Mr. Digvijay Singh
Government of Madhya Pradesh.
June 15th 2002
Dear Mr. Digvijay Singh,
Further to our conversation of the 12th, in which you said that you would do something to meet the demands of the Man project oustees, I am extremely pained to learn that the "something" amounted to arresting the oustees, while those on fast are in an increasingly critical condition. One really had more hope from the Congress Government in Madhya Pradesh.
These activists have been peacefully protesting since May 15 and four of them have been on hunger strike since May 21. As you are aware, they are in an extremely dangerous state - the acetones in their blood have reached risk levels and Ram Kuar has malaria to boot. When a government does not want to negotiate with people who are willing to suffer for the justice of their demands, it forces people to adopt more violent methods.
I understand from the letter that you have sent Ms.Roy (along with Mrs. Gandhi and Ms. Soni), and which has now been made public, that you have made no new concessions. Instead, you have reiterated the stand that made them go on hunger strike in the first place. What is worse is that this has been accompanied by arrests and a complete refusal to negotiate.
According to your figures, there are 993 families who will face partial submergence. The whole idea of partial submergence=92 ignores the reality of flooding, the damage to both houses and the inability to cultivate land for that year. Moreover, this figure of 993 families is somewhat surprising given that the NVDD report of 20.10.2001 estimates it as 1156 families. As the IPT report (p. 21) makes clear, the number of families to be displaced varies in government records.
Anyway, even going by your latest figures, the rehabilitation package you have announced is just not enough. You state that only 448 families are eligible for alternative land, having lost more than 25% of their holdings.
The MP Rehabilitation Policy for the Narmada Valley Oustees, 1992 clearly states that Every displaced family will be allotted a minimum of 2 hectares (ha) and a maximum of 8 ha in lieu of land acquired. (Clause 3.2b)
The government will assist displaced families in providing irrigation by well/tube well or any other method on the land allotted, provided such land is not already irrigated. In case the allotted land cannot be irrigated, the displaced family would be allotted a minimum of 4 ha of land. (Clause 3.2 c)
Grant-in-aid would be paid to cover the gap between the amount of compensation and the cost of allotted land in these cases where the cost of allotted land is more than the amount of compensation. (Clause 5.4)
If these 448 families were to be given compensation at the rate of irrigated land in Dhar tahsil (a minimum of 2 ha), the figure would amount to approximately Rs. 19 crores. The special rehabilitation package you announced amounts to only Rs. 13 crore.
Even taking into account the compensation which was paid in 1991, there is still a gap of some Rs. 5 crore. The oustees have been on hunger strike precisely for that extra Rs. 5 crore (or land amounting to that much). The oustees have been able to identify irrigated land in Dhar tahsil for sale if your government can identify cheaper irrigated land for sale elsewhere (e.g. Gandhwani tahsil), by all means do so, and give it to the oustees.
Your letter to Ms. Roy states that the government policy "does not allow the state government to purchase land and give it to the tribals". In fact,the 1992 policy (Clause 3.2 b) states that everyone is entitled to a minimum of 2h, "regardless of whether they are to be given government land or whether private land is to be purchased and given to them".
In the case of adivasi oustees, the 1992 MP policy clearly provides for due enquiry by the Collector who needs to certify that cash compensation will not harm their interests, before cash can be substituted for land. As the IPT report makes clear (a copy of which is with you), due process was not followed at that time villagers were forced to accept cash compensation, and that too, at rates which were not sufficient to buy land even then. Villagers have repeatedly submitted in writing to the MP Government that they would rather have land. The oustees have also repeatedly asked for evidence that due process was followed, which has not been forthcoming.
Your letter also asks the oustees to put their case before the Grievance Redressal Authority. As you are aware, this authority is not distinct from the NVDA and the MP Government. The oustees have been repeatedly told at various levels -- the local district collector, NVDA officials -- that only the Chief Minister can solve their demands.
Finally, while the MP government's desire to fell trees and demolish buildings so as not to waste timber and building materials is indeed very commendable, one must point out that people are still living in these villages, since they have nowhere else to go. Forcing people to leave by sealing hand pumps and depriving them of drinking water is particularly inhuman. The Rehabilitation Policy states that oustees should be properly resettled at least six months prior to submergence rather than unceremoniously evicted some six days before submergence.
I trust that you will recognize the truth in this presentation of the facts. There can be no doubt that under the rehabilitation policy the government is obliged to give adivasis land for land. There can also be no doubt that the policy is not being followed on the ground, or else four activists would not be on hunger strike for 26 days, which could possibly extend to a fast to death. Irreparable physical damage has already set in, and if anything happens to them, the world will hold you personally responsible.
All it would really take is for you to go to Dhar personally for a day or two and enquire into the matter yourself. Or else, given that as a Chief Minister, you must have several constraints on your time, appoint a committee to undertake verification of the facts, such as whether due process was followed, and how much extra land or money would be required for proper rehabilitation. I believe this option should be acceptable to both the NBA and the Government. Why have a policy if the government has no intention of following it?
(Dr.) Nandini Sundar
Centre for the Study of Law and Governance
Jawaharlal Nehru University,
New Delhi - 67
For in-depth, objective and more importantly balanced journalism, Click here to subscribe to Outlook Magazine