Narmada's real culprits
- Posted by: "karmayog - tanya"
Narmada's real culprits
Mega development projects have become monuments to mismanagement, corruption
Medha Patkar : Thu Nov 01 2012, 23:15 hrs
A report by Milind Ghatwai, 'The means to block or release a dam' (IE,
September 19), commenting on not just the latest Jal Satyagraha in the
Narmada Valley, but the overall costs and benefits of large dams on the
Narmada River and the Narmada Bachao Andolan, has compelled me to respond.
The lack of updated information and accurate data on the Narmada projects as
well as the impact of the people's movement has led the author to conclude,
without figures or detailed analysis, that while the struggle has achieved a
good deal for the dam-affected, it has also cost much in terms of deferred
benefits. The author, not so new to the NBA and Narmada, should look into
the chronology of big dam projects like Sardar Sarovar, Indira Sagar and
Omkareshwar to learn how decades were lost in interstate conflicts over
Narmada Valley development projects.
The Sardar Sarovar project (SSP) was stalled during the decade-long tribunal
proceedings from 1969-79 and so were other projects not permitted by the
ministry of environment and forests, the official sanctioning agency.
Rightly so, due to the enormous and irreversible social and environmental
costs. Massive displacement, along with the permanent loss of natural
resources and damage to the ecosystem, would require compensatory and
Does the author suggest that projects can go on without full compliance on
these, damaging the catchment, shrinking the river itself and thereby
reducing benefits? Should the projects not protect the command area to be
irrigated from waterlogging and salinisation? If so, then taking a position
that, without legal and fair compensation, no project work should continue
so as to avoid irreparable loss to either people or nature has only helped
gain development benefits, but with justice and sustainability.
Let the author also review his far-from-perfect statistics. The Indira Sagar
dam is to destroy, through submergence, more than 93,000 hectares (ha),
including prime agricultural land and forests, and a few more thousand
hectares through canal excavation, only to achieve irrigation for 1.23 lakh
ha of cultivable land. Is this justifiable? The Supreme Court's ruling
against raising the dam height for the SSP in 2000, or not filling of water
beyond a court-approved level in Omkareshwar or Indira Sagar, is not the
Andolan's whimsical or irrational diktat, but the outcome of serious
violations of the law.
The author seems not to have studied either the Narmada Water Dispute
Tribunal Award (the law stipulating no submergence without prior and full
rehabilitation), or the Madhya Pradesh government's rehabilitation policy
(shared by three other states in Sardar Sarovar), the conditional clearances
granted by the ministry of environment and the Planning Commission, or even
the SC's judgments in the case of each of these dams. The author's statement
that the NBA has lost several court battles, including one in 2000 against
the SSP, is without full knowledge of the conditions in that judgment.
The revision of the SC's remarks against the NBA in its judgment of May 2011
also appears to not be known to the author, since certain remarks (in the
case of Omkareshwar) have already been expunged. If we were to charge the
Narmada authorities for perjury, we could have done so several times when
they submitted false figures and made baseless claims, for instance,
claiming the number of families to be rehabilitated in MP, Maharashtra and
Gujarat as "zero", while two lakh people continue to reside in the
The crux of the remarks by the author are related to the benefits lost. Let
us be sued again and we will expose the reality. In case of the SSP, it is
the Gujarat government that has failed to build the canal network over the
last 30 years. In violation of the original plan, the diversion of water to
corporations and cities is at the cost of irrigation and drinking water
supply for the rural and needy areas. The oustees have the legal and human
right to rehabilitation prior to dam or canal-building.
No point blaming the people's movement Mr Ghatwai! Blame the nexus of the
contractor-politician-bureaucrat. Having quoted leaders like Shivraj Singh
Chouhan, the article doesn't analyse those statements. If anyone looks into
the seriousness of problems a dam like the SSP creates, one would question
the denying of land to the thousands dispossessed by it.
The state pointing to the non-availability of land is unacceptable. First,
MP, like other states, is locating and diverting agricultural land to
corporations, religious trusts and other private entities. Second, the
government never admitted to the shortage and claimed on oath in court that
land was available and would be purchased. Third, the present land allotted
being rocky, with houses standing on it, is cheating, illegal and inhuman.
Yet, it is only the struggle by the people, supported by the activists who
have become a part of their life, which has led to land-based rehabilitation
and part compliance on environmental protective measures. But much still
remains to be done. Official ministries, agencies and committees deny
permission to proceed further. Such decisions or court directives are not
anti-development; rather they are inevitable to ensure true development and
prevent human tragedy and destruction.
Crucially, however, it is not just the SSP that is suffering from the
malaise mentioned above. Many other dams in the country are also not
delivering on benefits, not following environmental norms and displacing
people while becoming mired in scams. The irrigation scam is still unfolding
in Maharashtra and the damage to the exchequer is being done by the
neta-babu-builder nexus, not by people's movements, who are acting as a
much-needed pressure group and exposing the flaws in our planning and
governance process. These mega projects have become monuments to
mismanagement, corruption and injustice. It is time we asked who the culprit
The writer is leader of the Narmada Bachao Andolan