilment with respect to the impacts on health, archaeology, seismic risks etc which are the most serious in preventing the Project from becoming more destructive, than developmental, has thus been diminished. With a large percentage of SSP’s and ISP’s command area
development not in place, catchment area (a few lakh hectares in each Dam) not yet treated and huge forest loss not proved to be compensated, the Committee’s Report concludes that no construction on Dam and canal and no irrigation should be permitted.

Costs outweigh Benefits : 30 Years of Mismanagement
Have the much drum-beaten benefits of the Dam come true, satiating the thirst of Kutch-Saurashtra in Gujarat or ‘lightening’ progress in Madhya Pradesh and Maharashtra with a share in power, but not a drop of water, in spite of bearing the largest share in submergence and finance? No!

Only 30% of the canal network of SP is built over 30 years and 66,000 kms long canals (70%) remain to be constructed, not due to NBA’s opposition, but because Gujarat’s own farmers are unwilling to part with 30000 hectares of land and also due to lack of finance, (estimates vary from 8000 crores to
20,000 crores) and absence of command area development plans. Inspite the pondage attained by submerging adivasis lands, forests, communities, not more than 7-10% of the available water is being utilized by Gujarat. Moreover, with much of water supplied to the cities especially Gandhinagar, the Kutchis have moved the apex court, demanding their due share. Maharashtra is demanding for 1800 crores of compensation from Gujarat for loss in power allocation, but Madhya Pradesh is still keeping mum!

Investment clearance for the SSP was for Rs. 6406 crores in 1988 Today, the project cost is Rs. 45,000 crores as per the Report of the Working Group on Water Resources of the Planning Commission and it will escalate upto Rs 70000 crores by 2012! The Centre,in the past, under the Accelerated Irrigation
Benefits Programme has allotted the largest amount of Rs. 5000 crores to this Dam and yet the CAG Reports have made a critical inditement of its misutilization.

The Planning Commission should have by now or MUST, at least today, review the Project fully since not only the approved investment limit, but also the environmental conditions in the same are flouted by the states, with no monitoring. The experience certainly explains the colossal gap of 1,20000 crores needed for completion of large Dams since the II Five Year Plan and huge discrepancy of 17 million hectares between the planned and attained irrigation potential. Not one hectare additional irrigation is achieved in the country is what the data of the Ministry of Water Resources for the years, 1990-2005
itself shows!

Which way Sardar Sarovar and Narmada? The most ancient of the world’s civilization can’t face any more destruction and death which is not a penalty but a political vendetta. For unexpectedly low and unsustainable benefits, if the Projects this and others, are pushed with illegal and unjustifiable expediency, not one state government, but the nation will be accused of connivance towards destruction.

Medha Patkar
Narmada Bachao Andolan

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