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Money, instead of land, for Narmada refugees

The MP Govt has tweaked a rehabilitation law to enable it to compensate families facing displacement by dams being constructed on the Narmada river with money, reports C Choudhury. Timeline.
Hindustan Times | By Chitrangada Choudhury, Badwani
UPDATED ON JUN 03, 2008 12:40 AM IST

The Madhya Pradesh government tweaked a rehabilitation law recently to enable it to compensate thousands of families, mostly farmers, facing displacement by dams being constructed on the Narmada river with money instead of land.

This overturns the fundamental ‘land-for-land’ principle of the 1979 rehabilitation policy that many believe is essential to ensure alternative livelihoods to people whose lands would be submerged by the irrigation project. The Supreme Court has also upheld this principle.

In 2001, the Madhya Pradesh government shifted the onus of buying land to the displaced, instead of making land allotments. Its latest tweak allows displaced landowners to file declarations saying they no longer depend on farming for their livelihood and don’t want land as compensation. This will make them directly eligible for a cash award.

The state government amended the rules after being pushed last November to investigate hundreds of fictitious land allotments under the rehabilitation process.

In March, the Narmada Valley Development Authority — the agency which is building the dams and is responsible for rehabilitating 38,000 displaced families in Madhya Pradesh — claimed the rehabilitation process was complete.

The body now faces a case filed by the Narmada Bachao Andolan in the Jabalpur High Court, asking for a central probe into the corruption and action against officials found guilty.

The state government probed 2,800 cases and found officials had registered 750 fictitious sales.

New rules

Adil Khan, spokesperson for the Narmada Valley Development Authority, said: “The amendment is meant to help families who are unwilling to own farm land any more.”

But critics say the state is trying to legitimise fictitious sales. “To cover up one wrong, it’s now committing more wrongs...,” said Ashish Mandloi, a Narmada Bachao Andolan activist. Timeline.

While the police have filed more than 300 cases against farmers in past months, no officials or brokers had been booked.

“The records show the same piece of land being sold six to eight times over,” said Ranvir Singh, a bespectacled farmer in his sixties from Badwani district.

Villagers like Singh travelled to scores of villages over six months with documents obtained under the Right to Information Act. The fraud, it emerged, took many forms: in some cases, the landowner was fictitious. In others, the land was non-existent. In yet others, the landowners — in some instances, the government itself — were unaware that their land was shown as having been sold.

Shifting the burden

Instead of allotting land to the displaced, like Maharashtra is doing, Madhya Pradesh introduced a Special Relief Package in 2001. This gives farmers half of a pre-determined sum of money, asking them to shop for the land themselves. They must then produce proof of the purchase to claim the rest of the money. “The package was so attractive that many went for it...,” said Adil Khan.

But many farmers said they tried to buy land and failed. “Under government rules, I was entitled to Rs 5.5 lakh to buy five acres,” said Satyanarayan Patidar, a farmer. “But land rates are three to five times that... A broker assured me he would get me fake sale documents for the second installment if I paid him Rs 40,000. I did.” For this, the government has booked Patidar.

“A wide gulf exists between ground realities and the rehabilitation policy on paper,” said Amita Baviskar of the Delhi-based Institute of Economic Growth. “This further dilution by the state government will signal complete dispossession.”

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