A reprieve for tribals

The Gujarat government has been ordered not to close the sluice gates of the Sardar Sarovar dam until all rehabilitation and resettlement plans are finalised

By Max Martin
Published: Saturday 04 July 2015

THE NARMADA Control Authority (NCA) - a body controlling all aspects of the utilisation of Narmada waters - has restrained the Gujarat government from closing the sluice gates of the Sardar Sarovar dam until the three states involved in the project clearly state their rehabilitation and resettlement (R&R) plans.

The Gujarat government and its dam construction body - the Sardar Sarovar Narmada Nigam -- pushed for the closure of the sluices, saying the dam's base would be damaged if they were kept open during construction. The NCA order in effect stops further work on the dam.

The decision, taken at a December 31 NCA meeting, is a reprieve for the 2,500 tribal families in the submergence area, the majority of whom are yet to be rehabilitated. The closure would have led to the submergence of at least 11 villages in Maharashtra, 5 in Gujarat and 3 in Madhya Pradesh after the June 1994 monsoon.

Says S K Basu, secretary of the National Commission for Scheduled Castes and Scheduled Tribes, "The Narmada Water Disputes Tribunal Award offers the tribals the option of staying on in the home state. The tribals of Madhya Pradesh do not want to go to Gujarat and yet, no land has been identified for them in MP. There are grave doubts about the amount and quality of land available in Gujarat."

The rehabilitation measures taken so far have been severely criticised by the Tata Institute of Social Sciences (TISS) - the resettlement and rehabilitation monitoring and evaluation agency for the SSP. In its recent official report, TISS pointed out the rehabilitation measures were seriously flawed and arrangements for future rehabilitation to be done in 1993 were inadequate.

The closure of the sluice gates would have also violated environmental norms, according to NCA's environment sub-group. SSP had got environmental clearance from the Union government on a pari passu (simultaneous action) condition that environmental work would be carried out in tandem with construction. But such work was behind schedule, according to the environment sub-group.

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