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NBA: Narmada Bachao Andolan Update

Dear friends and supporters of Narmada Bachao Andolan,

The Gujarat government is still playing games on the Narmada issue.... being active in public relations and continuing to engage in defamatory tactics. This is clear from the latest from none else but Mr. P. K. Laheri, Chairman, Sardar Sarovar (Narmada) Nigam i.e. S. S. Corporation in Gujarat. This is peculiar, but not the first and the last, move in the public relation strategy of the non-just, pro-dam but anti-people, anti-NBA lobby within Gujarat Government.
We know that after the long agitation and fast in Delhi (17th March to 17th April), there have been highly calculated efforts on the part of Gujarat's spokespersons including Mr. Jainarayan Vyas, former minister for Narmada, to counter the press and media support to NBA and its cause, accusing NBA of falsehood and malafide intentions. Our office in Baroda is still full of broken material, destroyed documents since the attack by BJP corporators as hooligans. And who can forget what Amir Khan faced and fought bravely? The same continues even today. Moreover, there is a planned propaganda through a series of articles in the Organizer, the mouthpiece of BJP, against NBA and Medha Patkar. In reality, the arguments to facts, much of what is written here is either wrong or distorted. There is also a courageous move by some corporate man to file utterly false case in the Supreme court, pretending that he has dug out highly explosive information which can blast NBA's and Medha Patkar's moral standing. In the said `Public Interest Litigation' interview, he has accused us of `sedition' for having questioned a project at various for a, crying halt to human injustice and ecological blunder, which has raised wider issues of democratic rights related to perverted development paradigm and projects to question - to question, challenge, stall those, may it be a large dam or SEZ! This petition, it is shocking, has been admitted by the Chief Justice of India and NBA is issued a notice through Medha Patkar to reply.

It is in this context that many of our eminent supporters, may be yourself too, have received a letter from P.K.Laheri which is enclosed herewith. Also enclosed is a reply by Dr. Manoranjan Mohanty, the well-known human rights defender and Shri Ramaswamy Iyer, the ex-Secretary of the Ministry of Water Resources,GoI. Anand Patwardhan, the maker of famous and award winning documentary films, also received it but chose not to reply. Dr. Mohanty's prompt, confident and also assertive reply has only served to strengthen our commitment and struggle for truth. It is attached for your personal perusal. P. K. Laheri's letter is, however, a good representation of what have been the major planks of anti-NBA propaganda by a nexus of politicians and bureaucrats and hence we need to smash it, point by point, here and now.

Please refer to Mr. Laheri’s letter (given below) and our following reply based on the ground reality and knowledge of policy.

1. Mr. Laheri, at the outset, refuses to accept that there is any violation of rights of PAPs in the Sardar Sarovar Project.

- This is baseless. There is submergence faced without rehabilitation. We have lists and survey data on those hundreds of families affected by severe floods this year. In their case, the NWDTA, the legal provisions and preconditions therein stand violated. The same is true for the provision in law, land for land, when Madhya Pradesh Government has not offered cultivable land to any families. On the contrary, they have resorted to cash compensation in lieu of land against the policy, Tribunal Award (which is law) and Supreme Court judgments.

In Maharashtra, the government doesn't have adequate land to offer and allot to the remaining families declared as eligible and hence the legal violation is due to them. They have faced serious losses while rehabilitation with land is not in sight. At the rehabilitation sites too, there are problems of land records, land quality, land rights etc. due to which all the resettled are not rehabilitated.
In Gujarat, the private land purchased and allotted to families is not cultivable in many cases.

All this and more is legal violation, no doubt. If P.K. Laheri fails to see this, it is his fault, not NBA's.

Mr. Laheri’s denial on the main issue of relief and rehabilitation is nothing new and it is inconsistent with the affidavits filed by the State governments with the Supreme Court. It is nothing but a stark lie. We would indeed welcome you to verify the situation.

