Counterview, 20 Oct 2014, Thirty-eight prominent citizens have asked Prime Minister Narendra Modi to withhold the decision to raise the height of the Narmada dam further by erecting 17 metres high gates, to the full reservoir level, i.e. 138.68 meters, saying this will affect “44 additional village communities and one whole township”, and stretching up to “214 km long area in the Narmada basin.” Asking him to do this in the name of “a new democratic initiative, respect law, democracy, human values and human rights”, the letter warned, in case the height is raised, “45,000 families will be displaced.”
Pointing out that all this is happening at a time when “full, fair and legal rehabilitation” is yet to take place, in their letter, the prominent citizens said, the decision will only lead to a major “human tragedy and a man-made disaster”, adding, even at the present height, 122 metres, there are “35,000 and more families residing in the submergence area and hence yet to be rehabilitated.” In view of all this, the letter asked the Prime Minister to personally intervene to stop “this wanton destruction.”
The letter has been written two days ahead of Modi’s move to inaugurate the construction work at the dam site on October 31, Sardar Patel’s birth anniversary. It has been signed, among others, by Justice (Retd) Rajinder Sachar; Aruna Roy and Prof Jean Dreze, former National Advisory Council members; Swami Agnivesh of the Bandhu Mukti Morcha; Admiral (Retd) L Ramdas; retired IAS officer BD Sharma; bureaucrat-turned-activist Harsh Mander; and Rohit Prajapati and Anand Mazgaonkar of the Paryavaran Suraksha Samiti, Gujarat.
The letter said, immediately after the decision was announced by the Narmada Control Authority (NCA) on June 12 to allow raising of the dam, the oustees and their representatives met the concerned ministers in Delhi and appraised them of all the facts, ongoing legal and judicial processes, pending litigations, inquiry into corruption and non-compliance of the orders of the Grievance Redressal Authorities. They urged the ministers to put the decision to raise the dam on hold. “The ministers were not fully aware of the project and the ground realities but assured review of the matter”, the letter claimed.
Objecting to the decision to keep erect the gates, even if to be kept open for the time being, the letter said, the backwater levels of the Narmada dam were now being shown at the reduced level compared to what they were 30 years ago when the original survey was done in 1980s. Thereafter, there is no scientific analysis of the matter, hence to argue that there wouldn’t be submergence because of the backwater levels would be wrong. “Hence, any construction beyond the present height cannot be pushed today”, the letter underlined.
Asking Modi to behave more like the Prime Minister the nation, the letter said, “You are expected to look after the welfare of all citizens, and ensure that lakhs of oustees, especially of Madhya Pradesh, do not face destitution.” It reminded Modi that ex-Prime Minister Manmohan Singh had “committed to the Supreme Court in 2006 that rehabilitation, as per law, would precede any further construction, and you are certainly bound both by virtue of your good office and by law to keep up this promise.”
The letter said, he should be “aware of the fact that the Justice Jha Commission, appointed by the High Court of Madhya Pradesh, is investigating thousands of land registries which are forged and fake, and also corruption in payment of grants to thousands, allotment of house plots and construction at the resettlement sites. Fraud in all these has been proved, and the final report is likely soon, that crores of rupees are wasted and rehabilitation is far from complete.”
The letter further said, the report by the expert committee appointed by the Ministry of Environment till 2012 had pointed towards “severe impact on natural resources in the Narmada valley.” The report also talked of adverse impact on “health, forest, fisheries, seismically risky region, the catchment and siltation” in the command area in Gujarat. “Without complying all this, the dam cannot and should not be pushed ahead”, it urged Modi.
Currently, the letter said, Narmada waters were being diverted to industries and new projects, such as Coca Cola plant (30 lakh liters/day), the car industry in Sanand alone (60 lakh liters/per day) and so on. “Also that a few lakh hectares of land in the command area are being diverted and reserved as industrial areas”, it pointed out, adding, “All this indicates the change in the original plan and that there is absolutely no urgency to raise the dam at the cost of people and the nature.”
The letter said, already, the oustees in the Narmada dam-affected areas are now legal owners of the acquired lands and houses, as per Section 24(2) of the recently passed Right to Fair Compensation and Transparency in Land Acquisition, Rehabilitation and Resettlement Act, 2013, since they continue to remain in possession of the acquired properties, till date. “It would thus be unlawful to continue with further construction that is bound to lead to submergence and interference with the property and human rights of the owners”, it concluded.