The Supreme Court on Wednesday directed payment of final compensation to all the families affected by the Narmada project, thus bringing decades of litigation to an end.
The project was started in 1979 and aimed to offer better irrigation network and power generation. However, continued protests from activists marred its reputation. The project was immersed in controversies which resulted in exorbitant delay in construction and multi-fold cost escalation.
The Sardar Sarovar Project (SSP) on river Narmada had affected 681 families in Madhya Pradesh who had not received any compensation against acquisition of their land. A three-judge bench headed by Chief Justice JS Khehar ordered payment of Rs. 60 lakh each to the affected families. The bench also directed payment of Rs. 15 lakh each to the 1,358 families who had received partial compensation. “They need to be further compensated so as to alleviate their hardship and enable them to purchase alternative land. However, the amount already received by them shall be deducted from this money”, the Bench said.
Money will be deposited to the Narmada Valley Development Authority by the government, which in turn will give it to the Grievance Redressal Authority for onward distribution to the affected families.
All payments have to be made within a mandatory 2-month period on the condition that the affected families submit an affidavit agreeing to vacate their property acquired for the project by July 31. The Court also gave the State government authority to use force in case the families refuse from leaving on their own by the stipulated date. The Bench clarified that all civil and criminal cases, including those emerging from Jha Commission report on rehabilitation of families affected by Saradar Sarovar Dam Project, shall come to an end.
It also ordered the governments of Gujarat and Maharashtra to complete rehabilitation in three months.
“You have been struggling for compensation for 38 years. We are going to give it to you in one shot,” the CJI told Narmada Bachao Andolan leader Medha Patekar.
The Logical Indian spoke to Ms Patkar for her views on the SC’s judgement. She expressed her appreciation for the Court’s order, adding that the judgement will be carefully used in moving forward.
“Yesterday’s judgement has demolished false claims made by the government of MP that everyone was rehabilitated and nothing remains to be done”, said Ms. Patkar. In lieu of land, the MP govt. was offering Rs. 5.5 lakhs for two hectares property. The Bench has directed the state government to pay Rs. 60 lakh compensation per family who have not received any land or accepted any cash packages. The judgement also gives compensation to about 1500 families who haven’t received the MP government’s cash package in full amount – only 2.79 lakh. Even those who have received the full amount in two instalments will be given Rs. 15 lakh per family as they were unable to purchase alternative land due to corruption.
Ms. Patkar also articulated that the number of holders who are yet to receive land and have not accepted cash payments are much higher than the government figure. “We will continue to present our case and will also fight to take the benefit as per the judgement for many others who deserve the same”, she added. The quality and quantity of settlement sites also need massive overhaul. As per the law, no one’s property can be submerged without complete rehabilitation. There are thousands of trees that need to be cleared, and schools, shops, temples, mosques, and panchayat bhavans that need relocation. Until full rehabilitation is guaranteed, Ms. Patkar is adamant on not letting the government forcefully evict people by July 31.
In Maharashtra, 472 declared Adhivasi families are yet to receive their land. The process of selection of land allotment is in progress, but lack of amenities at the resettlement sites need to be addressed. The situation in Gujarat is similar.
Ms. Patkar told The Logical Indian that her movement will take the judgment as a victory and make it the base for their next step. “India is a country with large-scale displacement – both in rural nature-based communities and urban poor communities. It is necessary to understand why the state and all pillars of democracy cannot just evict 100 year old communities with mere cash packages. They need to get an alternative source of livelihood. This is a mandate under Article 21 of our Constitution. Our movement is for this cause and whatever happens to the Narmada oustees will have an impact on people all over the country,” voiced the social activist.