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Narmada dam oustees "marginalised, pauperised"; gram sabhas "not consulted" before acquiring their land

Tribal village off Narmada river
By Our Representative
A high level panel of the Government of India, set up to take a stock of the socio-economic status of the tribals in the country, has strongly taken exception to “pauperisation” of oustees affected by the Narmada dam. Pointing out that there was complete failure to provide oustees “alternative land and sustainable livelihood”, leading to their “pauperisation”, the panel, which submitted its report in mid-2014, talks of “examples of tardy implementation, unfulfilled promises and violation of laws and rules by the very machinery expected to protect the interest of marginalised displaced tribals.”
Pointing towards “lack of managerial capacity in the state to implement resettlement and rehabilitation (R&R)” of the oustees, and “incapability to plan imaginative rehabilitation plans”, the report – submitted to the Ministry of Tribal Affairs but still not made public – says that on the whole it “reflects the lack of commitment on the part of R&R machinery, which did not recognise the fact that rehabilitation is a continuous process, and after taking possession of acquired land, they left the tribal diplaced persons to fend for themselves.”
Prepared by a committee under the chairmanship of Prof Virginius Xaxa, well known tribal expert with the Tata Institute of Social Sciences' Guwahati campus, the report, quoting research studies, says that “this dispossession is accompanied with environmental degradation, which is a basic additional factor causing impoverishment”. It particularly takes strong exception to the “displacement caused by the Narmada dam in Madhya Pradesh”, pointing towards how oustees were affected after the “dam height was raised to 119 metres by June 2006.”
Citing a research study, the Xaxa committee says, “Out of a total of 245 villages in the submergence zone, 193 villages are in Madhya Pradesh, 33 in Maharashtra and 19 in Gujarat. The study emphasises that India is a signatory to ILO Conventions 107 and 169 on the rights of indigenous and tribal peoples. Article 16 of ILO 169 states: 'Where the relocation of these peoples is considered necessary as an exceptional measure, such relocation shall take place only with their free and informed consent'.”
It further quotes the study to say, “Where a return to the traditional lands is not possible in the future, governments must provide 'lands of quality and legal status at least equal to that of the lands previously occupied by them'.”
However, it regrets, the field study found that “Gram Sabhas had not been formally consulted before notifications under the land acquisition Act (LAA), 1894, were issued; few attempts were made to inform the largely illiterate tribal populations about their rights as stated in the Narmada Water Disputes Tribunal (NWDT) Award; and the option of ‘land for land’ within Madhya Pradesh was never formally communicated to the Gram Sabhas.”
The report says, “The survey based on 20 R&R sites indicated that only 344 families were actually living in the R&R sites prepared for them. The survey found almost all the sites to be 'very poor'. The government apparently bought 1636.9 hectares of mainly black cotton soil for 86 R&R sites, most of which are totally unsuitable for building houses.”
Even as recommending that “all the adult sons, unmarried adult daughters, widows, divorcees and abandoned wives be treated as separate project affected persons (PAPs)”, the report states, “The study found that most Gram Sabhas in the 171 villages had held meetings and written letters to the Madhya Pradesh government, but received no response.Only when writ petitions were filed in the Supreme Court for villages like Picchodi and Jalsindhi, were judgments made in their favour.”
Coming to R&R in Gujarat of those affected due to the Narmada Project, the report talks of “defective R&R programme and policies” because the state machinery implemented R&R depends through the bureaucracy, which “has prejudices and biases against tribal people” and lack “understanding of their society.”
It adds, the findings about Gujarat were that “there was no consultation with displaced and project affected people, lack of communication, cultural differences were disregarded, faulty land – compensation procedures that did not take into consideration rights of tribal PAPs and added to this fraud and corruption.”
Citing the study, the report also notes “cases of coercion and human rights violations, where people were forced to leave and stay at resettlement locations. False promises were made but once the tribal people shifted, Government officials avoided them and there was absence of a system to address grievances and complaints.”

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