2. Mr. Laheri is deliberately confusing everyone in order to prove that we, the activists of NBA, have disseminated false information.
We not only recall but also reassert our statement that there are 35,000 (Thirty five thousand) families (and not thirty five thousand persons) mapped to be affected at the dam height of 121.92 meters. This is also confirmed from the official figures of the total number of PAPs put up on the website which is 51,000+ families (Note the sudden increase of 10,000 families) out of which, not more than a 10,000 are properly resettled; even if the figures of all those resettled from Maharashtra, Gujarat and a few hundreds from Madhya Pradesh are taken together. Most of the PAPs have not even received an entitlement, which is their justifiable right. Thus more than 40,000 families are still there in the submergence area of the full dam height. (FRL & MWL) Out of these, 35,000 are necessarily below 122 meters height of the dam and its backwaters level. A few thousand families are left out of the records although they are very much affected and so eligible for resettlement.

This is further confirmed from the report of the Oversight Group (OSG: Shunglu Committee) which is based on the survey of 25,000 families found in the original villages and interviewed by the National Sample Survey Teams. OSG could identify about 6,500 families, whose names are left out but are eligible to PAP status. In reality, there are thousands more who are not systematically identified and hence excluded from the list. These include owners of houses left out, lands not surveyed, major sons not listed, widows whose rights were denied, poor uneducated adivasis and other old cultivators who were not granted rights and termed as encroachers in most of the cases.

The official reports to the latest press statement of August 2006 by the Gujarat government have been reporting no PAFs balance in the state and that all are rehabilitated. The reality, however, is different. While most of them have shifted to the resettlement sites, bad lands infested with water-logging have compelled them to become laborers and claims of hundreds of families for good, cultivable land, for amenities etc. are still pending. A few hundreds are still in original villages, i.e. submergence area on the Narmada banks. In Maharashtra, the official monitoring agency, YASHADA, Pune also has reported more than 700 families in whose case, resettlement is not even initiated. Maharashtra is also flatly refusing to follow the Court's verdict (March 2005) that interprets the Narmada Tribunal Award and directs the government to allot 2 hectares of land to every major son considered as separate family.
Can P.K. Laheri counter this? Hasn't NBA furnished the list of those who are not rehabilitated? Of course yes! We have time and again submitted to various authorities, representative lists of hundreds of adivasis, farmers etc. from a number of villages who were affected at the dam height of 90 meters but not taken into account at all, at any stage.

This year, rainfall occurred in different parts of the valley, up stream and down stream, at different times and hence there was not much flooding in the thickly populated regions. Also, the construction of the dam was stopped at 119 meters instead of 122 meters, which made much difference for the plains. What Laheri is now doing, misinterpreting facts, is a part of campaign and conspiracy.

3. When we say that 35,000 families are affected but not rehabilitated at the dam height of 121.92 meters, it means that they are yet to receive any one or many of their rightful entitlements and yet to be resettled with alternative source of livelihood and they have not shifted to the rehabilitation site. Out of these 1000+ families have lost livelihoods.

Also, submergence due to any height of the dam includes backwater effects, which is up to a much higher level than the actual dam height. The estimated BWL of 121.92 meters height is beyond 136 meters. The water column generally reaches a much higher level than the dam height for example, in 2004, when the dam height was at 110 meters, the level of the backwaters had already reached 119 meters. Back water level is to be presumed and the official maps have a submergence line drawn based on the same. The number of families to be affected in that area is counted accordingly. NBA has followed the same method while arriving at the figures of those likely to be affected.

4. The claim that only 200 families sought temporary shelter, during this monsoon as they did not move to the newly allotted house sites, made by the government of Madhya Pradesh and endorsed as well as used by the Chairman of Sardar Sarovar Nigam, is again a distortion.

Government of Madhya Pradesh has shown 4 crores of rupees budgeted and spent on arrangements for the relief work which too indicate that Government of Madhya Pradesh also knew the risk of thousands of families getting affected.

