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Decision in favour of increasing the height of Sardar Sarovar Dam a 'disaster'
The situation in the Narmada valley is once again very grave. The Narmada Control Authority may be meeting in a day or two to take a decision whether or not to raise the height of the Sardar Sarovar dam. Pertinently, the construction work on the dam has remained suspended since 2006 when its height was raised to 122 metres.

Thousands of people – about 40,000 families reportedly still live in the reservoir area, out of whom, according to human rights activists, only 11, 000 families have received land-for-land in Gujarat and Maharashtra till date.

Yet, tens of thousands of families, including hundreds of tribal families, still await land-based rehabilitation, especially in the state of Madhya Pradesh, besides Maharashtra and Gujarat. According to the judgments of the Supreme Court of India, they are required to get land-for-land. There are thousands of families who are still waiting to get land and house plots, at developed rehabilitation sites, as the law mandates. The landless families were to be ensured alternative livelihood. Shockingly, this has not happened either.

At the same time, the rehabilitation process has been plagued by monumental corruption worth crores of rupees. In Madhya Pradesh, Justice Shravan Shankar Jha has been chairing the Judicial Commission set up by the High Court of the state, to investigate the corruption charges in almost every area of rehabilitation. This Commission has been working relentlessly for the past four years.

The High Court has ordered that the rehabilitation of thousands of adivasis (tribal families) and farmers cannot be said to be complete without the permission of the Justice Jha Commission, nor until Madhya Pradesh and Maharashtra provide cultivable, irrigated land along with house plots and other amenities at rehabilitation sites.

Also the fisher folk must be given the right to fish in their reservoirs, and their co-operative societies must be recognised and registered by the state. Unfortunately, the corruption has reached disproportionate levels but rehabilitation process has moved no way further. The report in this regard is due to be released in October later this year, and then the people caught in rehabilitation fraud must also be given their due as per the legal provisions.

On the other hand, the environmental compliance is also seriously lacking. The Dr. Pandey Committee, set up by the Ministry of Environment & Forests, clearly states this, and recommends that the dam construction should not go ahead until environmental compliance is completed. Far from accepting the 17 metre high gates on top of the dam’s current height of 122 metres, the Committee didn’t even allow poles to be put on top on the dam because they could raise the height of the reservoir by 1.5 metres – and any water height increase would be totally unacceptable.

In addition, the Rehabilitation Sub-group of the Narmada Control Authority (NCA) denied permission in 2012 to raise the dam height. In August and September last year, 1500 acres of farm land and a few hundred houses and shops in the thickly populated plain areas of Nimad were submerged. Similar situation was also reported from the hilly adivasi villages, both in MP and Maharashtra.

Yet, according to informed sources the Narmada Control Authority may take a decision in the next few days, which will drown not just the legal and human rights but the lives of 40,000 families of adivasis, farmers, farm labourers, workers, fisherfolk, potters, etc., in hundreds of villages, which will submerge productive agricultural lands, hundreds of thousands of trees, scores of temples, mosques and cultural sites.

The Narmada Bachav Andolan activists Medha Patkar, Kamala Yadav, Kailash Awasya and Noorji Padvi lamented that this is the unholy alliance of the states of Gujarat and Madhya Pradesh. Maharashtra has often supported the communities of the Narmada Valley. Yet at other times, it has sacrificed them. Justice Brahme and Justice Sathe, Chair of the Grievance Redressal Authority in Maharashtra have clearly stated that a large part of the rehabilitation work is still left pending and permission to raise the dam height cannot be given.

They deplored that politics is holding justice hostage. The law, policies and Court judgements are being flouted openly, while hundreds of thousands of people are being threatened with submergence. In this capitalist and marketised world, injustice is rife, they said.

Several social activists from all over the country urged the Government of India to stop the Narmada Control Authority from taking this dangerous decision. They are sending appeals in this regard to the Minister of Water Resources, Mr. Harish Rawat, and the Minister of Social Justice, Kumari Selja. They are also writing to the Chief Minister of Maharashtra and Rehabilitation Minister asking them not to violate the legal mandate of the ‘Rehabilitation before Dam’.

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