In a significant development, the Supreme Court on August 23 issued a show cause notice to the Madhya Pradesh government for demanding an undertaking from farmers affected by the Omkareshwar dam to the effect that they will not demand compensatory land under the rehabilitation policy. The notice was issued in response to a contempt petition filed in this regard by the people’s front Narmada Bachao Andolan (NBA).
On June 7, 2013, the Madhya Pradesh government had announced a rehabilitation package for oustees of Omkareshwar dam in Khandwa district in the state, under which a compensation of Rs 2 lakh per acre (one acre equals 0.4 hectare) was announced. The package came with the condition that only farmers who gave the said undertaking would be eligible for rehabilitation. This, said Alok Agarwal of NBA, is in clear violation of Supreme Court order of May 11, 2011, which says that all farmers have to be given a minimum five acres of land. The order also said that in case of non-availability of land, farmers should be paid the price of land at market rate and helped to procure private land, as provided under Section 5.4 of the rehabilitation policy.
Not only this, said Agarwal, government also announced a package where the minimum compensation has been reduced from five acres to one acre. Further, the Rs 2 lakh compensation announced is not even half the actual market price.
NBA has said in its contempt plea that government has deliberately hindered the work of the Grievance Redressal Authority (GRA) time and again to prevent orders in favour of oustees from being issued, and even in the case of the 1,700 people for whom orders were issued, not a single farmer has been given fertile and undisputed land. Farmers are being forced to accept the package under pressure, the petition said.
Earlier, in response to the same petition, Supreme Court had issued another show cause notice to the Madhya Pradesh government on August 19, for its failure to rehabilitate people of Dharaji and four other villages in Dewas district. These five villages—Dharaji, Kothmir, Guwadi, Narsinghpura and Nyapura—were not originally included in the rehabilitation plan of the Omkareswar dam, but the government included them after they got submerged. However, when the tribal residents demanded land for land, government stopped the land-acquisition process. This was challenged by NBA in high court, following which, in September 2009, court ordered that the villages be rehabilitated.
The state government challenged this decision in the Supreme Court, saying the villages will be protected from submergence by constructing embankments, and asked permission to cancel the land acquisition process. However, more than two years after the May 2011 order of the Supreme Court, no embankments have been built, and the government has informed that there is no proposal for construction of embankments. Meanwhile, last year when the dam was filled up to 190 metres, many farms in these villages got submerged.
Relief from high court as well
Meanwhile, on August 19 itself, the Madhya Pradesh High Court provided relief to Omkareshwar dam oustees by declaring illegal the section of the GRA’s order which said that oustees will have to return 50 per cent of the amount paid to them as compensation in order to be eligible for receiving compensatory land. Oustees will now be required to return the amount in installments over 20 years, starting two years after allotment of compensatory land.
Following the May 2011 order of the Supreme Court, some 2,400 dam oustees had applied for land allotment to the GRA. At that time the Authority had said in its orders that state and project proponents have failed to implement rehabilitation policy and that the oustees are eligible for land-for-land compensation. However, it had also added the condition of furnishing a written undertaking.
Out of the 1,700 oustees in whose cases orders were issued, some 700 families have returned 50 per cent of the rehabilitation amount, while 1,000 families were not able to do so. Following this, residents of villages Sukwa, Indhawadi, Kelwa, Ghogalgaon, Ekhand, Toki and Kamankheda filed 125 petitions saying that the Supreme Court order does not mention returning money before land allotment, and praying for the removal of the clause, informed Agarwal.
High court judge A K Shrivastav, in his order, said that the clause in GRA’s order is illegal because the clause, which had been a part of high court’s February 2008 order on rehabilitation, was removed by the Supreme Court in its May 11, 2011 judgement.