April 13, 2006.
Dr. Manmohan Singh
The Honorable Prime Minister
Government of India
Your decision yesterday to order a review of the Narmada Control Authority's (NCA) March 8th decision to raise the height of the Sardar Sarovar Dam, albeit quite late, is a step in the right direction to respond to the concerns of the Narmada Bachao Andolan. However it must very soon be backed up by concrete action to prevent a catastrophe from unfolding.
As the Prime Minister, you also need to immediately step in and order a cessation of all ongoing construction activity on the dam to raise its height.
Based on your wishes late last week a three minister team consisting of the Minister of Water Resources, Prof. Soz, the Minister of Social Justice Smt. Meira Kumar and the Minister of State in the PMO Shri. Prithviraj Chavan, visited the Narmada valley for 1-day to review the status of rehabilitation.
I hope that the 3 minister group has reported the serious violations the Narmada Bachao Andolan has been raising for the past several years. Such violations have also been reported by several times by eminent persons in India who have observed the problems during their visits, by respected international groups such as the UN Special Rapporteur on Housing, and Indian civil society groups such as the Indian People's Tribunal.
I hope that the 3 minister group told you about how the residents of the submergence villages and resettlement sites reacted when they saw that government has been shamed into sending a high-level delegation for the first time into the hell that has been created for them by it.
I hope that the 3 minister group told you about the stories of rampant corruption and red-faced NVDA officials they observed when people where openly accusing the NVDA on their face of having taken monies for receiving the paltry (and illegal) cash compensation that some of them are being given before being driven out of their homes.
I hope the 3 minister group told you about the Madhya Pradesh Grievance Redressal Authority (Justice Sohoni) who has not functioned because as he complained there is non-delivery of any facilities and resources to him by the government. This means that the state where the largest number of project affected families reside, and which is committing the biggest violations in resettlement and rehabilitation through (illegal) ex-parte allottments, (illegal) cash compensation etc have no effective grievance redressal mechanism.
I hope that the sampling of information they gave you presented the magnitude of the violations being committed ... because they stayed at best for a few hours, changed their original schedule of 2 days to 1 day and visited a few resettlement sites that the MP government thought would put their best face on the status of rehabilitation. Neither did they visit the interior submergence villages in MP where the most devastation by the dam is occurring, nor did they visit any of the villages in Maharashtra and Gujarat where several problems have also been reported.
I say, "I hope" because the report of the ministers is hidden from public view and independent scrutiny. In the eyes of those marginalized, in the eyes of the conscientious public and for those who have visited the valley and witnessed the destruction that is unfolding, the lack of lawful rehabilitation can be seen bared naked. However, it is clear that the state governments responsible for this state of affairs have no shame. And maybe ... perhaps maybe ... your government is trying to put a fig-leaf on it with the announcement of the review meeting on April 15th.
Rather than putting on a fig-leaf, I would recommend that your government come forward and make the report of the ministers' visit public. Do a "Full Monty" on the status of Narmada rehabilitation. Also Mr. Prime Minister you should accept the illegality of the NCA decision and order an immediate halt to the Sardar Sarovar dam construction. Further your government should join the NBA in representing to the Supreme Court the fact that rehabilitation is not in compliance with the orders of the court and the NWDTA award. This would perhaps save your government from contempt of the law and the Supreme Court orders in the matter and lay the falsehoods and contempt of the Court squarely at the door of the state governments that were party to the illegal decision of the NCA.
In the RCNCA meeting as the Chairperson of the meeting Prof. Soz should also advice the concerned Chief Ministers to withdraw their false ATRs on rehabilitation that were submitted to the NCA and enabled the dam height to go up.
A reversal of the NCA decision and stoppage of further construction on the dam is important to enable Medha Patkar, Jamsingh Nargave and Bhagwatibai Patidar to break their indefinite fast that is into its 16th day.
A reversal of the NCA decision and stoppage of dam work is the only ethical, moral and legal option for your government to prevent the matter from inviting the scrutiny and potential wrath of the Supreme Court for the contempt of its orders. It is also the only option for you to prevent the wrath of the poor and marginalized from visiting your government which was elevated into power with their votes.
Aniruddha S. Vaidya
Aniruddha S Vaidya, PhD is a Director of the Association for India's Development (AID), a US based non-profit organization. The opinions expressed in the letter are his alone and not necessarily those of the AID.