Indeed, only 200 families in Madhya Pradesh sought temporary shelters that too for a short period of time. The reason for this was that in the Jhabua and Badwani districts, adivasis in the hilly region picked up their shattered house material, while some of those flew with the dam waters. They built smaller shades and houses for themselves at a higher plane. There was no relief and rehabilitation site for them. Not a single house plot is planned for them by the Government of Madhya Pradesh. No cultivable land is offered to them in Madhya Pradesh itself. Many felt cheated at the rehabilitation sites in Gujarat and returned to the Valley soon thereafter. They are yet to shift and get rehabilitated. Some of these villages had relief sub-camps arranged by the Government. One quintal of grains was provided in village with hundred families, which was the most inadequate hence, they didn't touch the grain. Relief was offered only to those families who lost houses and not to those who lost land; either this year or earlier. Most of the adivasis laughed at this irrational policy and expressed anguish. A multipurpose health worker was sent to a few villages that too only for a few days. They were equipped with some medicines, which did not include anti-snake venom. A doctor who was appointed for the relief camps was not accessible to most of the villages. With roaring waters of the reservoir and mechanized boats not easily available, `Relief' much publicized was a mere joke. Those who lost everything were provided immediate assistance by NBA and all those who lost their crop were also helped through `Jansahayog' by appealing to our supporters/donors. It's NBA who had to appeal and raise support in order to feed hundreds of adivasi families who were, and still are, in dire need of food grains as well as fishing material.

In the plains of Nimad, where a few hundred houses and land of about four hundred families got affected, instead of shifting in the non-livable condition, dampened tin sheds with no ventilators, they preferred to stay with their community brethren. It was certainly a much smaller number for merely a few days since the submergence didn't affect all in the affected area of 119 meters of dam height.

Laheri, like the Gujarat Government, too has made a vague statement (which is nothing new) on the benefits of the project. He has avoided stating the facts in this regard as well. The people should know that.

1. In spite of 119 meters of dam height and a 128 meter high water column in the reservoir, much of the water was not, rather could not be released in the canals almost throughout this monsoon. This was because there was a risk of villages of the canal banks getting affected due to canal breaches and siphoning problems as it happened in the past in 2003 and 2004. This year, much more was expected, rather feared due to the heavy rainfall.

2. The Government of Gujarat has not yet declared the actual irrigation achieved so far. One has to read the reports of `Pravah' and `Tata- IWMI', the research units in Gujarat, which show the irrigation as well as water benefits attained - 10 to 20% - which are much below the projected figures. As per the official claims, the expanse of irrigation at 110 meters of dam height was to be 55,000 acres. Drinking water was to be supplied to all needy villages and there would be no water crisis ever, as per the official propaganda. In reality, studies show that only 10% of 1500 villages which the government had announced to be the beneficiaries, actually received it; that too not quite regularly. Not the rest.

3. The people from Kutchh had to approach Supreme Court questioning the undue sharing of water to others and much less to them. The dam has always been pushed ahead in the name of the same people from Kutchh.

4. The information from official sources show that only 3% of the expected hydel power generation occurred in Gujarat, while a maximum of 16% in SSP till June 2005. This is shockingly low. Maharashtra and Madhya Pradesh hardly got any power (the only benefit) from this dam while it was expected to flow and solve power problems in the state, once dam reached 110 meters, we were told. No post facto review, no monitoring, makes it easy for only `Power Politics ' to flow !!

Laheri couldn't stop at this! He has also resorted to flimsy and fictitious allegations of NBA receiving funds from "dubious" Sources. There is nothing new in this and it has obviously come from the litigations filed by a corporate person on a mission of "Defaming NBA". We have replied to his fake accusations, including that of NBA training adivasis for armed struggle (militancy); that of NBA receiving funds through the accounts of an activist, Rahul Banerjee and his wife, (this couple have never been NBA activists), that of NBA being violent, beating and stripping officials; and of 'sedition' for questioning a project and stalling it, demanding a CBI inquiry.

