Water Resources Minister admits rehabilitation, environmental compliance, cost-benefit appraisal necessary before raise in dam height

Submergence without rehabilitation illegal: Social Justice Ministry

Oustees meet Jairam Ramesh: Demand halt to SSP at 122 mts.

Hundreds of oustees affected by the Sardar Sarovar Dam in the three states of Madhya Pradesh, Maharashtra and Gujarat stayed put on the streets of the national capital at Jantar Mantar on the second day, after an eventful day struggle and interaction with the central authorities in Delhi, who hold the key to the fate of the lives and livelihoods of lakhs of farmers, adivasis, fish workers, landless etc. in the Narmada valley.

After almost 2 hours of an intense public action at the gates of the Union Ministry of Water Resources, the Minister, Shri Harish Rawat, agreed to meet a 10-member delegation of the oustees, led by Medha Patkar for a detailed consultation on all the issues. As the Minister and his officials heard the presentation on the massive scale of pending rehabilitation of 48,000 families, ongoing judicial inquiry into the 1,000 crore corruption scandal in M.P. and severe non-compliance on environmental measures and dismal performance of the SSP, after an investment of 70,000 crore rupees, he assured the oustees that the Sardar Sarovar cannot move ahead, until the last person is rehabilitated and that his Ministry, which leads the Narmada Control Authority will have to ensure rehabilitation, environmental compliance and a comprehensive cost-benefit appraisal before permitting any raise in dam height.

Shri Rawat expressed that although the primary role of his Ministry is water management and dam building, it cannot be without lawful rehabilitation. Responding to the oustees who informed him that more than 1,500 houses and thousands of hecatres of land with standing crop has been submerged illegally in the monsoon of 2012 and 2013, due to water releases from upstream dams, he admitted that there can be no submergence without rehabilitation and the people have a right to reside and cultivate their agricultural land and carry on livelihoods.  Some of the main issues,  which he took cognizance of and directed his officers to take action, report back to him include:

  • The Minister directed his officials to seek a report from the state governments, particularly Madhya Pradesh on the status of compliance with the Orders of the Grievance Redressal Authorities (GRA), binding as per the Judgement of the Hon’ble Supreme Court.
  • He took cognizance of the orders and reports with regards to the ongoing processes of inquiry into corruption by Jha Commission and the GRA and admitted that official process itself is clear to prove that rehabilitation is far from complete.
  • Shri Rawat also assured that his Ministry will explore ways to ensure land-based rehabilitation to all categories of oustees (more than 6,500) including 3,000 families who have been entangled in the fake registries scam, 1,500 families who have not been able to purchase land out of the meagre cash compensation and 2,000 adivasis and other farmers in M.P. and Maharashtra, who have not accepted cash at all, but have been given offers of uncultivable or encroached land or no offer till date !
  • Assuring Saavabehan, a displaced fish worker, he agreed and assured that traditional displaced fisher families have the first and inviolable right to fisheries in the reservoir and the state governments are legally duty bound to register the               co-operatives of the fish workers.
  • The Minister also promised to look into the serious issue of exclusion of 55 villages and a huge township from submergence by changing the Back Water Levels, which have even been disapproved by an Expert Committee of the MoEF.
  • He agreed that the role and right of Gram Sabhas in the scheduled adivasis areas is inviolable and that his Ministry / NCA will work to ensure that the PESA Act is fully complied with, in the context of the Narmada Project oustees.
  • He directed officers that NCA must ensure proper medical and health services in the submergence areas, especially in the hilly adivasi areas.
  • He also asked the officers to present data on the funds allocated to SSP under AIBP, water availability and allocation to various industries and municipalties and for drinking water purpose as on date.
  • He also assured to look into all the issues raised by the Indira Sagar and Omkareshwar canal-affected families, in particular review of the canal network in the irrigated strip, overlapping with the Sardar Sarovar catchment. He also directed authorities to look into the land-based rehabilitation of the adivasis affected by the Jobat Dam, since a decade.
  • The Minister also asked the NBA to give a separate representation on the issue ofillegal sand mining in the project – affected areas and he assured that concrete action would be taken in this regard.

Submergence without rehabilitation illegal:  Secretary, Social Justice Ministry:

Later in the evening a large delegation of more than 15 oustees from various villages met Shri Sudhir Bhargav, Chairperson, Resettlement and Rehabilitation Sub Group, NCA and Secretary, Ministry of Social Justice and Empowerment.  In response to the stern warning that neither the R&R Sub Group, nor the NCA, can permit raise in dam height without full and faithful compliance on the lawful rehabilitation of all the families, he admitted that no final clearance has been granted to the SSP, as on date.

Oustees representing thousands of families in the 3 states informed the authorities that neither the GRA of Maharashtra, not that of M.P. has given consent to raise in the dam height and there is absolutely no case for permitting further construction. Madhya Pradesh has fraudulently presented consultation of the ‘Former’ GRA in the last meeting of the R&R Sub Group, while even as on date, there are hundreds of orders of the Former and Present GRA yet to be complied with and hundreds of pending complaints. PAFs from Gujarat also complained about the pending issues of land allotment in the original villages and R&R sites.

Towards the end of the discussion, the Secretary and the joint Secretary, Ms. Gazala Meenai had to admit that the process of assessing truth and asking states to give a factual report on the status of R&R is still underway and therefore, no final decision on raising the dam height bas been taken, as yet. The Secretary also expressed willingness to initiate a process of field verification in sample villages, to begin with, to assess the status of rehabilitation.

Narmada Oustees meet Jairam Ramesh: 

A delegation of oustees are to meet the Union Minister for Rural Development, Shri Jairam Ramesh, who had recently visited the submergence area in Madhya Pradesh and witnessed the scale of pending rehabilitation, irrigated areas proposed for canal excavation and illegal sand mining. Welcoming his statement there shall be ‘no more Sardar Sarovar’s in India’, we urge him and the UPA Govt. to take a position that the SSP should be halted at 122 mts a comprehensive review ensured. As a Minister who has looked into the Project in detail and has himself written to Mr. Narendra Modi on the environmental non-compliance, he must initiate this process, we insist.

We would also like to convey our anger with the M.P. Government which pressurized the MoRD to exclude progressive provisions of social impact assessment and at least 1 acre land in the command area only for oustees of irrigation projects, much against M.P’s own law, which promises the same, since 1985. Certain issues related to the new enactment on the role of Gram Sabhas was also raised with the Minister.

Struggle receives support from various quarters: Acclaimed writers, academicians, advocates and supporters including Arundhati Roy, Dr. Annie Raja, National president, NFIW, Prof, Manoranjan Mohanty, Delhi University, Dr. Prakash Jha, environmental expert, Ms. Sagari Chhabra and Sanjay Kak, prominent documentary film makers, Kumar Prashant of Gandhi Peace Foundation, Shri  Ravindra Gupta of the All India Railway Caterers Association and others visited the dharna site and expressed their solidarity with the struggle of the people in the valley, who are determined to  continue their struggle on every front, until all the issues are addressed.

The Narmada oustees challenging the illegal sand mining in the valley also expressed support to the struggles of Jazeera from Kerala, who has also been fighting the mining mafia in her home districts Kannur, and Kailash Meena from Rajasthan who is also struggling against the stone quarries. Both of them were felicitated at the dharna for their brave campaigns.                                                             

Devising                          Kamla Yadav                   Meera                    Kuwarsing             

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