Narmada Canals: Supreme Court directs MoEF to take decision by February 15th

A three-Judge Special Bench of the Supreme Court of India comprising Hon'ble Justice Shri JM Panchal, Justice B.S Chouhan and Justice Deepak Verma directed the Union Ministry of Environment and Forests to file an affidavit before it by the February 15th, 2011, informing the Court of its decision on the Reports of its own Expert Committee which has fully rejected the Command Area Development (CAD) Plans of the Madhya Pradesh Government with regard to the massive canal network of the Indira Sagar and Omkareshwar canals.

It is notable that the huge network of the Indira Sagar (ISP) and Omkareshwar (OSP) canals, which is still largely unplanned has been causing enormous destruction of more than 10,000 hectares of prime agricultural land in the Narmada valley for more than 5 years now. Much of it is also in the villages on
the banks of the river (partly to be affected by the Sardar Sarovar and Maheshwar reservoir). The lands of all the farmers are already irrigated since last many years and hence they simply do not need the canals and have been demanding that their only source of livelihood i.e. their fertile agricultural lands  and rich horticultural should not be destroyed. However the canal work continues in utter contempt of the Orders of the High Court and Supreme Court on both environment and rehabilitation.

In November, 2009, the High Court of Madhya Pradesh stayed the land acquisition and excavation of the canals after 9 months-long hearing on the writ petition filed by NBA and directed land-based rehabilitation of the canal-oustees as per the State Rehabilitation Policy. The High Court also upheld that irrigated lands must be excluded from the canal network to minimize displacement and save agriculture. However the Supreme Court, hearing the appeal (SLP) filed by the Government of Madhya Pradesh, vacated the stay conditionally and temporarily only for 10 weeks and directed that the canal work, thereafter, can proceed, only with the approval by the Expert Committee and MoEF.

Shockingly, it’s more than 10 months (40 weeks) since the Supreme Court’s vacation of stay lapsed and the Expert Committee has submitted two strong reports, disapproving the Plans submitted by the Narmada Valley Development Authority holding them to be totally inadequate and charging NVDA of making misleading submissions. The Expert Committee has also recommended that the Supreme Court’s order, permitting the canal work must be withdrawn. MoEF has filed these Reports before the Supreme Court and has not approved the Plans either, but is yet to issue a decisive stop-work notice for both the Projects.

It must be noted that the canal construction without complete plans and execution of the CAD works (involving on-farms and off-farm works) is causing severe harm to the agricultural land with water logging, salinization, cutting of path ways, disruption of farm lands, blocking the water streams as well as crop patterns, bio – diversity. All of this is causing immense hardships to the farming community, which is to increase. In spite of numerous representations by the canal-affected adivasis and other farmers on the serious impacts on farm lands and roads that have occurred in Badwani, Dhar, Khargone
districts and excavation continuing without the necessary approval, at the cost of agro-rich lands, peoples’ livelihoods and the eco system, MoEF had been ignoring and the decision and therefore, the Supreme Court’s order today is a significant step forward in this case.

The Apex Court in the same petition also directed land-based rehabilitation for the canal – affected families who lost 60% and more land. The land to be offered is to be in the vicinity of the affected village, in the command area or the government land bank, but only after ensuring its cultivabilty and with other amenities provided to the oustees resettled there. However, the GoMP has not offered cultivable land to any of the oustees in the vicinity but has only offered uncultivable land or land in possession of old encroachers or infact lands which are non-existent such as in villages Nimsar or Peetnagar of Badwah Tehsil (Khargone district), where as per the State Government’s own affidavit
on Land Bank submitted to the Apex Court in April 2000, there is no cultivable land available.

It is also a matter of extreme seriousness that the private contractors who are in alliance with the ruling party politicians in Madhya Pradesh are wreaking havoc on people’s lands and livelihoods resulting in unjust displacement prior to rehabilitation, which is also a gross contempt of the Supreme Court. The
reality of arbitrary methods used during the ongoing land acquisition and survey process, no hearing granted despite objections being filed, random changes in the canal alignments, exclusion and inclusion of land and properties,  excavation of land other than land which has been acquired, unnecessary destruction of agricultural land, threats and intimidation by the officials and contractors etc, very low compensation or sometimes denial of compensation to the pipeline, wells, trees; huge mounds of mud and rubble thrown on the un-acquired portions of the farm, making farming unviable, seeking pecuniary advantage from the canal-oustees etc is causing much anger and anguish amongst thousands of canal oustees. Even the compensation offered to those who lands are acquired is only based on the village guideline is very meager, as a result of which it is virtually impossible to purchase land with the said compensation amount.

The canal work, being carried out without the command area development plans and rehabilitation of thousands of canal affected families is not a gross violation of the Supreme Court’s orders but the conditional clearances granted by MoEF 15-20 years as also the Environment Protection Act of 1986. NBA demands an immediate halt to the canal project works until all the environmental and rehabilitated measures are fully planned and complied with.

The people also demand that the canal network must be immediately reviewed to exclude all the irrigated villages and save the agriculturists and the environment.

Lalchand Patidar        Rumsing         Medha Patkar            Shrikanth
Contact Ph: 09423965153 / 09179148973

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