Big is not beautiful

By Medha Patkar, Apr 01 , 2006, tehelka

If the Sardar Sarovar Dam’s height is increased, a clandestine move violating Supreme Court guidelines, 35,000 homeless families in the submergence zone will be exiled from their habitat, writes Medha Patkarin a letter to Water Resources Minister Saif-ud-din Soz

Saif-ud-din Soz
Union Minister of Water Resources
New Delhi

As you are aware, approval has been given to increase the height of the Sardar Sarovar Dam, from 110.64 m to 121.92 m, an increase of 12 metres. This increase will drown the homes, fields and hearths of at least 35,000 families who have still not been rehabilitated, despite the tall claims of the three state governments (Madhya Pradesh, Gujarat, Maharashtra). We provide details of the situation below and request that you intervene immediately to halt construction and to ensure rehabilitation for all project-affected families.

We are shocked and pained by this turn of events. We point out the following:

On October 2004, the prime minister issued a directive that the water resources minister must visit the Narmada Valley and assess for himself the situation of rehabilitation.

At a meeting held on January 5, 2006, your secretary Harinarayan had categorically confirmed that cash compensation would not be considered as rehabilitation.

In a letter to LC Jain dated March 6, 2006, you had detailed the procedure to be followed before the approval for raising the height of the dam would be given.

However, without these processes being followed, two days later, approval for raising the height was given.

As soon as approval was given, with great haste, construction began.

Your visit to the valley has not yet taken place and the procedures detailed in your said letter have not been complied with. The atrs have not been placed before even a single gram sabha/gram panchayat. We would like to inform you that the entire submergence area of Sardar Sarovar is a scheduled area, where the pesa Act is applicable. Hence, it is constitutionally mandated that the gram sabha must be consulted before land acquisition and again before rehabilitation. This is clearly not being done.
Thousands of PAFs (project affected families) have not been resettled or rehabilitated till this day. On what basis then did the Narmada Control Authority, chaired by your secretary, Harinarayan, give the approval? For your ease of reference, we would like to highlight the following undisputable facts regarding rehabilitation.

The basic provision of the Narmada Water Disputes Tribunal Award (NWDTA) is that the PAFs should be resettled and rehabilitated with land at fully developed ‘rehabilitation villages’ with all amenities, six months before submergence is likely. Besides, even at the present height of 110.64 m, 10,000 families have not been resettled.

The Supreme Court in various decisions has held, inter alia, that:

The allotment of cultivable land should take place one year before construction of the dam and complete rehabilitation must be completed six months before submergence. Resettlement should be done pari passu with construction. The letter and spirit of the Award (NWDTA) should be strictly complied with, that is, there can be no compromise; and the lives of the PAFs should be better off after rehabilitation…

It is glaringly obvious that the three state governments are determined to defy the Award and the various Supreme Court orders. Here are the facts:

Madhya Pradesh

Not a single family has been resettled with cultivable land.
PAFs have been sent offers of land which, according to the government’s own affidavits before the court, are encroached, not cultivable, and, in cases, non existent.

The government is distributing cash in the guise of the special rehabilitation package (SRP), which is illegal, and families have not been able to purchase land.
The rehabilitation sites are not ready, for many villages there isn’t even a chosen rehabilitation site, many sites have no amenities and none of the sites have sufficient house plots for all affected families. This is why the MP government has resorted to giving each family Rs 50,000 instead of a house plot, which is totally illegal and will leave people shelterless when submergence hits.


Rehabilitation has not been completed, even for families affected at 80m dam height.

In 2002, a task force report was prepared, chaired by the revenue commissioner, Nasik, and peoples’ representatives, which listed out all the names of the oustees. The process of declaration of many oustees is still going on.

At least 800 declared PAFs are still to be allotted land, half of them in the original submergence villages and half of them in the resettlement sites.

The number of families who are still undeclared and/or will be affected by ‘tapu’, (that is, the area will become a socially uninhabitable island) are about 2,500 in number. These families’ homes and farms are still in the submergence area and they need to be declared and rehabilitated.

Maharashtra has refused to comply with the March 15, 2005 order of the Supreme Court which mandates 2 hectares of land to major sons. Maharashtra is interpreting that the said verdict was applicable only to MP; however, the order interprets the Award and hence is applicable to all the three states.

Hundreds of families have been given ex-parte (one-sided) land allotments, even though Maharashtra has a stated, written policy of not allotting ex-parte land. The land that is being allotted is uncultivable and unsuitable for oustees, hence it is being rejected by oustees.

The government of Maharashtra is itself not showing ‘zero’ balance! In their latest action taken report, they showed that 113 families were still to be rehabilitated under 121.92 metres. How then was the clearance given?


The government claims full resettlement while people in the resettlement sites are facing serious problems and are finding it difficult to eke out a living. Problems include allotment of bad land, less land than the entitlement. Water-logging during monsoons is becoming a very big issue in the resettlement sites and is affecting peoples’ homes, fields and crops…

Hence, we take comfort in your statement that you are not convinced that satisfactory rehabilitation and resettlement in accordance with the Award has taken place and that you would review the decision, which you are legally entitled to do, as per the above clause. Please intervene on the basis of your authority, to safeguard the lives of lakhs of women, men and children. Once construction has been completed, irreparable damage would have been done. And the government would have a humanitarian crisis on its hands. A human-made tsunami, a human-made earthquake.

We urge you to act immediately to stop the construction and to ensure due compliance with rehabilitation. We urge you to visit the valley and assess the situation for yourself, as per the pmo’s directive of November 2004. If you ensure that no family is left in the submergence area of 121.92 metres, and no entitlements are due to the ousted, whether fully or partially, only then can justice be done, and only then should the construction of work commence.


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