Court directs Principal Secretary, NVDD to comply with all social and environmental, aspects after 3 days of hearing. 

MoEF must report to Court: All project-related grievances to be addressed by the Grievance Redressal Authority (GRA)

The Madhya Pradesh High Court concluded three days of intense hearing of various parties in the matter of planning and implementation of the Omkareshwar (OSP) and Indira Sagar Canals (ISP), involving investment of thousands of crores of rupees from the state exchequer and affecting the lives and livelihoods of thousands of canal-affected adivasis and other farmers in the districts of Khandwa, Khargone, Dhar and Badwani in the state.

Taking serious note of the large number of social and environmental issues and impacts in the overall canal work, the Court summoned Mr. Rajnish Vaish, Principal Secretary, NVDD, from Bhopal and took an undertaking from him that the State would ensure full compliance with all the laws and judicial orders. Mr. Vaish filed an affidavit in the Court today, after consulting the Chief Secretary, as per directions issued yesterday and indicated the targets for completion of the Omkareshwar canal work. The Affidavit also states that there are no financial constraints for executing the canal and command area works, which also implies funds for compensation must also be made available.

He also reported that much of the work on the Omkareshwar canals are complete. NBA has contested these claims and further hearing on this specific aspect shall continue after vacation. Welcoming the CJ’s, initiative to resolve all the outstanding issues within the framework of law, NBA presented its Plan of Action to the Court and stated that if the work would have to be target based, all the pre-conditions such as rehabilitation, environmental safeguards, payment of compensation for losses, redressal of grievances etc. must, review of canals in irrigated villages must also be in a time bound manner.

NBA insisted that as on date, the MoEF has NOT given a final clearance to the canal work, per se and this Hon’ble Court must be guided by the framework set out by the Hon’ble Apex Court for the canal work. The MoEF has only approved about 600 Command Area Development (CAD) Plans and not the canal work. Plans for about 500 villages are yet to be submitted and overall implementation is far from satisfactory, as is reported in numerous reports of expert Committees. Medha Patkar, pleading in person also reported that farmers from the field, in hundreds from Phase – I to Phase –III in both projects are facing severe impacts of canal breaches, seepage, crop loss, water logging , health impacts etc, since the protective and pre-conditional on-farm and off farm safeguard measures have not been implemented, while the contractors have been paid hefty sums for the canal work.

The Division Bench of Hon’ble Chief Justice, Shri Justice A.N. Khanvilkar and Hon’ble Justice Shantanu Kemkar also inquired from the parties and issued directions to implead various other authorities such as Narmada Control Authority, Planning Commission etc. in the case. The Bench expressed its mind to issue appropriate directions to the Union Ministry of Environment and Forests for ensuring compliance with all the recommendations of the Expert Committee and also stated that the Ministry would be required to report back periodically to the Court.

Referring to the people’s agitation being shown as a ‘barrier’, by the state, the CJ asked as to why would people agitate if their issues are solved and demands met within the framework of law. The Bench also agreed that there is a clear need to expand the terms of the Grievance Redressal Authority in order to address all categorizes of project-related grievances such as muck disposal, crop losses due to water logging etc. The Hon’ble Justices stated that the Court would not hesitate to even invoke its power of contempt in case the concerned authorities fail to comply with its directions.

The Bench stated that it would issue a reasoned order by 2nd January, 2014 and would constantly monitor the progress on work as well as compliance of various legal stipulations. This phase of hearing is significant since it addresses some critical issues raised by two public interest petitions on the Omkareshwar (OSP) and Indira Sagar Canals (ISP). NBA’s petition was filed in March, 2013, on behalf of thousands of canal – affected families (CAFs) many of those are already seriously affected by the canal network. This petition raises serious issues of social and environmental impacts, lack of rehabilitation, unnecessary excavation of canals in irrigated villages, severe crop losses etc.  The other petition was filed by one Mr. Virendra Patidar, complaining of slow work, illegalities by the contractor, corruption, impacts of water logging in the 1st Phase of the Omkareshwar Project.

The struggle in the Court and on the field shall continue on various issues such as non-compliance with the directions of the Supreme Court, recommendations of the Expert Committees of the Union Environment Ministry, lack of rehabilitation, severe crop loss in dozens of villages due to water logging and muck disposal and lack of compensation for the same, lack of dialogue and use of police force on aggrieved farmers etc.

Medha Patkar pleaded on behalf of the canal-affected farmers. Adv. Dharmedra Chelawat appeared for the petitioner in the other case, Mr. Virendra Patidar. Shri Shekhar Bhargava pleaded for the GoMP / NVDA. Affected farmers were also present in the Court today.

Meera            Ramsing bhai           Mukesh Bhagoria              

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