Thursday, October 16, 2014

Well attended NBA-led rally of Narmada dam oustees in Bhopal demands: Return "illegally acquired land"

NBA-led rally in Bhopal
By Our Representative
The Narmada Bachao Andolan (NBA), which led a well-attended rally of Narmada dam oustees of Madhya Pradesh in Bhopal, has triggered a hornet’s nest: In a letter submitted to chief minister Shivraj Singh Chauhan demanding justice to outees of the Narmada dam, the NBA has sought his intervention to implement the crucial section 24 of the new land acquisition Act – Right to Fair Compensation and Transparency in Land Acquisition, Rehabilitation and Resettlement Act, 2013 – which says that any acquired land, if lying idle for five years, will be returned to the original owner.
Led by senior social activist Medha Patkar, the rally saw oustees declare, through NBA, that, as their land was not acquired five years prior to the date on which the law came into effect, January 1, they had “automatically become the rightful owners.” In its letter to the chief minister, however, NBA has not given any figures as to how many such oustees are there. The letter merely said, “Oustees are demanding their right. You cannot take away the ownership of their land and natural resources in the name of development.” It added, “You or the Centre cannot overlook the crucial law land acquisition law passed in Parliament.”
Contesting the Madhya Pradesh government claim that all oustees have been rehabilitated, NBA asked, “How could you allow the Narmada dam to be raised from 121.92 metres to 138.64 metres by sacrificing the rights of oustees of 193 villages?” It said, “Fake land records scam has been unearthed, and the Jha committee, appointed by the High Court, is inquiring into the matter. It is a scam worth Rs 1,000 crore. Facts suggest that thousands of oustees have neither received land nor any means of livelihood. How can the dam be allowed to be raised without the completion of the inquiry?”
Medha Patkar addressing rallyists
The letter said, apart from the landowning farmers, there are landless workers, fisherfolk, potters, others, who have lost their livelihood. They were merely offered Rs 40,000 to Rs 50,000 as compensation. “How could the government take away their livelihood and offer such pittance? Rehabilitation sites built by the government are not fit for living. In such a situation, how the villagers could be asked to vacate their villages and allow their land to go into submergence by raising the Narmada dam?”
Reiterating the demand for “a complete review of the entire Sardar Sarovar project” by stopping further raising of the dam, the letter wondered, “How is it that a project, for which the Gujarat government is ready to spend Rs 90,000 crore, does not have funds to properly rehabilitate the Narmada oustees? Why is it that even 30 years after the project began being implemented, only 30 per cent of the canal network has been constructed? While four lakh hectares (ha) land is being decommanded, why is it that merely 1.5 lakh ha is being irrigated out of 18 lakh ha proposed?”
Apart from Patkar, signatories to the letter include representatives from two dozen villages which NBA claims will be going into submergence.

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