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Rehab can?t lag behind, warns SC

THE SUPREME Court has warned the beneficiary states of the Sardar Sarovar Project that it will have no option but to halt work on the dam if proper relief and rehabilitation of the dam oustees is not ensured.

india Updated: Apr 18, 2006 01:28 IST

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THE SUPREME Court has warned the beneficiary states of the Sardar Sarovar Project that it will have no option but to halt work on the dam if proper relief and rehabilitation of the dam oustees is not ensured.

A three-judge bench, headed by Chief Justice Y.K. Sabharwal, issued the warning on Monday while seeking the views of all the concerned parties on the plea of the Narmada Bachao Andolan (NBA) that work on raising the dam height be halted till the rehabilitation issue was satisfactorily addressed. Following the court's observations, NBA leader Medha Patkar ended her 20-day fast in the Capital, while Gujarat Chief Minister Narendra Modi called off his 51-hour fast in Ahmedabad. The court granted one week to Madhya Pradesh and Gujarat to state their views on the NBA's plea for stopping dam work as also the status of relief and rehabilitation work carried out by their governments.

It directed the NBA to file a rejoinder within another one week and directed listing of the matter on May 1. The court clarified that the direction would not in any way preclude the central government from taking any steps to resolve the current controversy about rehabilitation in accordance with its earlier judgments.

Earlier in the day, Additional Solicitor General Gopal Subramanium said the government was committed to the project. He, however, admitted there were certain "doubts" regarding the rehabilitation of the oustees. "Three ministers, who made a first-hand assessment, have in very strong language suggested that there are problems in rehabilitation," he said. He sought an enabling order from the court to set up a high-level committee under the aegis of the prime minister to satisfactorily resolve the issue.

The suggestion was welcomed by the court but it did not find favour with either the NBA or the Madhya Pradesh government.

The NBA's counsel said the PM would have stopped work on the project following the GoM's report if not for political concerns.

The MP government, represented by senior counsel Harish Salve, contested the GoM's findings and said the federal system dictated that the state should have been consulted before any view on the adequacy of rehabilitation was taken. He said the state had carried out all rehabilitation to the satisfaction of the Narmada Control Authority (NCA) -- which clears any rise in the dam's height.

The Gujarat counsel, Ashok Desai, said the GoM's findings could not replace those of the NCA. He said the NCA was satisfied that rehabilitation had been fully carried out before clearing the dam's height from 110 metres to 121.2 metres.

Faced with the claims and counter-claims from the BJP-ruled states, the Centre and the NBA's insistence that work be halted on raising the dam's height, the court asked all sides to give their views -- both on halting work on the dam and the rehabilitation work undertaken so far.

Later in the day, Patkar said though her fast had ended the struggle for rehabilitation would continue in the Narmada Valley and other places like the slums of Mumbai. "The Supreme Court has not stayed the ongoing construction of the dam," she said. "The people of the Narmada Valley will fight to the finish for life to expose the barbaric game that is playing itself out across the country at the cost of oustees."

In Ahmedabad, Modi said the construction work on Narmada river would go on side by side with effective rehabilitation of the affected people.