The three-member Sardar Sarovar Dam Oversight Group set up by the Prime Minister has in its 200-page report thoroughly exposed the falsehood spread by the Narmada Bachao Andolan led by Medha Patkar about the number of affected families and the number of those that had not been properly rehabilitated. Not only that, the Group led by former Comptroller and Auditor General V K Shunglu made the damning observation that occasionally attempts were made by certain elements to impede the progress in the completion of the project by interfering with the field activities. This is an obvious reference to goons belonging to the NGO threatening engineers and workers engaged in the project work and inciting villagers not to accept the compensation provided to them by the State Governments with a view to achieve their ?hidden agenda? namely disrupting the construction of the dam that may change the face of beneficiary states, particularly Gujarat and Madhya Pradesh.
Equally galling for the NGO is the observation made by the Group that the NBA opposed the plan to conduct a door-to-door survey to find out the truth about the wild allegations leveled by Patkar against the two state governments that are incidentally run by the BJP. The NGO insisted that a sample survey would do. Was the suggestion made to hide the glaring inaccuracies in the figures dished out by the NGO and its ?friendly? media? Or still worse, to later damn the findings of the Group by saying the sample was wrong. The Group comprising eminent persons of different fields refused to fall in the trap and employed the services of the National Sample Survey Organisation (NSSO) that conducted survey in all the 177 affected villages in the Narmada valley.
The Prime Minister accepted the Group'sreport that found no major discrepancy in MP Government'sAction Taken Report on the status of rehabilitation of affected families. NGO'sallegations in this regard, the report said, were ?without substance?. The Prime Minister too in his communication that was placed before the Supreme Court says, ?The oversight group seems to have given a fairly accurate picture of the facts and circumstances as they obtained on the ground.? Dr Manmohan Singh'sassertion that while relief and rehabilitation measures are of primary importance, shortcomings in R&R work brought out in the report can be remedied by accelerating the pace of implementation is most appropriate and needs to be commended. On its part, the Apex Court refused to interfere with the PM'sdecision not to stop the work on the project and allow the Gujarat Government to raise the height of the SSD spillway to a uniform 119 metres. The Group'sreport, the PM'sobservation and the Supreme Court order should have put the Narmada controversy to rest. But NBA refuses to see reason. It continues with its anti-dam and anti-people campaign finding fault with the methodology adopted by the Shunglu Group. It is no surprise, as the controversy is the bread and butter of the ?great fighter for people'scauses.?
The Shunglu Group report is a vindication of the dam authorities and a document that damns the NGO that is out to stall the project. It asserts that there is no substantial deviation in the number of affected families. Look at the figures. NSSO'sdoor-to-door verification revealed that out of 6845 claimants, only 1367 had approached the Grievance Redressal Authority. Of the remaining, 98 per cent claimed loss of homestead. However, it discovered that 3000 persons that demanded compensation were not residents of the villages concerned in 2001 census. Hence, they were not eligible for any compensation or rehabilitation. More interestingly, 56 per cent of these claimants were from 22 affected villages that have shown an extraordinary increase between two censuses (2001 and 1991) ? 140 per cent in population and 162 persons in households. In sharp contrast, the remaining 155 villages displayed negative growth of population as well as household.
The report has confirmed that Special Rehabilitation Package is a legitimate substitute for providing land-for-land as stipulated in the Narmada Water Dispute Tribunal Award. The survey said that 38.4 per cent of affected families found the Special Rehabilitation Package more attractive. Another 26.1 per cent said they followed their relatives in accepting the package. It is evident that the affected people accepted money instead of land as most of the land offered was of ?average? (actually, poor) quality and couldn'tbe cultivated immediately. What the Committee didn'tsay but is obvious is that there must have been a lot of administrative arbitrariness and corruption in allotment of land. That is why land purchase through Special package mechanism has picked up. Narmada Valley Development Authority says 1650 affected families have completed the process of land purchase under the scheme by making full payment.
Many people were not shifting to new sites, the report points out, as there is no immediate threat to submergence of their villages. The Madhya Pradesh Government will do well to streamline the administrative machinery to ensure that all affected people are properly rehabilitated on R&R sites and these sites are fully developed as per the specifications laid down by the Narmada Valley Development Authority.
The Oversight Group'sdetailed report is a virtual condemnation of the group of Ministers led by Water Minister Saifuddin Soz that had rushed to the dam site in the wake of Patkar'shunger strike in support of her startling demand that work on the project?that is the life-line of the people of Gujarat and MP?be stopped. Now that the Prime Minister has accepted the Shunglu Group report and the Apex Court has given its order on that basis, Soz stands exposed. His antics were politically motivated. He abused his position as a Minister of the Government and misled his Prime Minister and the nation. Since the Prime Minister has himself disowned his Minister'sactions, the latter'scontinuation in the Government is no longer sustainable. The Prime Minister must drop him if the Minister doesn'tquit on his own. Will the Prime Minister act or will he be prevented from taking appropriate and morally correct action on the premise that dropping Soz may send wrong signals to the minorities?