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World Bank proved right, Narmada is already a destructive project: Medha Patkar

By Rajiv Shah 
Narmada Bachao Andolan leader Medha Patkar has said that the World Bank’s independent review mission, which brought out the Morse Commission report, has been proved right: The Sardar Sarovar dam has not only failed to live up to the loud promises made for irrigating large arid areas of Saurashtra and Kutch in Gujarat, those who were displaced and resettled in Gujarat are getting increasingly restive as many of them are unable to get the promised water for irrigation and some for drinking water too.
While 50,000 families have been resettled in three states and 20,000 have received land rights as land or cash, the authorities have not calculated what should be done with 15,000 families, whose houses are acquired for Sardar Sarovar but following changing backwater levels of the Sardar Sarovar dam, they are denied rehabilitation, Patkar tells Counterview in an interview (part1*):
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Q: What is the latest position in your view as far as the Sardar Sarovar dam is concerned? Has rehabilitation been completed? Has the dam become viable?
A: Out of 30 major and 135 medium dams, Sardar Sarovar is a mega dam which became controversial right up to the World Bank. The World Bank withdrew from this project’s funding because its independent review by the Morse Commission clearly said that it is a destructive project, and it can be completed only through unacceptable means. 
That’s exactly what has happened. We had brought out human rights, democratic rights and natural conservation-related violations. Today it is a fact of life that the displaced population initially shown in the Narmada Water Disputes Tribunal (NWDT) was based on what it heard from state actors for full 10 years – a lacuna in the Inter-State Water Dispute Act, 1959. 
We were not heard, the displaced people were not heard, their houses were not visited. The tribunal did not realise that real surveys and basic studies were not completed. When the World Bank appraised the dam to sanction its funding, it was based on huge list of projectised studies. It said, these studies would need to be completed for full implementation. 
When the clearance was given in 1987, it said that studies on rehabilitation, catchment area treatment, command area development, flora and fauna, impact on health and seismicity would be completed in the next two years, by 1989. 
A decade later, in his minority judgment of 2000, contradicting the two judges’ Supreme Court order, Justice Bharucha said that this project was not even planned, insisting on the appointment of an inter-disciplinary panel to study the impacts, and then decide whether the project should go ahead.
Q: But now review of the project is going to take place in 2024…
A: It is review of the Tribunal Award which is scheduled to take place in 2024. But what has happened over the last 24 years? First of all, because of the 36 year-long-struggle, rehabilitation with alternative land as per the tribunal-defined eligibility, has helped resettle 50,000 families in three states, of which have 20,000 families, including Adivasi, hill area and plain area families, have received land, while the rest have got monetary compensation, mainly in Madhya Pradesh. 
However, even today, the resettlement sites still have many inadequacies. Amenities have not been fully constructed. Besides, the rehabilitation with land or houses of 1,000 or more families is still pending.
Q: In which states?
A: In Madhya Pradesh, Maharashtra and Gujarat. In Gujarat, of course, there are fewer families which are yet to get land, though many find that their land is not cultivable and amenities have been fully provided. In Madhya Pradesh, there are hundreds of families who are yet to get Rs 60 lakh instead of land as per the Supreme Court judgment of 2017. Many of the women land holders’ rehabilitation is still pending. Some of the cases are pending in the Supreme Court and are not coming up for hearing. 
In Maharashtra, the process has gone ahead, yet, hundreds are yet to get land. A few days back we warned to the Nardurbar district collector that we would have to begin agitation if land is not allocated. Then there are potters, boatsmen, artisans and shopkeepers who existed in every village. They have not got land for livelihood or other benefits as per government policy.
Over and above this, a new issue has been added: assessment of backwater level of Narmada. Around 15,000 families of Madhya Pradesh have been displaced after their property has been acquired. Their houses are transferred in the name of the Narmada authority in Madhya Pradesh. They remain excluded from the benefit of rehabilitation since backwater levels were suddenly changed in 2010. 
Q: What is the position in Gujarat, in your view?
A: In Gujarat, most of those who were displaced were Adivasis. There were only 17 shopkeepers, all from the Bohra community. Apart from those who belonging to Gujarat, about 700-800 families from Maharashtra have been rehabilitated in Gujarat. From Madhya Pradesh, around 5,500 have been rehabilitated in Gujarat. 
In Gujarat, there are about 400 rehabilitation sites, which continue of have huge problems. In Akota site, in a recent meeting, people complained of lack of drinking water. They feel betrayed. Mobile dispensaries have been discontinued. The authorities gave money for housing and bullocks, but there has been no plan to provide alternative livelihood. 
At many places the land which the displaced families got is not irrigable. They need to make heavy investment on it. Those who sold this land to the oustees gave it away because agriculture on the land was unprofitable. 
The Gujarat government and the Grievance Redressal Authority (GRA) under two retired judges do nothing to help those who complain. GRA is found to hand over issues that come before it to the Sardar Sarovar Rehabilitation Agency, and the agency promises it would bring about about a solution within 70 days. But when nothing happens, people get tired. Many problems and grievances remain unresolved over years. 
Then, there is the issue of canal affected people, We struggled, did padyatra, only after this a Government Resolution (GR) was issued offering half hectare of land to each canal affected family. But the GR has not been implemented. Hardly anyone has got half hectare. The canal affected got cash compensation which was very meagre and couldn't compensate for real loss. 
As for the villages situated next to the canals, they are not allowed to lift water from the canals because of the fear that the canal would crack. The resettlement sites situated at the tail end of the canal network area are at a loss, as the original settlers nearer to the Narmada canal are more powerful compared to the resettled ones. They take away most of the water on the way depriving the oustees. There is violation of the Tribunal Award that stipulated rehabilitation in the command area of the Narmada dam, with irrigation. 
