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Special apex court bench hears petition against Central decision on Narmada dam; next hearing on Jan 9

Medha Patkar
By Our Representative
In an important development, the newly-constituted social justice bench of the Supreme Court has heard the powerful anti-dam body, Narmada Bachao Andolan (NBA’s) petition challenging the decision of the Narmada Control Authority (NCA) in June 2014 to raise the height of the Sardar Sarovar dam by 17 metres. NBA leader Medha Patkar, calling the NCA decision “unlawful”, in a statement said the constitution of the special social justice bench was a welcome move, adding, “2.5 lakh Narmada dam oustees await justice and guarantee of no submergence without lawful rehabilitation.”
After hearing the petition, the bench called for brief submissions to be made by December 25 by the NBA, the Union Government through the NCA, and state governments of Madhya Pradesh, Maharashtra and Gujarat. This would be followed by the next hearing on January 9, 2015.”
The special social justice bench has been constituted by the Chief Justice of the Supreme Court of India, and this was the first case it heard by a bench presided by Justice MB Lokur and Justice U Lalit. A Supreme Court notice on the constitution of the Bench said, “In order to ensure that social justice, one of the ideals of the Indian Constitution, is realized and these cases are given a specialized approach for early disposal so that the masses will realize the fruits of the rights provided to them by the constitutional text”.
An NBA statement said, “NBA's petition has challenged the unjust submergence faced by the 45,000 families in the Narmada valley – plains and hilly villages of Madhya Pradesh, Maharashtra and Gujarat – due to increase in dam height. NBA in its submission prayed that till today the rehabilitation of thousands of adivasis, farmers, fish workers, landless families is pending, and a massive Rs 1,000 crore corruption scam is under judicial inquiry in Madhya Pradesh.”
The statement further said, “Numerous orders of the Grievance Redressal (GRAs) un-implemented in hundreds of cases, still the NCA has permitted a further raise in the dam height, by installation of piers, overhead bridge and 17 metres high gates.” It quoted from the submission to say that “the decision has been taken on a completely false and arbitrary ground that there would be no additional submergence!”
The statement pointed out, “In the past years, thousands of oustees have already faced the severe impacts of submergence by water releases from upstream dams, flooding of thousands of acres of farm lands, hundreds of houses, fishing nets etc. Further dam work is bound to increase submergence of the thickly populated villages with prime agriculture, horticulture, shops, markets, schools, dispensaries panchayats, temples, mosques, ghats etc.”
The NBA statement quoted former Prime Minister Manmohan Singh as assuring the Supreme Court in July 2006 that the dam work would not be pushed ahead, without rehabilitation. “In the past eight years, the dam work was stopped and all matters are before the Courts, GRA and Commission of Inquiry, without whose permission further construction cannot take place”, it said.
“However”, it said, “Ignoring the Narmada Tribunal Award, Rehabilitation Polices, Action Plans and Judgements of the Supreme Court of 1991, 2000, 2002 and 2005, the National Democratic Alliance (NDA) government has taken the present decision to complete the dam, by construction upto final height of 138.68 metres.”
Claimed the statement, “The special bench heard the matter and appreciated the detailed submissions by senior counsel Sanjay Parikh and Medha Patkar, petitioner in person on behalf of project oustees, represented by the NBA. The petitioners argued that the case not only involved the life of lakhs of people but also grave questions of law, social and constitutional justice are involved and had implications for the right to life as well.”

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