No one questions the premise that the hapless people uprooted from their lands and hearths should be properly rehabilitated or paid adequate compensation for the financial, physical and emotional price they pay for losing their properties to enable the Government to build a dam or a highway. As a concerned citizen, one is in total empathy with the uprooted families, particularly those belonging to deprived sections of the society. A welfare state, like ours, needs to adopt a humane policy in this regard. Relocation and rehabilitation processes need to be made transparent to ensure justice and to minimise corruption. Additionally, the state needs to give due consideration to the needs and emotional requirements of the affected people. One is witness to the agony of several thousand farmers of what is now Himachal Pradesh whose lands were submerged consequent to the construction of Bhakra dam. A large number of them were allotted land in sandy areas of Rajasthan that was most unsuitable to the people used to living in hilly areas. Most of them had no option but to sell off at throwaway prices the barren lands allotted to them and return to their state as paupers.
However, a duly constituted government has the sovereign right to acquire any private property, including land, for a public purpose. If the Government of the day takes a decision through the due process of law to acquire private property, the only right available to the citizens is to demand and get an adequate and appropriate compensation. While the quantum of the compensation or the quality of rehabilitation package can be challenged in courts, no one has the right to ask that the public purpose for which the land was acquired be negated. This is precisely what the anti-dam brigade is doing with regard to almost every major development project in the country. It was the case with Tehri project and the ugly spectacle is being repeated with regard to Narmada Dam. Foreign funded NGOs and professional agitators oppose all development projects on one pretext or the other. One wonders if their objective is to prevent India from emerging as a first rate developed and prosperous country so that they continue to receive foreign funds to undertake studies on India'spoverty, backwardness, discrimination against minorities and what not.
So far as Narmada Dam oustees are concerned, the Supreme Court of India has established an effective mechanism for dealing with complaints about tardy implementation of rehabilitation plans and payment of adequate compensation. The manner in which our officialdom functions, there is every chance that there are delays and or corruption in the rehabilitation process. If the complaints to these court-mandated authorities didn'tevoke a positive response, the affected people have every right to launch a peaceful and non-violent agitation to focus government and public attention on the real or perceived inadequacies. The so-called Narmada Bachao Andolan (NBA) and its leader Medha Patkar'sright to protest can'tbe questioned. However, the NGO'sintentions are suspect. NBA and its environmentalist allies may be concerned about the relocation of oustees, but their target is something else. They want to stop work on the Narmada project that is the lifeline of Gujarat and will immensely benefit M.P., Rajasthan and Maharashtra. They have opposed the increase in the height of the dam at every stage in utter violation of court orders. They recently resorted to blackmail through much hyped hunger strikes to stall the construction of the dam under the garb of tardy implementation of rehabilitation work. Union Minister for Water Resources Saifuddin Soz ganged up with the anti-dam brigade in an insidious attempt to stop the work on the project in a bid to serve his party'spetty partisan interests. In the process, he tried to malign the BJP-ruled states of Gujarat, Madhya Pradesh and Rajasthan by dishing out half-truths and blatant lies. He led a Group of Ministers (GoM) to avowedly see for himself the progress of rehabilitation work but went there with a closed mind. It was an entirely stage-managed show. He saw and heard what the NBA activists wanted him to see and hear and met only a select few chosen by the anti-dam lobby. The report is a bundle of lies, half-truths and half-baked ideas. M.P. Chief Minister Shivraj Singh Chauhan'sin his communication to the Prime Minister has proved beyond a shadow of doubt that the GoM'sreport was subjective, erroneous and pre-meditated.
Sample some of the errors?intentional or inadvertent. The report says the government had offered land to 407 families at Kalaghat. The fact is that there is no rehabilitation center at that place but at another place?Khal Buzurg. Again, it is wrong that 407 families had been offered land there. It is the total number of oustees that have been allotted land in the entire state. Interestingly, out of 4,286 affected people who were offered land by the Government, only 407 agreed to have land, while the remaining opted for a special rehabilitation package. Again, the report says hospitals and primary schools set up and hand pumps installed at Lakhangaon were non-functional. How can these become functional before the allottees settle there? Pointing out that almost 90 per cent of those entitled for land-for-land compensation, opted for the special rehabilitation package, the Chief Minister says it is inconceivable that more than 3,800 were forced to accept cash compensation as alleged by the GoM. Making fun of the Union Government, the Chief Minister pointed out that one of the observation made by the GoM was correct. Oustees getting more than rupees one lakh as compensation were being charged income tax. The State Government had taken up the issue with the Union Government without any positive response. Who is to blame for this lapse?
It is conceivable that some of the oustees are victim of official lethargy and corruption. Their cases need to be taken up expeditiously and states must be made accountable for providing adequate and fair compensation to the affected families. However, nothing should be done to undermine the machinery set up by the apex court to monitor the progress in the rehabilitation plans. The Supreme Court has rightly said that the construction on the dam and relocation and rehabilitation process must progress side by side. UPA Government has sent wrong signals to the professional agitators by trying to appease the likes of Medha Patkar and her allies, including writers and actors. Today, it is Narmada Dam. Tomorrow they may launch an agitation against the acquisition of land by the National Highway Authority thereby jeopardizing one of the major infrastructural projects underway in the country. Land is always an emotive issue and a large chunk of land has to be acquired for all big projects. The Government needs to wake up and take a firm stand to call off the bluff of jholewalas and professional agitators. They shouldn'tbe allowed to blackmail the country.