Saturday, January 25, 2014

Opposition to weir on Narmada picks up: Green tribunal issues notice, villagers to stage protest on R-Day

A previous protest against weir
By Our Representative
The Sitter Gaam Adivasi Sanghathan (SGAS), an organization of 70 villages formed to oppose the proposed Garudeshwar weir being constructed 12 km downstream of the Narmada dam for promoting tourism, has decided to hold a protest rally on the Republic Day at Indravarna, one of the villages to be affected, saying, the rally will start immediately after flag-hoisting ceremony. In a statement, SGAS has said, the weir is being constructed in violation of the state environmental laws, and construction of the weir be immediately stopped.
Pointing out that various representations about the “illegality” of the weir have already been made, the statement said, on October 15, 2013, senior Cabinet ministers Anandiben Patel, Nitin Patel and Ganpat Vasava assured the villagers that a reasonable solution would be found. However, as nothing happened, on December 10, the villagers staged a protest, handing over a written representation. “Instead of answering questions in a calm and non-violent way, on January 3, at around 11 am contractors’ trucks brought in state reserve police (SRP) cops to put up tents in an effort to cow down frequent protests", it said. While the villagers, mainly women, ensured that the truckers did not unload the tents, and the SRP jawans had to leave, SGAS added, it has still not received reply to any of the issues raised in the letter sent to the district collector on December 22.
These were:
· More than 1,000 acres of land will submerge for several days in a year after the weir is constructed. It will damage the crop.
· There is a danger that some of affected villages will turn into an island on construction of the weir. There is no clarity on the matter.
· Land acquisition for the weir has been going on since 1994, and has continued at different stages. Now, even more acquisition will be carried out. What is the cut-off date for providing benefits to the affected families?
· Environmental permission for the construction of the weir has still not been taken, nor has any public hearing been held for it.
Meanwhile, the National Green Tribunal (NTG), the top quasi-judicial authority, has issued a notice to the Gujarat government and the Union ministry of environment and forests in response to a petition filed by senior environmentalist Rohit Prajapati, in association with other activists, demanding immediate stay on the construction of Garudeshwar weir, which they allege is being constructed without complying with the environmental protection Act, 1985, not to talk of going into formalities such as taking a nod of the Narmada Control Authority (NCA).
The petition, it is learnt, alleges that the weir would lead to the submergence of 11 villages -- Garudeshwar, Gabhana, Kevadia, Vagadia, Navagam, Limdi, Gora, Vasaantpura, Mota Piparia, Nana Piparia and Indravarna, directly or indirectly affecting 11,000 villagers. Sources close to the development say, the petition is based on the fact that the original Narmada Project got permission in 1987 but did not “concretely envisage” the weir, did not it include assessment of social or environmental impacts of the weir.
The sources added, there was some “random land acquisitions in 1991 in the submergence areas of the Garudeshwar weir” but “substantial acquisition” took place over the last one decade. In March 2012, the Sardar Sarovar Narmada Narmada Nigam Ltd (SSNNL), implementing the Narmada project, handed over contract of the weir to Ritwik Project Limited for Rs 299 crore and in September 2013 the work for the weir began.
The sources also pointed out that Shekhar Singh of the NCA has already written to the Union ministry of environment and forests that environmental and social impact of construction and operation of Garudeshwar weir did not have clearance of the environmental sub-group of the NCA. He warned against potential adverse effect on fisheries in the upstream and downstream areas, and also impact on biodiversity of the area.
Meanwhile, the government tried creating “confusion” as to whether the Garudeshwar weir was part of the Narmada Project or it was a separate project altogether. It said, the Narmada Project has a relief and rehabilitation package which is not applicable to the Garudeshwar dam affected villagers.
One of the activists told Counterview: “If they were part of the Narmada Project they would have been offered this package. When they protested, a high level committee meeting took place on October 10, 2013 of the Government of Gujarat which included various ministers from the cabinet and concerned bureaucrats and a new relief and rehabilitation policy was formulated for affected people of the Garudeshwar weir.”
The activist further said, “The Garudeshwar weir is part of the power component of Narmada Project in which Madhya Pradesh and Maharashtra share is 57 per cent and 27 per cent, respectively, both in cost and benefit. The implementation of the Garudeshwar weir cannot be taken up without express consent from these states. The two states have not agreed to the weir, and have refused to part with the cost of the share.”

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