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Narmada oustees: Apex court tells Madhya Pradesh to file R&R status by Sept 30

By Our Representative
Supreme Court bench comprising of Justices NV Ramana, Sanjiv Khanna and Krishna Murari has directed the Madhya Pradesh government to file an affidavit on the status of the rehabilitation and resettlement (R&R) of Sardar Sarovar dam oustees by September 30. The bench fixed the next hearing for October 1. It said this following a plea by the state government counsel Kapil Sibbal for more time to file an affidavit on R&R status.
The bench was hearing a writ petition filed by oustees, supported by the Narmada Bachao Andolan (NBA), claiming that the dam was filled up to the full reservoir level (FRL), 138.68 metres, leading to the submergence of 176 villages, adversely impacting the life and livelihood of thousands of oustees, who had still not been rehabilitated as per the apex court order.
The direction followed senior counsel for the petitioner, Sanjay Parikh, pointing towards the gravity of submergence affecting human life and livelihood, and requested that, as R&R had not been completed, the rise in water levels was not in accordance with law, and therefore it should be brought down so that human sufferings were lessened.
Tushar Mehta, solicitor general, on the other hand, argued on behalf of the Government of India and the Narmada Control Authority (NCA) that water level in reservoir had been raised as per the procedure in the Narmada Water Disputes Tribunal (NWDT) Award.
The bench also drew attention of the solicitor general to the provision in the NWDT Award regarding a Review Committee meeting, suggested in the interim order, and observed that a decision should be taken in the meanwhile. The Review Committee comprises of the chief ministers of the four beneficiary states of the NWDT Award – Madhya Pradesh, Maharashtra, Gujarat and Rajasthan – as members, chaired by the Minister for Water Resources of the Union of India.
The hearing, which took place on September 26 on the writ petition under Article 32 of the Constitution, filed by the project affected families (PAFs) of Madhya Pradesh, who averred that the filling of the Sardar Sarovar reservoir was illegal and in violation of law, state policies and the judgements of the apex court.
The court heard arguments from the counsels of the states of Gujarat, Maharashtra and NCA, who rejected the plea for reducing the water level in the dam to 122 metres by keeping its gates open. According to them, NCA and its various subgroups for R&R and environment had granted all the requisite permissions for filling of the reservoir to FRL in 2017 itself.
The state of Gujarat contended that the Supreme Court order of February 8, 2017 had directed all the PAFs to vacate the villages by July 31, 2017 and that this should have been complied with.
The writ petition, on the other hand, submitted that R&R of thousands of families residing in 76 villages remains pending, as indicated in the letter by the Madhya Pradesh chief secretary dated May 27, 2019. The letter stated that about 3,000 applications by claimants were also pending for land entitlement or Rs 60 lakh package, granted by the Supreme Court in its 2017 order.
It also said that a number of tasks related to R&R remained pending, especially civic amenities as per NWDT Award and state policy, such as drinking water, roads, drainage and others, were not in place.

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