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Open court verdict in Narmada valley: How can submergence decrease when dam height increases?

By Our Representative
In a major fillip to the Narmada Bachao Andolan's (NBA's) campaign against the Gujarat government going ahead with raising the height of the Narmada dam from 122 to 139 metres, a high-profile people's tribunal consisting of four retired justices of various high courts have called upon the Supreme Court and the Government of India to “urgently review” the status of displacement, submergence and rehabilitation of the Narmada dam oustees before allowing the dam construction to continue.
Following a hearing organized by prominent citizens at Rajghat in Badwani town in Madhya Pradesh, in their “interim verdict”, pronounced in before about 10,000 oustees of the Narmada dam, the panel of four retired judges declared that there were “gross violations” of the Narmada Water Disputes Tribunal Award and judgments of the Supreme Court in allowing the dam construction to continue.
Those who organized the hearing included Justice Rajinder Sacher (retired Chief Justice, Delhi High Court]; Syeda Hameed (former member, Planning Commission); Sagar Sarhadi (senior film maker), Prof Anil Sadgopal (eminent educationalist), Ramdas Bhatkal (founder, Popular Prakashan, Mumbai and litterateur) and Anand Patwardhan (acclaimed film maker).

Speaking at the proceedings of the people's tribunal, retires justices PC Jain (Rajasthan High Court), Nag Mohan Das (Karnataka High Court), VD Gyani (Madhya Pradesh High Court) and NK Mody (Madhya Pradesh High Court) said they were “gravely concerned” over the displacement of about 2.5 lakh people due to the completion of the dam.
Calling it a “violation of the constitutional right to life, destruction of livelihood, and wiping out of an entire culture and civilization”, the four ex-judge penal said, “The dam work and installation of gates should not proceed in the present circumstances of clear evidence of multiple violations”, adding, “The authorities have miserably failed to comply with the provisions of the award and the apex court orders and have committed serious dereliction of legal obligations.”
Reading out the operative part of their preliminary verdict, Justice Jain said, “The official claims of no additional submergence due to the current dam work is clearly unlawful and also unbelievable, since when the dam is being completed with the same original height, there is no reason why the submergence area would not increase.”
Basing its observation on the testimony of about 35 oustees, the panel said, “The Judgement of the Supreme Court dated 18/10/2000 and 15/3/2005 as well as several orders of the Grievance Redressal Authorities (GRAs). Justice Jain added, the government must await the report of Justice Jha Commission of Inquiry into Corruption in resettlement and rehabilitation (R&R) before any further work is undertaken.
The justices urged the Social Justice Bench of the Supreme Court to review its decisions and hearings in the light of the “overwhelming evidence” of legal violations and well as the “obviously flawed full rehabilitation” reports of the project authorities.
Those gave their testimonies included representatives of the adivasis from the hilly and plain areas, farmers who have been entangled in the fake registries scam, landless oustees, fish workers, potters, boatmen, small traders etc from Madhya Pradesh, Maharashtra and Gujarat.
Speaking on the occasion, NBA leader Medha Patkar said there were “massive violations of the rights of the gram sabhas in the constitutionally protected scheduled adivasi areas”, adding, there was an urgent need to review the “inhuman pauperization of 2.5 lakh people for the benefits of corporates...” Others who spoke on the occasion included members of an earlier fact finding team – Soumya Dutta, Hannan Mollah, Annie Raja, Dr Sunilam, Raj Kchroo and Benoy Vishwam.
Senior officials of the Central and State governments of the three states, including the chairperson of the Narmada Control Authority, resettlement and rehablitation sub-groups and grievances redressal authorities of the three states, as also those who are implementing the Sardar Sarovar Project in Gujarat and Madhya Pradesh, were invited, but they did not turn up.

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