Frontier | May 12, 2017
Maj Gen S.G.Vombatkere, VSM (Retd) <email@example.com>;
475, 7th Main Road
Vijayanagar 1st Stage
Hon’ble Mr. Justice Madan Lokur
Presiding Judge, Social Justice Bench
Hon’ble Supreme Court of India
Subject: Urgent Appeal For Social Justice In The Narmada River Valley
Respectful Greetings from an ordinary citizen of our Republic!
I have traveled 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 – even though this does not protect the rights of landless people and fisherfolk – but that 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 your very urgent notice.
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. Rightly 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 over 7-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 stands withheld due to GoMP raising technico-legal objections presumably because the facts therein incriminate several GoMP officials. Thus, the PAFs are denied the justice which the Jha Commission Report would have provided to them. The PAFs now openly speak of GoMP covering up corruption by government servants. They demand that the Jha Commission Report be placed in the public domain, 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 starting in a few weeks, 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 water levels rising 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.
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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 (about 2,00,000 people) in Madhya Pradesh. There is a human disaster-in-the-making, since the Narmada Control Authority (NCA) has decided to close the gates and raise the water level to 138.68-metres, submerging hundreds of villages and one full township.
There are several other very serious ill-effects of the dams in the Narmada valley, but these can be addressed later. As of now, the existential threat to the upstream PAFs due to the SSP dam height being raised to 138.68-metres and installation and planned closure of the sluice gates, in dishonest and deliberate violation of the orders of the Hon’ble Supreme Court of India, 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 general public know much about them, because the print and electronic media gives their problems and pitiable condition little or no coverage, possibly because of government influence and the geographical remoteness of the PAFs. They even speak that Courts of Law hear cases of the rich and famous immediately and pass orders within days, but their causes and cases wait for years even for a hearing, let alone a decision, often enough because some government lawyers stall the true dispensation of justice. This situation is undeniably bad for our democracy.
In the current context of planned closure of the SSP dam sluice gates (understood as planned for 09 May 2017 by NCA), about 40,000 PAFs (2,00,000 people) in Madhya Pradesh alone, along with their villages and one township, will be drowned. Their forcible evacuation by police action is being planned and is imminent. Such action will bring utter shame on our Republic.
Hon’ble Sir, you hold the Office of the Presiding Judge of the Social Justice Bench of the ultimate constitutional judicial authority in our country, and there is nobody else to provide true 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 on you as a person, but will raise the confidence of common people in the majesty of the justice dispensed by the Supreme Court of India. In every manner, this will do good to our 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 closure of the 138.68-metres sluice gates of the SSP dam, my humble, fervent and very urgent prayers to you, Hon’ble Sir, are:
1. Issue a “Most Immediate” order to Government of India and State governments 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.
2. Issue orders to place the Report of the Justice S.S.Jha Commission of Inquiry before the Hon’ble Supreme Court on or 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.
With respectful regards, and in fervent hope of your most immediate and favourable attention, I am,
(Maj Gen S.G.Vombatkere (Retd))