The Supreme Court on Thursday, September 26, heard the Writ Petition filed by the Project Affected Families (PAFs) in Madhya Pradesh under Article 32 of the Constitution. After hearing all parties, the Court directed the State of Madhya Pradesh to file an affidavit by September 30, and fixed the matter for hearing on October 1.
The petitioners have averred that the filling of the Sardar Sarovar reservoir was illegal and in violation of law, state policies, and judgements of the court. The filling of the reservoir led to the flooding of as many as 192 villages in Madhya Pradesh, 175 villages in Gujarat, and 13 villages in Maharashtra.
The States of Gujarat and Maharashtra, in addition to the State of Madhya Pradesh, and the inter-state body of Narmada Control Authority (NCA), were impleaded through an interim order passed by Justice N. V. Ramana and Justice Ajay Rastogi on September 18, 2019. The reply affidavits filed by the Union of India and the Narmada Control Authority have rejected, among others, the plea for reducing the water level in the Sardar Sarovar to 122 metres by keeping the gates open. The affidavits have also claimed that the NCA and its various subgroups responsible for the resettlement and rehabilitation of the people in the area had already granted all the requisite permissions for filling of the reservoir to full reservoir level (FRL) in 2017 itself. The State of Gujarat argued that the SC order of February 8, 2017, had directed all the PAFs to vacate the villages by July 31, 2017, and that this should have been complied with.
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The petitioners, on the other hand, submitted to the court that thousands of families have been residing in 76 villages, and the government has not taken care of their resettlement and rehabilitation. According to a letter by the Chief Secretary of Madhya Pradesh dated May 27, 2019, about 3,000 applications made with claims for the land entitlement or Rs 60 lakh package that the SC had granted in its 2017 order still remain pending. It was also accepted in the letter that a number of tasks related to resettlement and rehabilitation remain pending and the civic amenities as per the Narmada Water Disputes Tribunal Award (NWDTA) and state policy, such as drinking water, roads, drainage and others were not in place.
On Thursday, a three-judge bench comprising of Justices N. V. Ramana, Sanjiv Khanna, and Krishna Murari heard the senior counsel for the petitioners, Sanjay Parikhji. He pointed out the gravity of the submergence and how it has been affecting the lives of the villagers, and requested that since the increase in water levels was not in accordance with law as the resettlement and rehabilitation has not been completed , the water level should be brought down so that human suffering is lessened.
Senior counsel for the Madhya Pradesh government, Kapil Sibal sought time to file an affidavit pointing out the status of resettlement and rehabilitation. He also asserted that the impact of submergence is much more severe than what has been presented. Tushar Mehta, Solicitor General, submitted on behalf of the Union and NCA that water level in the reservoir has been raised as per the procedure in the award.
The SC also drew the attention of the Solicitor General to the provision in NWDTA regarding a review committee meeting suggested in the interim order and observed that a decision should be taken in the meanwhile. The review committee comprises of the Chief Ministers of the 4 states – Madhya Pradesh, Maharashtra, Gujarat and Rajasthan as members, chaired by the Minister for Water Resources of the Union of India.
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The present controversy arose because the State of Gujarat wanted to increase the water level to 138.68 metres in spite of State of Madhya Pradesh resisting it on the grounds that since the rehabilitation was pending, submergence cannot be allowed. Because of the rise in water level in Sardar Sarovar, 176 villages have been submerged severely impacting their life and livelihood- tapoos (islands) have been created, roads have been submerged and communication is severely affected.