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

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Sardar Sarovar Judgment and Human Rights

The Sardar Sarovar judgment is, in the Supreme Court's own words, fundamentally about the human rights of displaced people. However, rather than providing a full reasoned analysis of the human rights situation, the judgment focuses on the various administrative procedures put in place by the state to deal with the issues arising from the Sardar Sarovar Project. This is rather surprising. Even if we assume that domestic law is underdeveloped with regard to eviction, displacement and rehabilitation, there was substantial guidance from the international level to help the court in reaching a decision.

The Narmada judgment is an extremely important decision for a variety of reasons. The human rights dimension is one of its fundamental aspects Indeed, the majority judgment which concluded that the project could go ahead specifically acknowledged that it was entertaining the petition of the Narmada Bachao Andolan only because it was concerned about the situation of displaced people in the Narmada Valley This is one of the most important lessons of the judgment. Displaced people’s right to life including the right to live in a healthy environment, right to a house or right to food are very important considerations in the eyes of the Supreme Court Given this stand, it is worth examining in more detail how the court finally arrives at the conclusion that displaced people, especially the adivasis among them, are being actually helped by the state since their displacement will provide an opportunity to uplift them from their present living conditions.

As noted, in the court’s words the judgment is fundamentally about the human rights of displaced people. In practice, however, human rights are given surprisingly little place in the arguments of the court. The majority judgment refers to the right to life and to the International Labour Convention 107 which protects the rights of tribal people. However, rather than providing a full reasoned analysis of the human rights situation, the judgment focuses on the various administrative procedures put in place by the state to deal with the various issues arising from the Sardar Sarovar Project (SSP). This is rather surprising. Even if we assume for the moment that domestic law is underdeveloped with regard to eviction, displacement and rehabilitation, there was substantial guidance from the international level to help the court in reaching a decision.

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