Out The Truth
By Kuldip Nayar
The point at issue is not
the existence of the Narmada Dam but the Modi Government's propaganda,
on resettling the people who have been uprooted.
A GLOSSY, expensive pamphlet
containing a speech by the Gujarat Chief Minister, Narendra Modi, has
landed on my table. This is through the courtesy of the State Information
Department. My first reaction was why should the Government indulge
in this type of wasteful expenditure when it is yet to rehabilitate
thousands who have been uprooted following natural calamities in the
State such as drought and earthquake, and last year's man-made carnage.
I was curious to read Mr.
Modi's observation that "the timely cooperation among the States"
overcame the delay on the Narmada river project. The two States he has
referred to are Madhya Pradesh and Maharashtra. In fact, they have done
more harm than Gujarat. After taking the stand that the dam would not
go above a particular height, they surrendered to the pressure of Mr.
Modi and that of the Prime Minister's Office. The Gujarat Narmada Award,
endorsed by the Supreme Court, said clearly that rehabilitation, including
the allotment of land and house-sites, should take place six months
before submergence. It also said that the oustees should be rehabilitated
as soon as they are uprooted.
But what is being done by
the Modi Government amounts to contempt of court. And this is not the
first instance by any means. There is no land available in the three
States where the reservoir of the Narmada dam is still devouring the
land of thousands of `adivasis'. Many are awaiting rehabilitation. Gujarat
has no land to give. Under the award, if Maharashtra and Madhya Pradesh
cannot find the land, Gujarat has to do it. I recall that the members
of the People's Union for Civil Liberty (PUCL) at Ahmedabad had assured
us some years ago that they would raise their standard of protest if
the Gujarat Government did not fulfil its obligation of giving land
for land. But I have not heard their voice of protest.
No legal opinion has to be
sought to infer that more people should not be disturbed until there
is land to rehabilitate them. Over 40,000 peasants are at present in
the reservoir area. They must get land before the monsoon sets in. But
there is nothing on the ground to indicate that the Government has got
the land, that the homes or primary schools are ready to transfer even
a fraction of the 40,000 before the rains.
For some time, the Madhya
Pradesh Chief Minister, Digvijay Singh, did not give in on the height
of the dam, realising that the more land was submerged, wider would
be the devastation in terms of ploughed land, houses and the like. But
on political considerations, he finally gave in. The danger is that
the Modi Government, on the one hand, and the Centre, on the other,
are pressuring Maharashtra and Madhya Pradesh to agree to the increase
in the height of the dam. It would be a disaster. Lakhs of people would
Maharashtra has openly gone
back on its earlier assurance that it will give cost compensation, not
land. The award stipulates land for land. The cash compensation is too
little for buying land. Ready cash tempts the poor to buy consumer goods,
which they otherwise have no money to purchase. Land, good or bad, does
help them earn a living.
The Gujarat Government's
claims on rehabilitation are false. Figures have been cooked up. What
the Supreme Court and the Tribunal had wanted the State to do has been
covered up by rhetoric. Sensitive Gujaratis are conscious that the promises
made to them have not been kept. But they are afraid to speak out lest
they should be dubbed "anti-dam crowd." An independent study
has been conducted to verify the facts. The Housing and Land Rights
Network of the Habitat International Coalition (HIC) dispatched a fact-finding
team to the Narmada Valley to investigate the effects of the 2002 monsoon
and to assess the status of rehabilitation of the people affected by
the Valley projects. The HIC is an international movement of organisations
and individuals working in the area of human settlement. The team visited
affected villages and rehabilitation sites and met officers of the Grievance
Redress Authority (GRA) and the Narmada Valley Development Authority
(NVDA) in Madhya Pradesh and Gujarat, and the activists of the Narmada
Bachao Andolan. It found that the submergence due to the 2002 monsoons
and raising of the dam's height in May 2002 have destroyed the crops
and homes in the villages affected by the Sardar Sarovar Project (SSP)
in Maharashtra and Madhya Pradesh, rendering some villagers homeless.
The people there face a severe food and drinking water shortage.
The rehabilitation sites
that the team visited are not fit for habitation. At the Gahelgaon and
Gopalpura sites, Dhar District (Madhya Pradesh), there were some rocky,
uneven plots for housing and the villagers said that they had rejected
the resettlement sites as unsuitable, in part because there was no provision
for agricultural land or alternative livelihood. These unprepared sites
are designated for persons affected at the current dam height of 95
metres. The residents of Chikhalda, also in Dhar district, affected
by the height of the dam, have not been resettled at all. The rehabilitation
site chosen for the people of Chikhalda was itself subject to submergence.
The Action Taken Report of Madhya Pradesh showed them erroneously as
The chairman of the Madhya
Pradesh GRA admitted that he had no infrastructure to verify the NVDA's
claims. This has serious implications for the functioning of the GRA.
The affected told the HIC-HLRN fact-finders that the NVDA official against
whom they had complained for falsely including families in the list
of rehabilitated was himself sent to investigate the matter. The GRA's
independence becomes even more crucial as the Supreme Court has expressed
the view that its function obviates the need for the court to interfere.
The affected people in the Alirajpur tehsil, Jhabua district in Madhya
Pradesh, who are predominantly tribal, told the team that though they
had been cultivating the land for generations, their names did not figure
in the land records and now their lands are going to be submerged with
no entitlement to any compensation.
The building of the Narmada
Dam is an old hat. Whether there were better ways to harness the water
so that fewer people would be affected has been a topic of discussion
for years. However, human rights activists went to the Supreme Court
on that count and the court fixed the height of the dam at 95 metres.
The point at issue is not the existence of the dam but the Modi Government's
propaganda, on resettling the people who have been uprooted.
It is strange that New Delhi
should talk about interlinking rivers when the fallout of the Narmada
dam is strewn all over Gujarat, Maharashtra and Madhya Pradesh. Thousands
of people remain unsettled and unhappy. Imagine the plight when lakhs
of them will face new environments, new places and new ways of living.
A background paper prepared
on the subject envisages the constitution of storage reservoirs on the
principal tributaries of the Ganga and the Brahmaputra in India, Nepal
and Bhutan, along with interlinking canal systems to transfer surplus
flows of the eastern tributaries of the Ganga to the west, apart from
linking of the main Brahmaputra and its tributaries with the Ganga and
the Ganga with Mahanadi. What it really involves has not yet been spelled
But take the Brahmaputra
project, which has undergone a thorough examination. The Government
of India enacted a law in 1981 to assess whether it was possible to
transfer the surplus Brahmaputra waters to the Ganga. The plan prepared
talked of creating large storage reservoirs to collect water of the
major tributaries of the Brahmaputra. So stupendous was the work that
it is more than two decades since the project has been lying with the
Centre for consideration.