Q: So is Narmada dividing people?
A: Yes. It’s a conflict between the established and the displaced… But it is also true that whatever the resettled families have got, it is because of our struggle. Other project affected people have got nothing or very little, whether it was Panam, Hathmati, Mahi-Kadana or any other dam of Gujarat. But the full implementation of the NWDT award, and of the Supreme Court judgments of 2000, 2005 and 2017, has still not happened. Hence, we will have to continue our struggle. 
 Narmada canal in Kutch: not in use
Now there is new displacement. Sardar Patel has tears in his eyes: In the name of his statue, which has been installed at the cost of more than Rs 3,000 crore, tourism is being promoted. The six villages, which were the first to be affected by setting up of the Kevadia colony in 1961 for constructing the dam, were given compensation to tune of just Rs 200 for the destruction of their standing crop. 
Houses of 15,000 families of Madhya Pradesh have been acquired but are excluded from rehabilitation because of change in backwater levels
After a lot of struggle, Rs 35,000 – Rs 7,000 per acre for five acres – was announced. Except for five or six old people, nobody took that money. In 2013, a GR was put out to provide land against land to those who were affected by the initial displacement due to the project colony. But after Narendra Modi became Prime Minister in 2014, this was forgotten. 
The authorities want to develop tourism on Adivasi lands not just of these six villages but also 72 other villages in the surrounding areas. In Vaghodia, for instance, there is a plan to build a hotel. The land was taken in the name of Sardar Sarovar. Under the law, if the land is put to reuse for any other purpose, it should be reacquired under the 2013 land acquisition Act, which replaced the colonial 1894 law following our struggle from Narmada to Nandigram and due to an aware minister Jairam Ramesh. 
Under the 2013 law, any acquisition, whether it is for tourism, or for canal, Social Impact Assessment, Environment Impact Assessment and gram sabha consent are necessary. But this is not happening. They want to uproot Adivasi villages. It is an anti-Adivasi approach. The river, the jungle, the whole ecosystem were in the hands of Adivasis, who preserved these over generations, but  and are being snatched away now.
Q: Is there any fresh effort to reassess the rehabilitation process?
A: There is the 2019 Supreme Court, which says that four Chief Ministers' (Gujarat, Maharashtra, Madhya Pradesh and Rajasthan) Review Committee should expeditiously meeting to find out the status of rehabilitation, and whether the decision to fill up the water to the full reservoir level in the Sardar Sarovar dam was correct. For one year there was no meeting – till the fall of the Kamal Nath government in Madhya Pradesh. When the meeting took place, only Maharashtra Chief Minister Uddhav Thackeray put forward the correct position and challenged Gujarat as well as the Centre. 
Today, Madhya Pradesh is demanding Rs 8,000 crore, which includes Rs 7000 crore as reimbursement for what they have spent for the Sardar Sarovar project, and another Rs 1000 crore for the pending work. If the work is still pending, who gave the permission in 2014 to raise the dam, and in 2017 to close the dam’s gates? Wasn't that unlawful and unjust?
Q: What about the cost benefit? Has it come true? 
A: Maharashtra and Madhya Pradesh are not getting their share of the power produced at the dam’s hydro power units – 27% and 56% respectively. Now, Madhya Pradesh is demanding Rs 900 crore and Maharashtra about Rs 400 crore as compensation. If you had to exchange money only what was the point of having the dam and destruction on such a large scale? 
Q: What about Kutch and Saurashtra? Will they get water?
A: The dam was built in the name of providing water to the arid zones of Kutch and Saurashtra. Planning was for 18 lakh hectares. Former BJP chief minister Suresh Mehta’s article exposes it. Only one third of the beneficiary area of Gujarat, or a little more than that, is being irrigated. 
There is no minor canal network in Kutch even now. In Kutch the main branch takes water to Adani’s thermal power plant, not even to the Tatas’ thermal power plant. They are also giving water to other industries and some cities in Kutch. But what about the promise to irrigate Kutch land drinking water to all villages in that district? 
Modi said before the Supreme Court judges on November 26, the Constitution Day, that because of the agitation against Narmada, things could not move. It is the Supreme Court which stopped the work. It said that you cannot raise the height of the dam till rehabilitation and the environment compensatory measures are completed. 
Recently, a consultant was appointed to find out whether it is possible to have minor canal network in Kutch’s arid zone, whether it would not affect environment. It is a command area development issue. Clearly, what the World Bank's independent review commission said decades ago is proving to be correct. They only funded for up to one fifth of the canal network and the dam but later withdrew. Now canals are showing cracks, there is waterlogging, salination, seepage and breaches too...
Q: What about Saurashtra?
A: In Saurashtra, cities and industries are getting water. The tribunal allocated 1.6 million acre feet (MAF) out of the allocation to Gujarat, 9 MAF, to cities and industries. But this has gone up to 2-2.5 MAF. Experience suggests, centralised water management benefits industries and cities and not the real needy drought affected and drought prone areas. 
Instead of spending so much, if they had allocated money to each district, which is what Dinkar Dave said, there would have been decentralised water management. Even if you have only two inches of rainfall, there would be no drinking water crisis. We were told about this by a Central water resources secretary. But they didn’t do this, and instead kept promising that water would come from the far away Sardar Sarovar dam, spending thousands of crores, wasting years and decades.
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*This is the first part of the interview with Medha Patkar. Click here for the second part. Updated on May 12, 2022

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