|Narmada dam/reseroir: Waiting to be filled up|
Is the Madhya Pradesh government preparing to forcibly evict about 5,000 project affected families (PAFs) of the Narmada dam after July 31, the date said to have been fixed up the Supreme Court (SC) to "resettle" all the dam oustees by paying them a "hefty" cash compensation?
While Narmada Bachao Andolan (NBA) leader Medha Patkar says it “cannot do it”, the view has picked up among knowledgeable circles that this may well happen if the authorities follows the latest SC order.
Patkar told Counterview from Maharashtra’s Manibeli village, situated on the banks of Narmada upstream of the dam, “We don’t have the certified copy of the SC order yet, hence we can’t comment. But clearly, the very fact that the SC asked for paying Rs 60 lakh to each of the 581 PAFs a whopping Rs 60 lakh compensation is a victory.”
Referring to the SC ruling given by of the bench consisting of Chief Justice JS Khehar and Justices NV Ramana and DY Chandrachud, she insisted, “Such compensation has never been paid before to any dam oustees.”
Apart from Rs 60 lakh to these PAFs, who had refused to accept land against cash compensation of Rs 5.58 lakh for two acres of land, another 4,216 PAFs are to be paid Rs 15 lakh each to those who were forced to buy up whatever land was offered from the Rs 5.58 lakh compensation.
However, fear has gone strong among the supporters of Narmada oustees that the Madhya Pradesh government would take advantage of the SC judgment and “forcibly remove” all PAFs – 581 plus 4,216 – to ensure that the Gujarat government closes its chapter of completing the Narmada dam. Both Madhya Pradesh and Gujarat are BJP ruled.
While technically the dam is complete, built up to the full reservoir level (FRL) – 138.64 metres – the Gujarat government cannot fill it up beyond 121.92 metres till all the oustees’ resettlement is complete.
In fact, Gujarat awaits Government of India agency Narmada Control Authority (NCA) nod -- that all the Narmada dam oustees have been resettling in Madhya Pradesh and Maharashtra, so that it could close the 31 gates and take the waters up to FRL, necessary for taking irrigation waters to far away Kutch and Saurashtra regions.
Nandini Oza, formerly a senior NBA activist and currently an independent researcher on developmental issues, has quoted media reports to say that “judges asked the 4,897 families to vacate their land by July 31 this year, failing which the authorities will be free to "forcibly remove them".
Oza says, “It is very painful, as it not only violates the rehabilitation and resettlement (R&R) principles laid down by the Narmada Water Dispute Tribunal (NWDT) but also denies the Narmada oustees' rights to justice and dignity.”
In a Facebook post, she insists, “The NWDT has clearly stated that PAFs must have land-for-land as rehabilitation and not cash compensation. Further, it states that irrigable lands must be made available to the oustees and they have to be rehabilitated one year in advance of submergence. It also has laid down the principle of community resettlement and so on.”
Oza insists, “Any amount of cash as compensation therefore violates miserably and fundamentally the rehabilitation rules laid down by NWDT in case of the Narmada dam oustees.”
Meanwhile, a media report says, “The top court used extraordinary powers vested under the Constitution's Article 142 to bring the curtains down on the 38-year-old legal battle. The provision empowers the court to pass any order, decree or judgment for "complete justice" to litigants.”
While the Centre and the Madhya Pradesh government have been asked to pay 681 families Rs 60 lakh each and 4,216 others Rs 15 lakh each within two months, the report says, “The judges asked the 4,897 families to vacate their land by July 31 this year, failing which the authorities will be free to ‘forcibly remove them’.
An keen observer says, “The court said that the payments are in keeping with the Land Acquisition (Resettlement and Rehabilitation) Act, 2013, which entitles the landholder to four times the market value as compensation. The families concerned are supposed to get their due amount by July this year and vacate the place.”
“The order, however, goes against the promise of the Narmada Nigam to provide land for land. Cash compensation is a step backward. It now turns out that Gujarat, the beneficiary State, has been unable to provide land for the oustees, most of whom are from Madhya Pradesh.”