Canal work is subject to Expert Committee approval: Supreme Court

Supreme Court conditionally permits Narmada canal construction work on Indira Sagar and Omkareshwar canals subject to scrutiny and approval by Experts Committee and Ministry of Environment and Forests (MoEF). The case of Narmada canals came up for hearing in the Supreme Court recently, wherein the issues related to the displacement, rehabilitation and environmental impacts and mitigative measures, especially command area development were raised by Narmada Bachao Andolan before the High Court of Madhya Pradesh. The High Court had stayed the land acquisition and excavation in the Indira Sagar and Omkareshwar Projects, through its well-considered judgment dated 11-11-2009. Read more

The appeal against the High Court judgement filed by the Government of Madhya Pradesh was heard today by the Bench of Hon’ble Chief Justice Shri K.G. Balakrishnan, Justice J.M. Panchal and Justice B.S Chouhan. Narmada Bachao Andolan, the Ministry of Environment and Forests (MoEF) and the Narmada Control Authority (NCA) are the Respondents in the case.

On behalf of Narmada Bachao Andolan, Advocate Sanjay Parikh and Medha Patkar, appearing as petitioner in person and on behalf of the thousands of canal affected adivasis and farmers, it was pleaded that the Court should not permit land acquisition and construction without the necessary planning of social and environmental measures, which are the statutory conditions and pre-requisites
as per the environmental clearance and rehabilitation policy. NBA put forth all official documents, correspondence as well as data and proved that comprehensive CAD plans as required by law and clearance were not submitted in time to the Ministry. It was only in October 2009 towards the fag end of the case that Draft/Interim Plans were submitted to the MoEF the same is yet to be scrutinized and approved by the Experts Committee and MoEF.

The Chief Justice Bench heard the parties on the environmental issues, but not yet on the rehabilitation aspect. After hearing NBA and MoEF today, who submitted their response to the GoMP’s arguments against the High Court’s Judgement, the Bench passed an interim order conditionally permitting the canal work, making it clear to the State of Madhya Pradesh that this will be subject to approval by the Dr. Devendra Pandey Committee of Experts for environmental assessment of Sardar Sraovar, Indira Sagar and Omkareshwar Projects. The Court ordered that the Expert Committee shall give its assessment of the CAD plans within six weeks from today and the MoEF shall take a decision, thereupon within the next four weeks.

The digging of canals after invoking urgency clause was objected to by the MoEF. The further digging of canals will only add to the problem and perpetuation of illegality. NBA feels that during the period the CAD plans were under consideration by the MoEF, no excavation should have been allowed. In case the MoEF refuses to grant approval or finds that the canal excavation done so far will lead to water logging/salanization and other environmental problems, not only will it be a great loss to the environment but a huge loss to the public money besides casing suffering and displacement to the farmers.

The environmental clearances are granted under the Environment Protection Act, 1986 and if there is violation of any condition, the MoEF has the statutory authority to vey cry halt to the project.

It is now time for the MoEF to take firm action in accordance with law keeping in view violation of environmental clearance by the State of M.P, including the CAD. This would only be in pursuance of the findings and recommendations of the Pandey Committee (February 2009) which has already concluded grave and serious non-compliance on many environmental aspects including the command area development for the SSP and ISP.

It will be a great disaster if the river valley projects are allowed to go ahead in an arbitrary manner without the plans being approved. NBA regrets this Interim Order which has cleared the excavation, even if for a limited period and in a conditional manner. This Order would re-open the canal construction in the fertile and irrigated black cotton soil and irrigated lands, which can cause irreversible impacts while even the basic planning and execution is pending, and serious irreversible impacts on the land, flora and fauna, agriculture, health can occur. Many farmers from the affected villages who are already affected by the Sradar Sarovar and Maheshwar Projects were also present in the Court today and feared that the project work would further deepen displacement in the valley, while the delay in the project work for 15-20 years after clearance is due the sheer negligence of the state government.

While Medha Patkar and Av. Sanjay Parikh appear for the petitioners, senior Counsel Mr. Mari Arputham pleaded the case of MoEF and senior counsel Andyarjuna pleaded for the Government of Madhya Pradesh. The next date of hearing has been fixed for the 25th March when the issues of the rehabilitation is also to come up before the Court.

Medha Patkar

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