Plight of PAFs

S G Vombatkere

Raising the height of the Sardar Sarovar Project (SSP) dam from the present 122-m to the full finished height of 138.68-m was to be implemented only after full rehabilitation of all project-affected families (PAFs) upto the level of 122-m, according to the ruling of the Supreme Court.

The state governments of Madhya Pradesh, Maharashtra and Gujarat have confirmed to the Narmada Control Authority (NCA) that the rehabilitation upto submergence level of 122-m is complete. This confirmation is false. How can Government of Madhya Pradesh be telling the truth when it has allotted land to only 21 PAFs, that too in the very recent past, and more than 4,000 PAFs remain without rehabilitation, many of them cheated through fake land registries? Government of Maharashtra too is still searching to locate land to establish R&R sites; and Gujarat's PAFs also await declaration, allotment of land and/or amenities in the original villages as well as resettlement sites.

Thus, even as on date, thousands of PAFs are yet to get land, thousands more alternative livelihood, fishing rights, housing plots at R&R sites and other amenities and entitlements. And major environmental non-compliance has been exposed by MoEF's expert committees. This is because of rampant corruption at various levels of governance and administration in all the three states. Indeed, corruption amounting to around Rs 1000 crore misappropriated over the years by officials and agents in rehabilitation, is still under inquiry by the Justice Jha Commission.

In this background and in view of the fact that the PAFs have been agitating peacefully and continuously for many years, demanding nothing more than justice and their rightful dues from the state and central governments, conscientious and honest administrators at senior levels would have visited the PAFs in the submergence areas to verify the progress of rehabilitation. However, the reports received from the lower administrative levels are being accepted as correct and true, and used as the basis for high-level decisions that directly impact the lives and livelihoods of the disempowered, peacefully agitating PAFs. This is mal-governance and mal-administration at best, but more likely corruption-linked complicity.

The questions that are being asked are, who benefits from this acceptance of false reports, if not the corrupt members of the politico-bureaucratic administration who operate in a nexus with corporate deep pockets, and how are they allowed to get away with this disempowerment of poor people and looting of public money, if not by brutal suppression of agitations and agitators.

Besides the above on injustice, mal-governance and corruption, providing false information is a criminal offence and, if produced before the Supreme Court, may also constitute contempt of that Court, which has justly mandated that at each phase of raising the dam height, full rehabilitation shall always precede the construction, since people have to be rehabilitated before submergence begins.

The governments' ministries and administrations do not care for the norms of social justice and empowerment, nor for the non-compliance of environmental law and rules, but use brute force of police lathi and gun to crush peaceful demonstrations, and foist concocted criminal charges on and imprison demonstrators and activists who support them.

The present situation (and this is unfortunately not limited to the Narmada Valley and the SSP dam) amounts to the organized exploitation of the socio-economically weak by depriving them of land and livelihood, and using administrative and police force to crush dissent and just demands. To paraphrase Gandhiji when he wrote in "Young India" in British times, today, 66 years after Independence, the peacefully agitating PAFs are challenging the might of state and central governments because they consider their activity to be anti-people and corporate and corruption-oriented.

Vol. 46, No. 4, Aug 4-10, 2013

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