2 day Jan Adalat concludes, 4 Retired Justices call upon Supreme Court and Government of India to review the status of displacement, submergence and rehabilitation of Sardar Sarovar oustees
By Team FI
Pronouncing their interim verdict in the presence of about 10,000 oustees of Sardar Sarovar Dam, based on their observations and assessment of the legal and field situation, a Panel of 4 retired Judges of various High Courts concluded gross violations of the Narmada Water Disputes Tribunal Award and Judgements of the Supreme Court.
Speaking at the proceedings of the “Jan Adalat” organized by eminent citizens of the country, noted Justices including Jst. P.C Jain (Rajasthan High Court), Jst. Nag Mohan Das (Karnataka High Court) and Jst. V.D. Gyani (Madhya Pradesh High Court) and Jst. N.K. Mody (Madhya Pradesh High Court) expressed grave concern at the displacement of about 2.5 lakh people due to the completion of the Dam and the mass violation of the constitutional right to life, destruction of livelihoods, as also wiping out of an entire culture and civilization.
They stated that the further dam work and installation of gates should not proceed in the present circumstances of clear evidence of multiple violations. Observing that the concerned authorities have miserably failed to comply with the provisions of the Award and the Apex court’ orders and have committed serious dereliction of legal obligations, they called for a serious review of the entire situation and a serious social-economic impact assessment. The Govt. and Apex Court must widen their horizons of ‘development’, in the light of the complex realities of the 30 years struggle of the Narmada valley, they said.
Reading out the operative part of their preliminary verdict, Justice Jain exclaimed that the official claims of no additional submergence due to the current dam work is clearly unlawful and also unbelievable, since when the dam is being completed with the same original height, there is no reason why the submergence area would not increase!. Listening to testimonies of about 35 oustees they found that the Judgement of the Supreme Court dated 18/10/200 and 15/3/2005 as well as several orders of the Grievance Redressal Authorities (GRAs). Justice Jain also said that the Government must await the Report of Justice Jha Commission of Inquiry into Corruption in R&R before any further work is undertaken.
The 4 Justices urged the Social Justice Bench of the Apex Court to review its decisions and hearings in the light of the overwhelming evidence of legal violations and well as the obviously flawed “full rehabilitation” reports of the project authorities. The Jan Adalat specially acknowledged the valiant role of thousands of women warriors in the valley who have been keeping the torch of struggle aglow over the past 30 years. These observations were made after hearing the depositions of about 35 oustees from the three states of M.P., Maharashtra and Gujarat, perusal of the NWDTA, various orders of the Apex Court, GRAs, interim reports of Jst. Jha Commission, official correspondence and intensive visit to various affected villages in the tehsils of Badwani, Kukshi, Manavar and Dharampuri yesterday.
The deponents before the Tribunal today included representatives of adivasis from the hilly and plain areas, other farmers who have been entangled in the fake registries scam, received meagre cash and denied land or given land from the land bank, landless oustees, including fish workers, potters, boatmen, small traders etc. Oustees from Maharashtra and Gujarat also expressed their grievances and pointed out to major violations. The hearing was conducted in a completely formal manner, with a People’s Court set-up on the Narmada river bank at Rajghat and each oustee / deponent stood in the ‘dock’, as s/he deposed.
Bhagirath Dhangar spoke of the plight of hundreds of farmers, workers, small traders, shopkeepers, hawkers etc. whose lands and livelihoods are to be lost by the dam increase, with no alternative R&R in sight. He questioned if the balance is indeed ‘0’, then how is it that the govt. fair price shops, panchayats, voting and even govt. licensed wine shops are functioning here?
Mahesh Patel exposed the fraud in the name of back water levels due to which 16,000 families has been declared “out of submergence”. He said that all these unscientific claims would be blown up by Narmada herself and her fury into which 99 tributaries and 999 large darins flow. Fish worker families represented by Savabai (Pichhodi) & Madubhai (Chikalda) demanded fishing rights in the reservoir and alternative livelihood. They said that fishing and riverine rights cannot be compensated in monetary terms.
Karan Yadav from Pipri read out the message from Ramesh Patel, the MLA of Badwani, admitting that governmental reports of R&R are patently false and that 99% oustees, still reside in the original villages awaiting R&R. Patel submitted a written demand to the Tribunal that the SSP gates should not be installed at this stage, without completion of R&R, as per law.
Meera spoke of the absolute failure and connivance of the elaborate machinery of monitoring and project authorities in complying with the Apex Court’s orders and demanded that all the clearances granted by the authorities are unlawful and need to be set aside by the Apex Court.
Adv. Umesh stated that thousands of SSP oustees are now owners of the acquired lands/houses as per 2013 LAQ Act and Govt. dare not dispossess them.
Medha Patkar decried the massive violation of the rights of the Gram Sabhas in the constitutionally protected scheduled adivasi areas. She spoke of the possibilities of and need for a review even at this stage to avert the inhuman pauperization of 2.5 lakh people, for the benefits of corporates. “While displacement and disaster is planned by the State, development and rehabilitation is not” she said and concluded that continuation with the dam would mean a mass atrocity on the dalits and adivasis.
Soumya Dutta, one of the members of the recent Fact-Finding Team to the Narmada valley, whose report has received wide attention and even alerted the Judges of a disaster in Narmada moderated the proceedings and shared with the Judicial panel, the findings of his Report co-authored by senior political leaders and experts including Hannan Mollah, Annie Raja, Dr. Sunilam, Raj Kchroo and Benoy Vishwam.
The Panel of Judges was invited by a team of distinguished citizens including Retired Justice Rajinder Sacher, Syeda Hameed [Former Member, Planning Commission of India and National Commission for Women]; Sagar Sarhadi, Senior film maker, short story and play writer, writer, director and producer; Prof. Anil Sadgopal, Eminent Educationalist and Founder, All India Forum on Right to Education.; Ramdas Bhatkal, Founder, Popular Prakashan, Mumbai and Senior Litterateur and Anand Patwardhan, Internationally Acclaimed Film Maker on Developmental and Human Rights Issues to hear the oustees and State agencies and give its findings on the legality of the decisions of the Government to pursue the dam work in the light of large number of complaints of denial of R&R.
Notably, the highest officials of the Central and State Governments including the Chairpersons of the NCA, R&R Sub Group and GRA, as well as the Chairman, Vice-Chairman and Commissioner of NVDA, Bhopal, Collector, Nandurbar (Maharashtra) and Commissioner, SSPA (Gujarat) were invited on behalf of the Organizers, but as none of them turned up, their chairs were kept vacant !
The hearing today was preceded by a day-full of intensive visits yesterday to various villages including Khalghat, Dharampuri Township as well as Vill. Semalda (Teh. Manavar) and Villages Chhota Barda, Pipri and Chikalda, Kadmal-Khaparkheda (Tehsil Kukshi); where elderly persons and women who poured out their grievances of denial of R&R, poor quality amenities at the resettlement sites, massive corruption, unlawful submergence in 2012-13 etc. The hearing began with a homage to Ramaswamy Iyer who passed away 2 days ago.
Madhuresh of National Alliance of People’s Movements (NAPM) remembered of him as a beacon, for decades, in the water-ecology sector, whose own life was enriched by his engagement with the SSP struggle, as a Govt. Member of the 5-Member Review Panel and later his valuable contributions to the water rights regime, acknowledged internationally.