We have replied to the same through affidavit in the Supreme Court and our case against a peculiar organisation from Gujarat named National Council of Civil Liberties. The NCCL is represented by one Mr V.K. Saxena, who is an accused in a case related to the physical and violent attack on Medha Patkar in Sabarmati Ashram soon after the Gujarat riots. Our lawyers Sanjay Parikh, Prashant Bhushan and Anand Grover are working to defend us in the defamatory case. Advocate Indira Jaising will plead the above mentioned "Public Interest Litigation" in the Supreme court.

Why do Laheri and Modi Government of Gujarat keep slinging mud on NBA? Why do the politicians of Gujarat attack NBA? The fact is that they cannot fight on the real issues, nor can they tolerate our moral standing and gaining more and more support. They would like to smash and kill us but we know, you are with us and millions of people in the country too. Please stand by truth!

Narmada Bachao Andolan

Letter by P K Laheri

Dear Prof. Mohanty,
I saw a news item on the website of Hindu newspaper dated 11th August 2006. The news item attributes a statement to you alleging violation of rights of Project Affected families of Sardar Sarovar Dam. This allegation is not true. You need to verify the situation. It has deeply pained us to see your name associated with a campaign which has sustained itself on false information. You may vividly recall statements of a leader of so called Narmada Bachao Andolan that 35,000 people would get drowned when the height of Sardar Sarovar Dam is raised to 121.92 Meters. The water level at Sardar Sarovar reached 128 Meters during the flood on 7th August 2006. I have checked up with Government of Madhya Pradesh a well as from the people staying in the affected areas that less than 200 families have sought temporary shelter as they did not move to the newly allotted house sites.

Government of Madhya Pradesh has provided a package of relief and rehabilitation quite adequately and properly. NBA is not concerned with R&R but is using it as camouflage to oppose any large dams. Since you are concerned citizen, it is time for you to do little bit of introspection. It is an occasion when you have to consider whether your name and prestige should be associated with an anti-development campaign funded from dubious sources. In view of the fact that the claims of Narmada Bachao Andolan have found to be totally baseless, I call upon you to come forward and accept the reality. The truth is that
NBA has always exaggerated figures and made baseless statements to stop construction of Sardar Sarovar Dam. This large dam is giving much needed water and energy to the Nation. You have been misled in the past and it is the time to come out in favour of the truth.

I am confident that you will appreciate the situation and withdraw your name from this campaign based on deliberate disinformation and ulterior motives.

With kind regards,
Yours sincerely,
(P. K. LAHERI)

Reply to Laheri by Dr Mohanty

From: Dr. Mohanty < dr_mohanty@yahoo.com>
To: Pravin Laheri
Date: Sep 20, 2006 9:31 AM
Subject: Re: News item appeared in Hindu dated 11/8/2006 "Eminent persons express......Narmada valley situation"

Dear Mr Laheri,
I fully stand by my statement. Of course we are equally concerned with the need for dringking water and irrigation facilities for the dry land region of Gujarat. Many alternative proposals have been suggested for that which have not been considered seriously by the leaders.

Please do not dismiss the NBA statements as baseless. It has gone into the detailed cases of rehabilitation and given its critique of the Shunglu report. In the past the supreme court has acknowledged several of their submissions.

I do hope the governments will refrain from raising the height of Narmada dam further, concentrate on rehabilitation of the already or about to-be displaced persons and pay more urgent attention to building the canals and channels for a fair distribution of the dam water among poorer sections.
We need patient dialogue and not acrimonious exchanges.
With kind regards,
Manoranjan Mohanty

Reply to Laheri by Ramaswamy Iyer

Dear Shri Laheri,

Thank you very much for writing to me. You have paid me the compliment of taking me seriously, and I owe you a carefully considered reply.

