Prime Minister Manmohan Singh is not in favour of issuing any direction at this stage to stop the construction of the controversial Narmada dam, the central government informed the Supreme Court on Monday.
Additional Solicitor General Gopal Subramaniam produced before a bench of Chief Justice YK Sabharwal, Justice KG Balakrishnan and Justice SB Sinha a copy of the letter written by the prime minister on July 8 stating that it would not be appropriate in the light of materials available to stop the construction work.
The Narmada Control Authority (NCA) gave permission to raise the height of the Sardar Sarovar dam on the Narmada river in Gujarat from 110 metres to 121.92 metres in March.
The move was, however, opposed by the Narmada Bachao Andolan (NBA) that said it violated an apex court order favouring a raise in the dam height only after those to be displaced at the new height were rehabilitated.
In the light of the Prime Minister's letter, the bench said: "We find no reason to restrict construction at this stage as non-construction may endanger the non-completed blocks."
Subramaniam also submitted to the court in a sealed cover a copy of the report of the Sardar Sarovar Project Relief and Rehabilitation Oversight Group headed by VK Shunglu.
Manmohan Singh had formed the Shunglu committee in May to study the relief and rehabilitation (R&R) of the project affected people. The three-member expert group submitted its report to the prime minister July 3.
The bench asked the parties to file their responses and rejoinders and posted the matter for further hearing in September.
In his letter, the Prime Minister stated: "the Oversight Group seems to have given a fairly accurate picture of the facts and circumstances on the ground.
"While R&R measures are of primary importance, considering the fact that work on construction of the dam is going to be stopped by Gujarat on July 10 on account of the onset of the monsoon and also the fact that the shortcomings in R&R work brought out in the report can be remedied by accelerated pace of implementation."
The Prime Minister said it would not be appropriate to stop construction of the dam, designed to serve larger public interest. He said that the Madhya Pradesh government should be directed that R&R work must be accelerated during the period when there would be stoppage of work (due to the monsoon).
Appearing for the Gujarat government, senior counsel Ashok Desai said the work would generally remain stopped during the monsoon.
He said while the height had been raised up to 119 metres, it was less than 119 metres in the blocks 28 to 36 of the dam.
Desai said the height of all the blocks should be uniformly raised to 119 metres and the stoppage of construction at this level would endanger the safety of the dam.
However, Senior counsel Shanti Bhushan, appearing for the NBA, contended that the construction work should be stopped at the present level.
The bench in its order said that in view of the submissions made by the central government as well as the Gujarat government that the construction work had already been stopped due to monsoons, there was no need to issue further fresh directions to stop the work.
The dam project, aimed at relieving the perennial water crisis in parts of Gujarat, has faced criticism from NBA and other agencies for allegedly neglecting the rights of those whose lands would be submerged by it.