Maj Gen S.G.Vombatkere (Retd) writes an open letter to Lok Sabha speaker Sumitra Mahajan on Narmada valley is on the verge of an eminent disaster:
I have travelled in the valley of the Narmada River and observed at first hand, how the people, mostly Adivasis and Dalits, have been displaced from their homes and lands and livelihoods by an uncaring and corrupt bureaucracy. Whatever little relief that a small percentage of the Project Affected Families (PAFs) have received has been only at the hands of the judiciary.
The Hon’ble Supreme Court has decreed that rehabilitation will be done by governments by providing land-for-land as compensation – though the rights of landless people and fisherfolk are not covered – but that too has been effectively negated over the years, by officials of successive governments. Officials of the Government of Madhya Pradesh (GoMP), Government of Maharashtra (GoM) and Government of Gujarat (GoG), have provided false Action Taken Reports (ATRs) of resettlement & rehabilitation (R&R) to the Hon’ble Courts.
The Hon’ble Supreme Court had ordered that raising the height of the Sardar Sarovar Project (SSP) dam was to be executed in lifts (stages) only after the R&R mandated for the previous stage is completed. However, false ATRs showing completion of R&R have resulted in the Hon’ble Supreme Court permitting raising of the SSP dam height in stages, when in fact the PAFs are not actually rehabilitated. Thus the PAFs’ constitutional right to life has been and continues to be violated by the very governments which are sworn to protect them. This continuing, unremedied, rampant economic violence, social injustice and inequity inflicted on the poorest and most helpless sections of our society, is the cause for my bringing this matter to the notice of the august Office of the Speaker of the Hon’ble Lok Sabha.
In addition to the apathy, indifference and callousness of government officials in the R&R processes, there has been massive corruption in the R&R of PAFs. Taking cognizance of reports of corruption, the Hon’ble High Court of Madhya Pradesh constituted a commission of inquiry under Hon’ble Justice S.S. Jha (hereinafter, the Jha Commission) in August 2008. The Jha Commission submitted its report in January 2016, after years of detailed investigation into corruption in the R&R process involving government servants. It revealed massive fraud amounting to about Rs.1,000 crores.
However, the Jha Commission Report is withheld due to GoMP raising technico-legal objections presumably because the facts therein may incriminate several GoMP officials. Thus, the justice and relief which the Jha Commission Report would have provided to the PAFs is denied. The PAFs cannot be faulted if they speak of GoMP covering up corruption by government servants. They demand that the Jha Commission Report be placed in the public domain. This is not merely to expose the humongous corruption, but more to show that it is criminal corruption which has derailed the R&R process and denied them the compensation which the Hon’ble Supreme Court of India has decreed, and violated their right to life as guaranteed by Article 21 of our Constitution.
But today, and very urgently even as I write, for all the foregoing reasons, with the monsoon about to break, the people of the Narmada River valley are in imminent danger of being flooded out of their homes and lands or drowned, due to the rising waters in the reservoirs behind the hundreds of small, medium and large dams, which have been constructed on Narmada river and its tributaries over the years. In particular, the SSP dam at its finished height of 138.68-metres with the sluice gates installed, threatens the lives of around 40,000 PAFs in Madhya Pradesh. Clearly, there is a disaster-in-the-making; India urgently needs to do something now.
There are several other very serious ill-effects of the dams in the Narmada valley, like sea water ingress 40-km upstream from Bharuch, Narmada water not reaching drought-prone Kutch but being consumed by industries along the canal, etc. But these can be addressed in detail later, because as of now, the imminent human tragedy and disaster-in-the-making connected with the existential threat to the upstream PAFs due to the SSP dam height being raised to its present height of 138.68-metres and installation of the sluice gates, needs to be addressed with extreme urgency.
I have myself met people at grassroots levels, and find them to be greatly disillusioned that their pleas, pleadings, prayers, and peaceful demonstrations and agitations over the past three decades to various levels of governance at State and Centre, has fallen on deaf ears. The voice of poor Adivasi and Dalit people who live in Narmada’s remote valleys is not heard in the distant corridors of power of the States and Centre. Nor does the public know much about them, because the print and electronic media gives their problems and pitiable condition little or no coverage, because of government influence and the geographical remoteness of the PAFs. Clearly, the 30-years-long problems of these people need to be addressed. Therefore I request you to consider the pitiable plight of the children of Narmada mayya, and urgently raise the matter for discussion in our revered Lok Sabha.
In the context of the current nation-wide drought situation, the whole of India prays for and eagerly awaits the monsoon. But there are about 40,000 PAFs in Madhya Pradesh alone, who live in dread of that very monsoon for which we pray, because it will drown them.
Hon’ble Madam Speaker, it is in your capacity to initiate democratic emergency discussion to provide justice to the suffering children of Narmada mayya. Your taking cognizance of this disaster-in-the-making in the Narmada valley and taking urgent steps to halt it, will not only bring the blessings of the poorest of India’s people, but can raise the respect of our Lok Sabha to hitherto unattained heights. In every manner, this will benefit our democratic, secular, socialist Republic.
Therefore, in the immediate interest of saving the lives and livelihoods of all the PAFs of Narmada valley and in particular the 40,000 PAFs of Madhya Pradesh affected by raising of the SSP dam to its present level, my fervent and very urgent prayers to you are to urgently discuss:
Issuance of a “Most Immediate” order to Government of India and State government officials to not close the SSP dam gates until all rehabilitation of PAFs in the states of Madhya Pradesh, Maharashtra and Gujarat is honestly and meticulously completed with full transparency.
Issuance of urgent orders to place the Report of the Justice S.S.Jha Commission of Inquiry on the table of Lok Sabha before a specified early date, so that the huge corruption in the R&R process is brought to public glare, and R&R of PAFs can be completed in full accordance with the orders of the Hon’ble Supreme Court.