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Gujarat govt "undermines" fifth schedule while seeking to acquire tribal land for Garudeshwar weir

By Our Representative
The tribal body opposing the construction of Garudeshwar weir, about 12 kilometres downstream of Narmada dam, the Sitter Gaam Adivasi Sangathan (SGAS -- Tribal Organisation of Seventy Villages), has taken strong exception to the Gujarat government’s offer of a “rehabilitation package” to seven villages – Gora, Vasantpura, Nana Pilariya, Indravarna, Garudeshwar, Gabhana and Kevadia – which it has alleged will face unprecedented adverse impact of the Rs 400 crore project.
A communiqué issued by SGAS said that the offer -- made by the Narmada project’s state implementation agency, Sardar Sarovar Narmada Nigam Ltd (SSNNL), and sent to the village panchayats of each of the affected villages -- is “not acceptable” to the affected people.
In fact, it added, the Garudeshwar weir is being implemented without taking into account the fact that such projects require the approval from the gram sabhas of each of the affected villages, as required by the Panchayat (Extension of Scheduled Areas) Act, 1986.
The SGAS said, what is equally appalling is that the Gujarat government is continuing to construct the weir without proper environmental clearance. “There has been no environmental public hearing for the project”, the tribal body stressed, adding, “This is enough to suggest the weir’s construction is illegal.”
Significantly, a senior Narmada Control Authority (NCA) official has told senior government officials in Delhi that the Garudeshwar weir is being allowed to be built without any Environmental Impact Assessment (EIA) report and its assessment by the local people.
The SGAS communiqué said, while the rehabilitation package mentions October 30, 2013 as the date on which it was sent to the affected villages’ panchayats, in actual fact, the panchayats received a formal note only in the second week of December 2013.
It added, “If the government believes that it will succeed on superimposing the package on tribals, then it is sadly mistaken. It has failed to take into account our major demands put forward before a ministerial team led by senior Cabinet minister Anandiben Patel on October 15, 2013 in Gandhinagar Sachivalaya.”
Referring to the SSNNL’s package, the communiqué said, “More than 1,000 acres of land will be submerged because of the Garudeshwar weir, yet there is no mention in the package as to for how many days in a year this will happen, and if people will get compensated because of the destruction of standing crop if the submergence is temporary.”
It wondered, “There is apprehension that several of the villages will turn into small islands within the river body during the submergence period. Would people have to live on these little islands?” Referring to possibilities of land acquisition for the weir, the communiqué said, one of its main aims being is to convert the whole area ranging from the Narmada dam to the weir into a huge 12-km-long reservoir catering to tourism an integral part.
It added, “There is no clarity on how much of compensation would be paid to those who, in government view, will become displaced because of the weir. It would seem that there would be separate packages for different sections of affected population. If this is true, it is unfair.”
The communiqué further said, “The government has identified merely 105 tribal farmers as project affected persons, though there is no survey yet on the number of persons who might get displaced. Nor is there any clarity on how many farmers would lose only agricultural land, how many would lose homesteads, and how many both. Nor it is clear how much land would tribal farmers get as compensation.”
And, finally, according to the communiqué, the official note on the package sent to the panchayats has said that the affected tribal farmers would be entitled to get advantage of the rehabilitation package “only after they hand over the land to the SSNNL.” Calling this “grossly uinjust”, the communiqué added, “How can you ask the tribal farmers to forfeit their main source of livelihood, land, as a precondition for offering the package? This is nothing short of issuing a threat.”

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