Save Agriculture in Irrigated Narmada Villages

Narmada valley is facing yet another crisis beyond the gigantic dams, which has arisen due to the huge canal network of the Indira Sagar and Omkareshwar canals. The canals of these two dams are not yet fully planned, yet certain estimates, which are not yet final by the Narmada Valley Development Authority show that not less than 10,000 hectares of agricultural land is to be acquired, but a larger acquisition is yet to come up in numerous villages, where even a basic socio-economic survey of the affected land and families is yet to be undertaken. Read more

The worst part is that a major part of the canals; from main to minors is to pass through villages on the Narmada river bank, which fall in the fully irrigated region where there is no need or surface canal irrigation. The canals are to be excavated and destroy huge tracts of fertile lands, for 20 mts to 100 mts wide canals. Prime agricultural lands, with 3-4 crops in a year is being acquired, by applying the urgency clause or even other with illegalities in the acquisition process, thus depriving thousands of farmer-families their lone source of livelihood in this entire belt.

The lands and / or houses of many of the families are already affected by the Sardar Sarovar and Maheshwar dams and the canals would cause further displacement. The land to be excavated is rich block cotton soil and situated in the directly draining catchment of Sardar Sarovar, which would result in heavy siltation.

Serious Agro-Environmental Violations and Non-compliance:
It is notable that despite clearances to the ISP and OSP having been issued in 1987 and 1993, the command area development plans for the two Projects are not yet final and approved by the central authorities after 15-20 years and there is no optimum execution of the CAD works, reflecting the pari passu principle, which is critical and pre-conditional.  The High Court of M.P. after detailed consideration of various issues pertaining to lack of planning and execution of the environmental and rehabilitation measures directed in its judgement of November 2009 that there shall no further land acquisition, excavation and canal construction until the Devender Pandey Experts Committee of MoEF
scrutinizes and approves the CAD Plans of GoMP.

After the GoMP went in appeal to the Supreme Court against this Judgement, the Court directed a temporary and conditional vacation of the stay granted by the High Court on 25-02-2010, directing the same Expert Committee to approve the CAD Plans within six weeks and requiring MoEF to take a decision on the basis of the Committee’s Report in the next four weeks.

The Expert Committee has given a clear finding and conclusion in its Report of April 2010 that the said CAD Plans are neither complete nor final in terms of the environmental clearances and stipulations and therefore, the same cannot be approved. However, decision-making on behalf of the MoEF has been inordinately delayed and the Ministry provided an additional period of 4 weeks to the GoMP to comment on the Expert Committee Report. Pandey Committee has made a scathing indictment of NVDA response, accusing it of making self-contradictory and misleading statements.

The High Court of Madhya Pradesh had also directed that the the canal network must be reviewed to exclude the irrigated lands in order to protect agriculture,  minimize displacement and save the state exchequer. However there has been gross disregard of this directive and thousands of hectares of land
are being acquired, while there is no need for canals in the irrigated belt at all.

Violation of the Rehabilitation of the Canal-Affected:
After the canal-affected farmers challenged the lack of planning and application of the Rehabilitation Policy to the canal-oustees, the High Court directed in November 2009 that all the farmers must be entitled to all entitlements under the R&R Policy, including land. However, to this date there is very poor planning, availability of data and land to be offered in rehabilitation and the same has also been proved before the R&R Sub Group.

Narmada Control Authority is directed to monitor implementation of R&R for the canal-affecetd, which is yet to obtain full data and compliance from NVDA.

Before the Supreme Court also, NVDA had argued fiercely that the oustees should not be entitled to rehabilitation. However, the Court, rejected this stance and directed, as an interim measure (reserving the rights of other oustees) that those farmers losing 60% or more land should be offered land in the vicinity of the village or in the command area as the second option. If this is also not possible, land from the land bank must be offered, after making it cultivable and with provision of civic amenities. However NVDA is only trying to offer uncultivable, rocky or encroached land from the land bank.

Some oustees who have lost 80-100% of land in some adivasi villages have not even been issued any notices till date.

It is in this context that there is an urgent need for an early decision-making towards halting work on the Indira Sagar and Omkareshwar canals, land acquisition process for which is continuing at break neck speed, replete with illegalities, making the entire process irreversible. This is one of the most important and critical issues in the Narmada valley today, if thousands and thousands of hectares of fertile agricultural land are to be saved from permanently destruction in the name of the canals.  The demand of the people and the movement is not against the entire canal network per se. But at least the canals need not and should not be brought into the irrigated areas where the farmers and adivasis already have a secure and sustainable livelihood.

Medha Patkar