ISSN (Print) - 0012-9976 | ISSN (Online) - 2349-8846

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Supreme Court and NBA

By taking a very formal view of issues like rehabilitation and environment, the Supreme Court, in the Sardar Sarovar case, seems unfortunately to be suggesting its withdrawal from the larger role which it had assumed in recent decades. This is cause for concern because through judicial activism the court has played the role of legitimising and channelling various movements for social change and social justice. The dissenting judgment of Justice Bharucha, however, encourages hope that the trend of going back to the narrow legalistic paradigm of the judicial process will not be shared by the entire court.

The Supreme Court in its final decision over a writ petition filed by the Narmada Bachao Andolan (NBA) in 1994 has given a decision giving the green signal to the construction of the controversial dam (Sardar Sarovar Project) on the river Narmada. NBA has been agitating against the dam because, according to it, the plans for rehabilitation of the people ousted from the villages which were to be submerged had not been made and considering the vastness of the probable displacement that it was going to cause, it would be impossible for the state governments to provide the oustees with alternative lands. It further pointed out that the dam was likely to have disastrous consequences on the environment. The agitation started in 1986, after which, the World Bank, which had sanctioned a loan for the dam, decided to withdraw. The Morse report which it had commissioned did not give a positive report on the dam. But even after the World Bank withdrew, the government of Gujarat continued its pursuit of the dam. The final clearance for the dam came from the union ministry of environment in 1987 and thereafter the construction started. The clearance given by the government of India was subject to the state governments complying with certain conditions such as preparing plans for the rehabilitation of the displaced persons and making requisite studies of the possible effects on environment and ways to overcome them. Even the tribunal which the government of India had appointed to adjudicate upon the dispute between riparian states of Madhya Pradesh, Maharshtra and Gujarat had insisted that no person shall be driven out of his house unless he was provided with alternative land. The tribunal’s conditions on rehabilitation as well as assessment of environmental damage were pre-conditions to the building of the dam. The NBA is an organisation of persons who suffered and were likely to suffer displacement and loss of means of livelihood because of the construction of the dam. It started with the aim of ensuring rehabilitation of the evictees but over the years, in view of the magnitude of the possible displacement, came to the conclusion that total rehabilitation was impossible and the only way to avoid marginalisation of a large number of people, substantial number of whom were tribals, was to scrap the project of building such a dam. On the basis of cost-benefit analysis it claimed that big dams were not beneficial.

NBA found that in the name of development, the poor and the ignorant people were being exploited. The state governments did not have enough land to give to the oustees in return for the lands lost by them. Lands were offered to the evictees which were not fertile and at times had already been occupied by other evictees.

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