“If you are to suffer, you should suffer in the interest of the country.” Jawaharlal Nehru

There are different types of social issues which are very serious nowadays. These social issues are affecting the lives of lower-class people or say tribal community. If you will see their problems then you will realize that the problem, they face is very nasty.Not only is the idea of losing one’s land without a free consent problematic, the terms under which it is required to be given away still find their legitimacy under the archaic laws.With the increasing pressures on land due to urbanization, rapid economic development, increasing infrastructure requirements etc., especially in a fast-growing economy like India, the acquisition of land by the Government has increased.

My sacrifice of a portion of my land is negligible compared to hundreds of villages acquired by the Indian government under the doctrine of Eminent Domain for Greater Good and “development” purposes, as a result of which, millions of people become displaced from their homes.The fear of losing my yard under unfair terms opened my eyes to the neglected problems with the laws pertaining to compulsory acquisition and resultant displacement due to the development projects in India.

The primary focus of this article is on the construction of dams and hydroelectricprojects which are built on the river and only because of that a huge number of population is displaced from one place to another. Taking a landmark example of ‘Sardar Sarovar Dam’ which is the evidence of this problem. At the time of building this dam, there was a lot of population who resides there and they had to leave that place due to the pressure of the government.

The short facts are Sardar Sarovar Dam is situated in Gujrat on the Narmada river which was previously known as the Narmada Dam but after that, it is renamed as Sardar Sarovar Dam by Narendra Modi remarking Sardar Vallabh Bhai Patel. This project aimed to increase irrigation and produce hydroelectricity in the respective states.The Sardar Sarovar project was a vision of the first deputy prime minister of India, Sardar Vallabhbhai Patel. The foundation stone of the project was laid out by Pandit Jawaharlal Nehru on April 5, 1961, but it is inaugurated by Narendra Modi on 17 September 2017 after 56 years.

Development induced Displacement: Meaning and implications

Nehru, the first Prime Minister of India proclaimed dams as the ‘Temples of Modern India’. Most of the Indian ruling elite subscribe to this ideal, and hence all major rivers in the country are dammed or are currently in the process. However, the construction of large dams has been criticised by large sections of the society for the social, economic and environmental costs that are linked with them. These negative externalities of constructing large dams have led to environmental conflicts, which have often culminated into large socio-environmental movements.

The Narmada is the country’s largest west-flowing river, which supports a wide array of disparate people, including the urban middle class, indigenous communities and rural population, from the states of Maharashtra, Gujarat and Madhya Pradesh. The Narmada Valley Development Plan (NVDP) affects all of them. 

The NVDP envisaged the construction of over 30 big dams, along with hundreds of medium dams and thousands of small dams (in terms of hydro-power capacity) on the Narmada and its tributaries. The proposed constructions would have submerged more than 500 villages and would have displaced 250,000 people. 

The problems of widespread displacement and human rehabilitation, along with large-scale loss of bio-diversity and livelihoods, resulted in the emergence of the Narmada Bachao Andolan (NBA). NBA has become a social movement, spearheaded by the wide array of leaders and communities including Adivasis, environmentalists, farmers and human rights’ activists. Various individuals with widely diverse ideologies, including members of right-wing parties such as BJP and extreme left Maoists, have also become a part of the movement.

Not only has the movement brought together a wide variety of people together, giving them a new identity in the process, the NBA also uses varied forms of resistance techniques across multiple scales. While it has retained its resistance against the project in the affected villages and among the indigenous tribes, it has also embarked to take the struggle to national and international levels through the use of various tools of protest like Satyagraha (Gandhian way of non-violent protest), Jal Samparan (symbolic drowning in the river waters), road blockages, picketing government offices, demonstrations, hunger-strikes, rallies etc. 

Many groups representing widely different people who have been affected by the construction of the dam in their way, such as Narmada Ghati Nav Nirman Samiti (“New Life in the Valley” in Madhya Pradesh), Narmada Asargrastha Samiti (Dam-Affected People in Gujarat), came together to form the movement. Several NGO’s (both domestic and international), professionals, public personalities and activists also joined the movement. The main call of the movement is a fair and just rehabilitation policy and opposition to the State’s resettlement policy. 

The Issues at a Glance

The state’s decision to construct several dams on the river, here, is the change of the environmental management regime. This affected a large number of people, whether powerful or marginalized, in different ways and led to them changing their environmental behaviour. 

