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Setback to raise Narmada dam? MP High Court asks govt to stop cash payment to oustees in lieu of land

By Our Representative
In an order which can adversely affect further construction of the Narmada dam, the Madhya Pradesh High Court has given its accent to the right to land-based rehabilitation of thousands of Sardar Sarovar Project affected families (PAFs), directing the Government of Madhya Pradesh (GoMP) and the Narmada Valley Development Authority (NVDA) to stop all cash payments in lieu of land entitlements. Recently, a high-level inter-state meeting in New Delhi cleared the proposal to raise the dam height to full reservoir level, 138.64 metres from the present 121.92 metres.
The matter is now at final stages of clearance of the Narmada Control Authority (NCA). The NCA's final decision depends on compliance reports to resettlement and rehabilitation of Narmada dam oustees in three states -- Gujarat, Madhya Pradesh and Maharashtra -- which it is supposed to examine to allow the dam construction to be taken forward. With the new order, the fear is, anti-dam activists may argue out that Madhya Pradesh rehabilitation has still not taken place in totality.
The MP High Court said, no cash payments would be acceptable till the SS Jha Judicial Commission, appointed by the High Court in 2008, scrutinized every single case in the framework of the Narmada Water Disputes Tribunal Award (NWDTA), as per the order of the Supreme Court. The order was passed by the bench of acting chief justice KK Lahoti and Justice Subhash Kakade in a petition filed by the anti-dam Narmada Bachao Andolan (NBA) and some oustees, challenging a new Scheme of GoMP/ NVDA of September 2010 that permits deposit of cash in lieu of land entitlements to 1,500 families.
The scheme, which NBA said was in "complete violation of the terms and conditions stipulated in the NWDTA, R&R Policy, Action Plan and various judgements of the Supreme Court, none of which permit encashment of rehabilitation entitlements", forced oustees to accept land from the Land Bank, which is mostly proved to be uncultivable or under encroachment. The scheme stipulates that in case the oustees refuse land, the second instalment (barely Rs 2.5 lakh) would be deposited in their bank accounts and their rehabilitation would be presumed to be complete.
"It may be noted that these 1,500 families were paid one half of the Special Rehabilitation Package (SRP) almost 5-8 years ago, but none could purchase five acres of land with that amount, the condition necessary for disbursal of the 2nd instalment, and hence were stranded. Ever since then, they have been demanding land allotment", a statement by National Alliance of People's Movements (NAPM) on the court order said.
The High Court noted that the award directed the government to only allocate "alternative land to the eligible oustees and not cash." It ordered the GoMP / NVDA "not to deposit any money in the bank under the new/ impugned scheme and no payment of cash in lieu of land can be made unless Justice Jha Commission scrutinizes each case in the context of the NWDTA and other legal bases and grants approval as per the interim order dated 11-05-2009 of the Supreme Court."
:The Supreme Court had ruled on May 11, 2009 that if at all there is any disbursement related to rehabilitation by cash or cheque, the same would be subject to scrutiny by the commission. "In violation of this order, the NVDA deposited cash (second installment of SRP), under the new scheme in the bank accounts of almost 400 PAFs, out of 1,500, by getting them to sign on preformatted affidavits, relinquishing the right to land once and for all and claiming that they would follow some other vocation, leaving agriculture", NAPM statement said.
Challenging these affidavits that are under the scanner of the Jha Commission, the NBA's counsel argued that Justice SP Khare, chairman, Grievance Redressal Authority had also directed that the GoMP / NVDA shall not accept any affidavit from oustees that compromises with the rights granted by the NWDTA. It was also pointed out that the new scheme has reactivated the nexus of middlemen and officials, who have "looted hundreds of PAFs in the fake registries scam. 
"These middlemen have been compelling the oustees, including adivasis, dalits and marginal farmers, to accept cash by giving thumb impressions or signatures on the pre-formatted affidavits and give up their entitlement for land", the statement further said, adding, "The court, after detailed hearing, observed that Justice Jha Commission is on the right path in scrutinizing all the cases of the PAFs where NVDA recommends cash disbursement in one form or the other and there should be no interference at this stage."

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