The Supreme Court on October 24 heard the writ petition filed by the persons who were affected by the “illegal raising of water level” in Sardar Sarovar reservoir to its maximum capacity—bringing it to the138.68-metre mark. The petitioners have alleged that this was done in violation of the Narmada Tribunal Award and the Supreme Court’s direction that said ‘no submergence should take place till rehabilitation is complete in all respects’.
The responses filed by the State of Gujarat, Narmada Control Authority (NCA), and the Union of India confirmed that the accelerated filling of the reservoir that took place on September 15 at the rate of 30 cm in 24 hours ahead of PM Modi’s birthday visit on September 17 were clearly contrary to the guidelines of the Central Water Commission, which say that filling of reservoirs to the ‘full reservoir level’ should be done slowly, and the water level should be raised by 30 cm in a span of 48 hours.
The accelerated filling of the reservoir affected 176 villages of Madhya Pradesh, and thousands of families of farmers and agricultural labourers, including women and children, had to relocate to save their lives. Only some of these people have been given temporary shelters in tin sheds by the government, where thousands of people still continue to suffer due to loss of livelihoods and lack of water, food, and shelter. The cattle do not have any fodder as the villages have been submerged and no alternatives have been provided at the resettlement sites by the government.
The Supreme Court, after hearing the senior counsel for the affected families—Sanjay Parikh—refused to accept the report dated October 10 that was compiled by the Sardar Sarovar Regulation Committee and was submitted by the Union of India and NCA. The petitioners have alleged that the Committee had illegally decided to fill the reservoir that led to the flooding of villages.
The Court directed the Review Committee, consisting of the chief ministers of Madhya Pradesh, Gujarat, Maharashtra, and Rajasthan, chaired by the Union Minister for Water Resources, to meet and expeditiously to decide the question of water level in the reservoir and rehabilitation of the affected families. The Review Committee functions under the Narmada Tribunal Award and reviews the decisions taken by the NCA. The Court has granted the petitioners, Madan Singh and others, the liberty to submit a memorandum before the Review Committee.
The petitioners have also raised objection to the fact that Tushar Mehta, Solicitor General, appeared for Union of India, Narmada Control Authority and the State of Gujarat in spite of the fact that all the three parties are independent, and NCA, especially, is supposed to be an interstate impartial authority to guide and direct the states, in the legal framework.
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