People's Tribunal led by Justice AP Shah calls for review of Narmada Projects

Tribunal expresses grave concern on severe non-compliance by authorities
A Panel of eminent citizens who came together as an Independent People's Tribunal (IPT) to assess the true scale and impacts of the large dam-projects in the natural-resource rich region of the Narmada Valley, delivered their verdict today on various aspects concerning the massive displacement, rehabilitation, environmental compliance and overall cost-benefits of the Sardar Sarovar and Jobat Projects as also the large canals of Indira Sagar and Omkareshwar. Read more

The Tribunal Report was jointly released today afternoon at Gandhi Bhavan by members; Hon’ble Justice (Retd.) A.P. Shah (Former Chief Justice of Delhi and Madras High Courts) and Shri Devinder Sharma (well-known Researcher and analyst on agriculture Policy issues), amidst the presence of members from the Secretariat, IPT, respectable citizens and activists of Bhopal, media persons and a large number of affected people from the Narmada valley. The Report is an outcome of extensive two-day visit and public hearing in the SSP as well as the canal-affected villages by Justice Shah, Devinder Sharma and Prof. Jaya Sagade, Vice Principal, Indian Law Society, Pune.

Reading out important extracts and recommendations from the Report, both Justice A.P. Shah and Dr. Sharma expressed their shock at the magnitude of planned displacement and unplanned development in the valley and the corresponding violation of law and history of non-compliance. On the basis of its extensive visit, in-depth analysis and assessment the situation, the Tribunal has concluded that “since there been serious non-compliance on the pari passu implementation of rehabilitation and environmental measures, we have appealed to the Prime Minister to constitute a High Level Committee of Ministers, officials, experts and representatives of the people’s movements etc. to undertake a comprehensive review of  all these projects and take a decision not to further fund or carry forward the project-work until this process of review is complete.

Said Justice Shah, “As we moved through the villages full of community life, with agriculture, in Pipri, Chikalda, Nisaprur, Pichhodi and the canal-affected villages such as Mandil and Pandhania, we were shocked to know that the Government states that all these villagers have been rehabilitated and there are ‘0’ families to be rehabilitated. We were appalled at the magnitude and impact of displacement on the communities that are entire dependent on natural resources and feel if there is no effective participation of the concerned people and proper prior planning of these Projects, they can never be implemented in a manner that will either accrue any benefits or do justice to the affected, he said.

Devinder Sharma expressed his shock at the insensitivity of a State that does not respond to the people’s peaceful struggles, be it in Narmada or in Bhopal, where even after 25 years people are still awaiting for justice, while the wrong-doers never face the law. We are deeply moved by the resilience and belief of the Narmada-displaced, particularly the already-affected adivasis in the constitutional scheme and democratic forms of conflict-resolution, and we hope that State, will respond to these people’s grievances in an expeditious and just manner”.

Rights of Sardar Sarovar, Canal affected and Jobat displaced must be ensured:

SSP has already reached the height of 122 mts in violation of the Narmada Tribunal Award, the judgments of the Supreme Court, the Rehabilitation policy and clearances. There cannot be even an inch of submergence without full rehabilitation of all the adivasis and farmers, said the Tribunal members.

Taking serious cognizance of the failure of the State to provide agricultural land to the oustees and the encashment of all rehabilitation entitlements, including land which has only led to crores of corruption and no rehabilitation, the Tribunal has called upon Madhya Pradesh to scrap the Special Rehabilitation Package and instead provide cultivable, irrigable land to all the adivasis and farmers, if necessary by purchasing the same and allotting it to the affected.

The Tribunal also noted the grave consequences of the unplanned canals of the Indira Sagar and Omkareshwar cutting right though the agricultural fields. Denying the canal-affected an equal right to land-based rehabilitation is a grave violation of the right to equal treatment of the oustees and we assert that they have to be provided full rehabilitation, with land.  “We are also deeply concerned at the ‘contractualization’ of the entire project works, particularly canal-work, imposition of the urgency clause and other illegalities. We hope the Government will stick to its own law, while planning and executing projects, said the Tribunal members.

The recommendations by Devender Pandey Committee, both on SSP and canals are clear and scientific that there can be no further work without complete plans that are approved by the concerned Ministry. As per the MoEF, the High Court and the Supreme Court, approval by the Committee is necessary for further canal work and a halt at this stage is only legal and necessary,

Responding to the serious legal and human rights violations of the Jobat-dam affected, the Tribunal re-asserted the right to land-based rehabilitation of all the Jobat - displaced, which is already guaranteed in the State Rehabilitation Policy and the clearances.

