Omkareshwar dam: land compensation rights of oustees upheld

Grievance redressal authority follows apex court order which said land allotment as per R&R policy is the state's constitutional obligation

 
By Anupam Chakravartty
Last Updated: Saturday 04 July 2015

People displaced by the Omkareshwar dam on the river Narmada are likely to get land compensation now following the orders of the grievance redressal authority (GRA) set up to look into their complaints. On July 31, GRA issued an order directing the Madhya Pradesh government and the Narmada Hydroelectric Development Corporation (NHDC), a subsidiary of National Hydroelectric Power Corporation, to protect the “land for land” rights of the first batch of 2,500 oustees who approached the authority for relief and rehabilitation (R&R).

The order follows a Supreme Court judgement of May 11, last year, which held that the allotment of land as per the state R&R Policy is a constitutional obligation of the state government and the project authorities. According to the affected residents of five villages and the Narmada Bachao Andolan (NBA), a people’s front fighting for their rights, the authorities had “failed to comply with any of the obligations under the R&R Policy” despite the apex court order. “The Supreme Court had directed that the oustees file individual applications in this regard to GRA. After the decision of the apex court, around 2,500 oustees had filed applications seeking land in lieu of land before GRA. It is after hearing some of these applications that the first 96 orders have been passed by GRA,” stated the residents and NBA in a press release issued on August 1. Of the total number of oustees, about 50 per cent belong to Scheduled Tribes. They depended on the river and the fertile black cotton soil of Narmada valley for a living.

GRA, a body of former bureaucrats constituted by a notification of the Madhya Pradesh government, upheld the rights of the oustees for the following reasons:

  • No documents were placed by the Narmada Valley Development Authority (NVDA) or NHDC anywhere to show that the oustees were ever given the option of land for land.

  • Similarly, no documents were placed on record—any application of the oustee to the land acquisition and rehabilitation officer—showing that he wants only compensation in lieu of land

  • No order was issued by the collector on any such application of an oustee from the Scheduled Tribes, after appropriate enquiry, to the effect that the application for payment of full compensation in a single instalment and relinquishment of land for land is not against the interests of the family.

  • In such a situation, the argument of the NVDA/NHDC cannot be accepted that the oustee has voluntarily accepted and utilised the compensation or special rehabilitation grant.

  • In this manner, payment of full compensation into the bank account of the oustee, without making any offer of land for land, without his consent and without following the proper procedure of obtaining an application from the oustee did not disentitle the oustee to land for land. Therefore, the right of the oustee to obtain land for land has remained undisturbed. 


Minimum 2 ha entitlement

According to Alok Agarwal of Narmada Bachao Andolan (NBA), the R&R policy of the Madhya Pradesh government mandates a minimum of two hectares be alloted to each oustee family. “The state government and the project developer denied land to every single oustee. Instead, it gave them pittances in the name of compensation, which were deposited in the bank accounts of the oustees without their knowledge,” said Agarwal.

Meanwhile, the affected villagers are protesting by staging a Jal Satyagraha at Ghogalgaon since July 16, trying to stop the state government from raising the water level in the Omkareshwar dam reservoir from 189 metre to 193 metre. NBA activists and the oustees said that the Madhya Pradesh government is trying to evict the oustees by raising the dam level. 

Earlier, NBA along with the oustees had approached the Madhya Pradesh High Court in 2008—six months after the commercial production of electricity from the dam was started by NHDC. Till 2007, NHDC reportedly disbursed only Rs 1.98 crore to the affected villages. Incidentally, NHDC officials themselves have stated earlier in 2007 that there were 4,592 families of 27 villages whose land falls within the  submergence area of the dam. NHDC maintains that 3,140 families have been resettled under the project.

The high court took cognisance of the non-implementation of the R&R policy of the state and issued orders on February 21, 2008, directing the state government to compensate the oustees with land not less than two hectares. The state government and NHDC appealed against the order in the Supreme Court the same year. After three years, the Supreme Court held that the allotment of land as per the R&R policy was a constitutional obligation of the state government and the project authorities. 

Omkareshwar dam is a multipurpose project built at a cost of Rs 2,224.73 crore. Its installed capacity is 520 MW, which is produced by eight power stations. The project is supposed to generate 1,167 million units energy every year, while also meeting the irrigation needs of at least three districts.

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