I seem to have missed the news item in The Hindu of 11/8/06, but that does not really matter. I know what NBA has been saying and I note what you have to say about it. Your appreciation of NBA and its campaign is very familiar: `deliberate disinformation', `ulterior motives', `not really concerned about R&R, but opposing dams in general', `telling lies', etc. You might have gone further and added `publicity-seeking', `anti-national', foreign-funded', and so on. That is the general picture of NBA in the Indian Water Establishment circles. I consider this a completely wrong picture. In fact, it is grotesquely wide of the mark. There has been a deliberate demonization of Medha Patkar and NBA by some (the driving force being the Gujarat Goverment, regardless of party affiliations); and others in the Establishment or `mainstream' have come to accept it. My own understanding of NBA, what it stands for, what it has done, and so on, is entirely different. Large numbers of people outside the Water Establishment circles, including many who do not entirely agree with Medha Patkar's views, hold her personally in great respect and consider the NBA one of the most important mass movements of our times. I share those views. It is very strange that the Indian Water Establishment has no idea of how widespread these views are, and has never considered the possibility that its own views could be wrong and others could be right. Their myopia seems incredible. (On the part of some, it is not myopia at all, but a deliberate attempt to destroy someone who is perceived as the Enemy.)

Leaving the general appreciation of NBA and Medha Patkar aside, the recent phase of the movement from April 2006 onwards has been about the status of rehabilitation, and the correctness of the decision to raise the height of the dam from 110 m to 121 m - not about the merits of SSP as a project, or about dams in general. On this, I have to say that the truth is by and large on NBA's side. Some of their numbers may be open to question, but their general assessment that rehabilitation is deficient, incomplete and lagging behind construction is indisputable. Their assessment was broadly corroborated by the report of the Group of Ministers. That Group had no particular axe to grind. They did a quick job, but there is no basis for questioning their motivations or the soundness of their overall assessment. What needed to be done was clear: suspend construction temporarily, do whatever needed to be done on the rehabilitation front, and then resume construction. Unfortunately, the Government chose to disown their own GoM in court. They proceeded to set up a thoroughly unnecessary Oversight Group. It was a disingenuous act. This was clear from the composition of the Group. One knew what to expect from a Group so constituted, and sure enough, it produced a shoddy, irresponsible, indefensible document. NBA has produced a powerful critique of the OSG Report. The findings of another group (from the Council for Social Development and JNU) also go to undermine the OSG Report.

I have written about these matters at great length and do not propose to repeat myself here. If you are genuinely interested in what I think about these matters and are willing to spare the time, you could look at the following:

(1) On the question of large dams in general, the whole of Section III (`Large Dams') and Chapter 25 `The Dilemmas of Water Resource Development') in Section VI of my book `Water Perspectives, Issues, Concerns', Sage, 2003.
Also, an interview in the ADB journal Water For All News, Section titled `Water Champions'
(2) On the current controversy over SSP rehabilitation, a number of articles:
`Narmada Project: The Points at Issue’, The Hindu, 13 April 2006.
`Narmada Project: Clearing the Confusion’, The Hindu, 17 April 2006.
`Does Development Entail Deprivation?’, The Economic Times, Perspectives, 25 April 2006.
`Narmada: The Cost of Delaying Rehabilitation’, The Hindu, 1 May 2006.
`Abandoning the Displaced’, The Hindu, 10 May 2006.
`Narmada Rehabilitation: OSG Report and After’, The Hindu, 1 August 2006.

I apologise for presuming to ask you to do so much reading. You are of course not obliged to. However, as your communication seems to imply that I have associated myself with undesirable groups and their false statements and campaign of disinformation, I thought that it was necessary to give you some evidence to show that much care and work go into whatever I write. May I respectfully request you to suspend your long-held opinions for awhile, think about what I have to say, and then reject it or modify your views?

Best wishes.

Ramaswamy R. Iyer
A-10, Sarita Vihar
New Delhi 110076
Tel: 91 11 26940708, 26972454
e-mail: ramaswam@vsnl.com, ramaswamy.iyer@gmail.com