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A crime that goes unpunished for 25 years
By Devinder Sharma

Ignored and forgotten by successive governments, over 200,000 Narmada Dam oustees have been waiting for a rehabilitation package for almost a quarter of a century.

For 25 years now, they have struggled to get justice. In a peaceful and democratic manner, over 200,000 people displaced from the rising waters of the Narmada dams, have waited endlessly for a rehabilitation package, which is their legitimate right. But, justice has been denied to them.

On July 24, about 200 displaced people were present in the Gandhi Bhawan, in the heart of Bhopal city, to listen to the conclusions and recommendations of the three-member Independent People's Tribunal on displacements in the Narmada valley. The People's Tribunal was chaired by Justice (Retd.) A P Shah, former chief justice of the Delhi and Madras High Courts, and I had the privilege and honour of being part of the panel. We had travelled through some of the affected areas in the Narmada valley in the first week of the June, and then spent some days putting it all together in the form of this report.

Twenty five years after the work for a series of dams on the mighty Narmada began, the displaced people, a majority of them being adivasis, have been treated worse than cattle by successive governments. Looking at their plight, and their lost years, and knowing that they will continue to be deprived of justice, I wonder why these people have not picked up arms? At a time when the UPA government is asking the naxalites in neighbouring Chhatisgarh State to give up arms and come to the negotiating table, I fail to understand why the government is not talking to those who never picked up the gun?

I bow my head before these poor and hapless tribals for teaching us the true meaning of ahimsa. And yet, the nation has failed them. Every political party is responsible for this crime, a crime against humanity. Every bureaucrat who has been posted with the Narmada Valley Development Authority (NVDA), Narmada Control Authority (NCA) and the Grievance Redressal Authority (GRA) is guilty. Ministry for Environment & Forests, Ministry for Water Resources and Planning Commission have been willing partners to the crime.

I am saddened by what I saw, by what I heard. I can never forget the pain in the eyes of the women whom I met, the tears all dried up in the long drawn struggle for the past quarter of a century. We as a nation are responsible for inflicting these displaced people with so much of scorn and indifference that deep down in their hearts they know their struggle to gain independence from British rule has not yielded results.

And yet they have not given up on hope.

Considering their plight, the People's Tribunal in its report noted:

1. It is clearly established that the Governments of Madhya Pradesh, Maharashtra and Gujarat have violated the rights to life, livelihood and rehabilitation of thousands of oustees of the Sardar Sarovar Project, guaranteed by the Constitution and re-affirmed by numerous international conventions ratified by India by causing illegal and unjustifiable displacement of adivasis, and other farmers.

2. We wish to state at the very outset that our Tribunal was shocked to note as to how the NCA and the NVDA have stated that there are 'zero families' who are to be rehabilitated, when in fact, in every village, hundreds of people not only welcomed us, but demonstrated to us the full community life, with the houses in various mohullas, schools, panchayat, bhawans, temples, masjids, agricultural fields, trees etc and narrated not just their individual complaints but the overall situation and problems with adequate analysis.

3. The Supreme Court in its judgement of Mar 15, 2005, whereby it upheld the Narmada Award 1979 and reiterated that land based rehabilitation of project affected persons (PAF) along with provisions of house sites with requisite amenities must be completed one year before submergence. The judgement admitted the entitlements of minimum of 2 hectares of cultivable, irrigable and suitable agricultural land to all major sons and unmarried daughters of landholder PAFs.

4. As a consequence of the progressive Rehabilitation Policy, as a part of the Narmada Tribunal 1979 and protracted struggle by the people, about 10,500 adivasis families have been given land in lieu of the land submerged or acquired for the project in Maharashtra and Gujarat, but to this date not a single family has received acceptable agricultural land in Madhya Pradesh.

5. Madhya Pradesh government has expressed its inability to provide 'land for land' saying it has no surplus land for rehabilitation, and nor can it buy land for the oustees since the land prices have gone up in the recent past. But it expects the oustees to purchase suitable land with the compensation package being provided under 'Special Rehabilitation Grant' that replaces land allocation with a cash package. However, in case of Madhya Pradesh, the Writers and Publishers Limited, Indore, nationally the 7th largest multi product Special Economic Zone (SEZ) in terms of area, is slated to come up on 4,050 hectares of land and has already received the "in principle" approval. The total land that this one single SEZ occupies is approximately equal to the land required to rehabilitate most of the SSP oustees.

6. Chief Minister Shivraj Singh Chauhan while addressing the Pravasi Bhartiya Sammelan in New Delhi, Jan 2010, had invited the NRIs with open arms to set up industrial units. "Madhya Pradesh has no law and order problem, land is available in plenty, and clearances for setting up industrial units can be achieved very fast."

As we can see, there is no limitation of land for industries and SEZ, but no intention of providing land to the oustees, even going to the extent of defying the Supreme Court orders. As an oustee asked us at the Public Hearing at Badwani on June 3: "Does the Supreme Court apply its contempt laws on the State governments also? Or is it only meant for lesser mortals like us?"

The views expressed above are personal and do not necessarily reflect the views of d-sector editorial team.

Devinder Sharma  |  hunger55@gmail.com

Devinder Sharma is an award-winning journalist, writer, and researcher globally recognised for his analysis on food, agriculture and trade policy. 

Write to the Author  |  Write to d-sector  |  Editor's Note

 Other Articles by Devinder Sharma in
Political Development  > Duties and Rights > Economic and Social Rights

Fighting hunger without farmlands
Thursday, May 12, 2011

Policymakers and supporters of land acquisition for so-called development projects do not realise that by diverting good productive farm land for non-agricultural purposes, they are pushing the next generation into hunger and malnutrition.

Don't wait for another Gandhi
Friday, March 18, 2011

Despite ongoing dance of death on farmlands and multitude of crises in Indian agriculture, it is beyond comprehension why the various farmer movements in the nation haven't been able to mobilise the suffering masses.
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The bad news is that corruption has not only sustained but has grown in size and stature in the country. With scams being a regular feature, seventy per cent respondents in a survey have rightfully opined that corruption has continued to increase in India. One in every two interviewed admit having paid a bribe for availing public services during last one year. Transparency International's latest survey reveals that the political parties top the chart for the most corrupt public institutions, followed by police force and legislatures. No wonder, India continues to make new records on the global corruption arena!

The shocking revelation is that the health and education sectors haven't remained untouched by this phenomenon. With 5th and 6th positions respectively for these sectors on the public perception chart on corruption, corruption has crept insidiously into these sectors of hope for the masses. With bureaucracy being fourth in the list of corrupt institutions in the country, corruption seems to have been non-formally institutionalized with little hope if public services would ever be effective in the country. With economic growth having literally institutionalized corruption, are we now expecting corrupt to be socially responsible - a different CSR.

Poor. Who?

Not giving 'aid' to India is one thing but calling it 'rich' is quite another. If one in three of the world's malnourished children live in India, what does average daily income of $3 indicate? It perhaps means that there is a relative decline in poverty - people are 'less poor' than what they used to be in the past. But having crossed the World Bank arbitrary threshold of $2 a day does not absolve the 'developed' countries of their obligation to part with 0.7 per cent of their Gross National Income in development aid. Should this three-decade old figure not be revised?  

An interesting debate in UK's House of Commons delved on future of development assistance by the British Government. While prioritizing limited resources has been a concern, there has been no denying the fact that development aid must be guided towards tangible gains over a short period of time to start with. There are difficult choices for elected governments to make - should they invest in long-term primary education or in short-term university scholarships? Which of these will bring gains and trigger long-term transformation in the society. As politicians continue to be divided on the matter, poverty persists!!   

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