Eminent persons insist Government should implement Report recommendations
Speaking on the occasion, former Chief Secretary of Madhya Pradesh, Shri Sharad Chandra Behar, who has been closely observing the implementation of these large water-resource projects on the Narmada for more than two decades, said the findings of the Report raise very serious questions on the ability of the State to execute these projects in accordance with the legally-binding stipulations.

At least, now the State and Centre must realize that the genuine grievance of the people, reflected in the Report must be addressed with all seriousness. Also present was senior activist Shri Lajjashankar Hardenia who conveyed his solidarity with the fully lawful struggle of the people and called upon the
Government to, at least now, accept with humility that its lop-sided model of ‘development’ has deeply deprived and displaced the people, and it will have to address its wrongs by implementing the recommendations in the Report.

Others who were present on the occasion included Principal of the Makhanlal Chaturvedu University of Journalism and Mass Communication and various activists citizens of Bhopal.

Narmada Andolan welcomes Report: Calls for full rehabilitation
Welcoming the findings and recommendations by the Tribunal, Ms. Medha Patkar of Narmada Bachao Andolan stated that the Report re-affirms the seriousness of the issues that the people have been continuously been raising for all these years, with little response and concrete action from authorities, both at the Central and State level. The Report comes at a crucial time when intense political process to push the Dam to its final height and also complete the canal works are underway. We hope, at least now the State takes a rational and legal position to seriously re-consider pursing these projects, without fulfilling all their past obligations, as per law.

The adivasis, farmers, fish workers and landless of Narmada thanked the Panelists for making their voices heard through the Report and also expressed hope that their  findings and recommendations would strengthen their dialogue and struggle with the State agencies.

Significant Conclusions and Recommendations by the Tribunal:
* Governments must immediately purchase private land to rehabilitate all the oustees, particularly adivasis and farmers who have not accepted cash compensation or have been cheated in fake registries.

* Comprehensive survey of all affected families must be undertaken to ensure every project-affected, whether by dam or canal receives all rehabilitation entitlements.

* Surveys and all project-work must be carried out only in consultation with the Gram Sabha, no acquisition and construction can be carried out in violation of the PESA Act, i.e. without consulting the Gram Sabhas

* Decrying the manner in which the State is washing away its constitutional responsibility by doling out a few thousand rupees, the Tribunal recommended that all the potters, boats men, fish workers, landless should be ensured alternative livelihood.

* Monitoring Ministries and agencies like MoEF, Narmada Control Authority and Grievance Redressal Authority have seriously fallen behind in the necessary supervisory role and they must act strongly to ensure compliance with law and norms of the Projects.

Development without people:  Unacceptable and Unjustifiable
Addressing the press persons later, Justice Shah said, “Our visit, hearing and analysis of the situation in Narmada has indeed been an eye-opening experience and we now hope the factual and objective findings in this Report, as already reflected in many other official findings will open the eyes of the State to initiate immediate corrective action and ensure that law and justice is fully rendered to the people.

The human right to inclusive development is totally missing in the manner in which these projects are pushed, felt the Tribunal members.  “It is high time we undertake a DEVELOPMENT AUDIT of what are the true figures of ‘development’ are, said Mr. Sharma. The State should be answerable to its
people. In dam after dam, after the investment of crores and submergence of thousands of hectares of fertile land, there is no real benefits and then the impacts of water logging, destruction of forests and agriculture, displacement, cultural losses etc just go uncounted.

Next Steps:
The Tribunal members said, “We have based our Report on the wide-ranging international conventions and human rights standards and also constitutional and legal principles, which India is bound to follow and hope the Government will take it with all seriousness.  This Report shall be sent to the Prime Minister and all the concerned Ministries for taking appropriate action.  Every individual application, of the hundreds, that we have received during the Hearing will go to the Government, along with our Report and we look forward to the State’s speedy Redressal of all grievances. We have also appealed to the civil-society to engage in a more constructive manner in the development paradigm and continue to raise questions when the lives of so many lakhs of people and the nature are involved”.

The Tribunal was organized by the Independent People’s Tribunal on Environment and Human Rights, which is a national network of over 500 judges, lawyers, human rights activists and people’s organizations that undertakes periodic exercises of investigations by such independent tribunal of prominent citizens to investigate into cases of gross human rights and environmental violations of socio economically marginalized communities.

Adv. Mohsin                             Hariom