Thursday, September 19, 2013

Patkar regrets "concessions" in land acquisition bill, passed in Parliament, were in the name of Sardar Sarovar

Dam-induced submergence in Chikhalda village, MP
By Our Representative
Welcoming the recent statement by Union Minister of Rural Development Jairam Ramesh that there would be no more Sardar Sarovar like projects in India, Narmada Bachao Andolan (NBA) leader Medha Patkar has said that “the reasoning and the rationale that such gigantic projects lead to massive displacement of not just families, but whole communities, following forcible acquisition of generations-old land and properties is understandable and acceptable. Although delayed, it is definitely one that shows a realization of the reality of such large project and their impacts. Not only inter-state conflicts, but also other conflicts between the state and its citizens are reasons for review of such conflict-ridden projects”.
However, Parkar regrets, despite such a view, “it is unfortunate that in the name of Sardar Sarovar and other Narmada dams, the Chief Minister and officials of Madhya Pradesh, as Ramesh acknowledges, could ‘convince’ him to exempt irrigation projects from two of the significant provisions in the new Land Acquisition Bill, 2013. These include allotment of one acre land per family in the command area and the pre-condition of Social Impact Assessment before a project is sanctioned as a public purpose project”.
She further regrets, “It is equally unfortunate that the real reason behind Sardar Sarovar like Projects being non-feasible or impractical are not just social and ecological impacts, but also the incapacity, corruption and lack of political will of successive governments and their officials that have led to massive escalation in costs and minimal realization of even the projected benefits. This needs to be brought on record, since neither Sardar Sarovar nor the struggle has yet become a tale of the past, but continues till date, raising extremely critical questions for the entire development paradigm of this nation.”
Parkar says, “It is in the inter-state Sardar Sarovar Project where the people – adivasis, farmers, fish workers, potters, landless, artisans, shopkeepers etc. -- highlighted all issues including social and environmental impacts as well as unjustifiable costs, exaggerated benefits and unfair distribution of the same, including water allocation and sharing within Gujarat. An objective analysis of each of these aspects would lead to one and only one conclusion and that is: Even today SSP stands to be a perfect case for suspension of further dam work and reviewing the Project itself.”
In her estimate, “there continue to be 2,50,000 people residing in the submergence area in the three states of Madhya Pradesh, Maharashtra and Gujarat till date, fighting not just for their rights, but for the right kind of development. It is true that during the three decades of struggle, this is the only dam where 11,000 families have got land for land in Maharashtra and Gujarat and about 300 resettlement sites had to be established for the thousands of families in the three states. However, not less than 8,000 families remain to get alternative land which is their legal entitlement.” Commenting on Madhya Pradesh, she added, it has the largest of submergence, and it has been callously avoiding to provide cultivable land to displaced persons.”
Claiming that the NBA has been successful in exposing “a huge corruption scandal in the rehabilitation, worth about Rs. 1,000 crores”, Patkar wonders, “Not less than 3,000 fake registries in the name of land purchase and 8,000 fake documents claiming livelihood based rehabilitation of landless has meant wastage of crores of rupees from the state exchequer. Who are the culprits? The Report by the Judicial Commission of Inquiry, which has been investigating, for the past five years, as per Orders of the MP High Court will bring out the truth.”
Parkar further says, “Severe non-compliance on various environmental aspects such as command area development, catchment area treatment, impact on health and fisheries, downstream impacts, archeology, seismicity etc. has been reported by not one but many official committees including the latest Dr. Devendra Pandey Committee appointed by Ministry of Environment and Forests (MoEF). Ramesh as the then Environment Minister had himself written to Narendra Modi, Gujarat CM, on the various aspects of non-compliance. There are, to this day, millions of trees, hundreds of temples, mosques and other monuments, small and large of immense cultural significance in the submergence area. Can the State restore the generations old archeological remnants that lie underground in this oldest of the civilizations in the world?”
Parkar underlines, “While Gujarat, supported by Madhya Pradesh, ready to sacrifice its own people and villages has been justifying all destruction, in the garb of ‘development, one really has to look at the benefits front to see if all the displacement is actually serving any ‘public purpose’? The financial cost of the project itself has escalated from Rs. 4,200 crores (1983) presumed for economic appraisal to Rs. 6,488 croes (1988) approved by the Planning Commission to the peak of 70,000 crores in 2012. What is the benefit-cost ratio today needs to be looked at in utmost seriousness.”
She further says, “The dam with 1450 MW of firm as power generation capacity would generate only 415 MW firm power and the same would also go on reducing as and how the irrigation comes into being and takes water allocated for the same purpose. Maharashtra and Madhya Pradesh, however, are not entitled to even a drop of water from SSP, but only 27% and 56% of whatever power is generated at every level of the dam height respectively. While official data shows that power generation at SSP, commenced since 2004, Maharashtra and M.P. have not received the exact amount of the power they are entitled to.”
She asks, “Is it fair for a Project, built and pushed ahead in the name of needy farmers and villages of Kutch and Saurashtra to divert waters, on a large scale, to corporates, urban municipalities and cities in Gujarat? Is the decision of the Modi Government to exclude 4 lakh hecatres of land from the command area and reserve the same for corporates, SEZs, SIRs etc. a ‘farmer-friendly’ move or a fatal blow to the farmers in the state? How has the cost benefits ratio been affected by these changes is for anyone to imagine. Is the sacrifice of the Narmada valley necessary and justifiable for satisfying corporate greed and political vested interests, by changing the very plan of Sardar Sarovar?”

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