In a land mark order, re-affirming the right to land-based rehabilitation of thousands of Sardar Sarovar Project affected families, the Madhya Pradesh High Court today directed the Government of Madhya Pradesh (GoMP) and Narmada Valley Development Authority (NVDA) to stop all cash payments in lieu of land entitlements, until the S.S. Jha Judicial Commission, appointed by the High Court in 2008, scrutinizes every single case in the framework of the Narmada Water Disputes Tribunal Award (NWDTA), as per the Order of the Hon’ble Supreme Court.
The Order was passed today by the Bench of Acting Chief Justice, Hon’ble Justice K.K. Lahoti and Justice Subhash Kakade in a petition filed by Narmada Bachao Andolan (NBA) and some oustees, challenging a new Scheme of GoMP / NVDA of September, 2010 that permits deposit of meagre cash in lieu of mandatory land entitlements in the case of almost 1,500 families. The Scheme, in complete violation of the terms and conditions stipulated in the NWDTA, R&R Policy, Action Plan and various Judgements of the Hon’ble Supreme Court, none of which permit encashment of rehabilitation entitlements, forces the oustees to accept land from the Land Bank, which is mostly proved to be uncultivable or under encroachment (since decades) and demands repayment of the money earlier paid by NVDA as the 1st installment, 5 to 8 years ago, which is possible for the oustees.
The Scheme stipulates that in case the oustees refuse the land or even do not reply to the notice, the 2nd instalment (barely 2.5 lakhs) would be deposited in their bank accounts and their rehabilitation would be presumed to be complete! It may be noted that these 1,500 families were paid one half of the Special Rehabilitation Package (SRP) almost 5-8 years ago, but could not purchase 5 acres of land, with that amount, the condition necessary for disbursal of the 2nd instalment and hence were stranded and have been demanding land allotment since then.
The Hon’ble Court took note of the fact that the Award directed the government to only allocate alternative land to the eligible oustees and not cash. Having confirmed from the Govt. counsel that there has been amendment in the Award till date, the Bench passed order directing that the GoMP / NVDA cannot deposit any money in the Bank under the new / impugned Scheme and no payment of cash in lieu of land can be made unless Justice Jha Commission scrutinizes each case in the context of the NWDTA and other legal bases and grants approval as per the interim order dated 11-05-2009 of the Supreme Court.
The Hon’ble Supreme Court had ruled on 11th May, 2009 in the SLP filed by NVDA to open cash disbursement and lift stay granted by the M.P. High Court that if at all there is any disbursement related to rehabilitation by cash or cheque, the same would be subject to scrutiny by the Commission. In violation of this Order, the that NVDA had deposited cash (2nd installment of SRP), under the new Scheme in the bank accounts of almost 400 PAFs, out of 1500, by getting them to sign on pre-formatted affidavits, relinquishing the right to land once and for all and claiming that they would follow some other vocation, leaving agriculture! Challenging these affidavits that are under the scanner of the Jha Commission, it was also argued that Justice S.P. Khare, Chairman, Grievance Redressal Authority had also directed that the GoMP / NVDA shall not accept any affidavit from oustees that compromises with the rights granted by the NWDTA.
It was also pointed out to the Court that the new Scheme has re-activated the same nexus of middlemen and officials, who have looted hundreds of PAFs in the fake registries scam and also many of these very PAFs in disbursement of the 1st instalments and their names have appeared in the testimonies before Justice Jha Commission. These middlemen have been compelling the oustees, including adivasis, dalits and marginal farmers to accept cash by giving thumb impressions or signatures on the pre-formatted affidavits and give up their entitlement for land that would provide livelihood for generations. The Court, after detailed hearing for almost 2 hours, observed that Justice Jha Commission is on the right path in scrutinizing all the cases of the PAFs where NVDA recommends cash disbursement in one form or the other and there needs to be no interference, at this stage.
In another significant Order, in a related matter, the Hon’ble Bench dismissed the writ petition of the GoMP / NVDA challenging the Order dated 4-04-2012 of the Justice Jha Commission, wherein the bank payments of 400 oustees was stopped, until scrutiny by the Commission as per the Apex Court’s Order. After hearing counsel for the State and NBA, the Court assertively directed the Government not to interfere in the process of scrutiny and investigation of the Commission that has been looking into each case, ascertaining the quality of land offer, irregularity in cash disbursement, consent of the PAF etc. The Court directed the GoMP / NVDA to enable the Commission to continue its task as per the Orders of the Apex Court and this Hon’ble Court. Adv. Arpan Pawar presented the case of the State. Ms. Medha Patkar argued the matter on behalf of NBA and the project-affected families.
NBA welcomes these Orders as a significant step forward in the legal battle of the project-affected families and the Andolan, who for years, now have been agitating issues of major violation in rehabilitation, illegal encashment, massive corruption in the R&R process etc. The Order is also significant in the context of the attempts of Gujarat and Madhya Pradesh to raise the height of the Sardar Sarovar further by finishing off the right to life and rehabilitation of more than 45,000 families in the Narmada valley, who are yet to be rehabilitated with alternative land and livelihood.