People, including the rural folk, the indigenous tribals and certain middle-class communities, who were affected by the construction of the dam in different ways, came together as a result of the construction of the dam, and sought to create awareness and possibly start a movement against this construction. 

The construction of the dam gave these disparate and distinct communities the opportunity to come together and assert this newfound identity politically. NBA, effectively, became a political pressure group which used its numerical and vociferous influence to affect the policy-making body of the State. Its influence is not only limited to the policy-making aspect of the State but also extends to the World Bank, which is pressurised into rescinding the loan it had granted for the construction of the dam.

Members of the NBA, not only altered their environmental actions and identities but also radically modified their self-definitions. They began seeing themselves as crusaders for a society with just rehabilitation and resettlement policies. Additionally, they also began seeing themselves as initiators of a nation-wide discourse on decentralization of decision-making power and its consequent democratization.

In furtherance of this new identity, NBA recently joined hands with the Aam Aadmi Party (AAP) before the 2014 Lok Sabha elections. This was done with the intention to gain political representation in the legislature of the state, to ensure that any new environmental management institution that was created or modified by the state benefited the interests of the NBA.

In the given case study, members of the NBA became environmental subjects, who became conscious about their ecology and used this knowledge for political action. The political action, in this case, was spread across class, ethnicity and gender, with every member’s actions being transformed in order to create a new identity. This exercise was then used to push out the powerful external interferences form their environment.

The Legal Analysis and strategy

  • The first set of issues:

The first set of issues can be addressed by clear legislation or policy which lays down the basic obligations of the Government towards the rehabilitation of displaced persons.

  • Definition of a Public Purpose

Under Section-4 of the Act, the Government is required to make public notification of the intention to take over the land for a “public purpose” the definition of which under Section-3(f) is inclusive, and is often interpreted very liberally to include a variety of uses such as housing schemes, roads, playgrounds, offices and factories, benefiting only a portion of the society by the Collector and State Government taking advantage of the wide definition.The Supreme Court in various cases has laid down that not only is “Public Purpose” hard to define, but the Government is also the best judge to decide whether a purpose falls under this definition. Under the existing legislation, even private corporations are granted the right to acquire land under certain sections.

  • Mired in Controversy

The submergence has already killed three people. On August 22, Laxman Gopal, a 62-year-old farmer from Jangharva village in Barwani, died of a heart attack after a tiff with policemen who were evicting his niece from the submergence site. On August 7, two men were electrocuted while travelling in a boat.

Since its foundation stone was laid by India’s first Prime Minister Jawaharlal Nehru in 1961, the Sardar Sarovar Dam has been mired in controversy over the delay in compensation to thousands of people displaced by the project.The 1,300km-long Narmada River, which originates in Madhya Pradesh state and passes through Maharashtra and Gujarat, is considered a lifeline for Gujarat state.The dam is expected to provide irrigation and power to Gujarat but it has displaced thousands of people in Madhya Pradesh.

  • Compensation Package

The Supreme Court has ruled that compensation package – that includes land, housing plot with amenities, and financial assistance had to be provided at least six months before submergence but activists say about 28,000 projects affected families (PAFs) have yet to receive the promised compensation. The government and the activists, however, have differed on the total number of PAFs. NBA puts it at 48,000, while the government figure stands at 32,000. Medha Patkar, the leader of the NBA, accused the government of violating the Supreme Court order on raising the water level. Even though his family had applied for rehabilitation in 2017, they have received neither land nor financial compensation, he claimed.

Conclusion

For a country that aims to maintain skyrocketing annual growth in GDP, it becomes important to address wealth distribution within the society, for sustainable growth. The state cannot expect to get away with an unjust land acquisition policy. The current land acquisition policy violates the democratic fabric of the constitution of India.

The issue of Displacement is an example of how the law has to be consistent with socio-economic and political circumstances and appears to have failed in doing so.As it appears, there is a strong need to put legal thought into issues concerning the land acquirers as well as to thoroughly investigate issues regarding removing the imbalance from the system.

About the author

Piyush Raj is a first-year law student pursuing five-year B.A. LL.B (Hons.) Degree Programme at National Academy of Legal Studies and Research (NALSAR) University of Law, Hyderabad. His area of interest is Contractual Law, Corporate Law, and Constitutional Law. He is also a student mentor at Increasing Diversity of Increasing Access (IDIA). He is inclined towards Corporate Law and wants to join Corporate firms after completion of his course.

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