Surprising Volte-Face
India Legal|October 14, 2019
In a signal of hope for the displaced persons of the project, the MP government has told the Court that as their relief and rehabilitation is not complete, Gujarat cannot fill the dam to its full reservoir level.
Rakesh Dixit

THE Kamal Nath government has rekindled hopes of rehabilitation among thousands of families who were displaced by the Sar dar Sarovar project. In an affidavit to the Supreme Court, the Madhya Pradesh (MP) government said that as the Relief and Rehabilitation (R&R) of the Project Affected Families (PAF) was not complete and several applications were still pending adjudication before the Grievance Redressal Authority, it was opposed to the Gujarat government’s decision to fill the Sardar Sarovar Dam to the Full Reservoir Level (FRL) at a height of 138.6 m.

The affidavit was presented to a bench of Justices NV Ramana, Ajay Rastogi and BR Gavai on October 1. The MP government also stated that Gujarat had unilaterally violated the timeline by filling up the reservoir by September 15 instead of October 15, which was mutually agreed upon as per safety guidelines. The bench deferred hearing on the matter till October 15 because the Gujarat government could not present its stand and sought more time for filing its affidavit. Solicitor General Tushar Mehta appeared on behalf of Gujarat.

The Supreme Court has taken up the rehabilitation dispute following a bunch of petitions filed on September 17 by senior advocate Sanjay Parikh on behalf of the PAF under Article 32 of the Constitution. The petitioners claimed that the filling of the Sardar Sarovar reservoir was illegal and violated the law, state policies and several verdicts of the apex court. In response, the bench sought replies from the governments of Gujarat, Maharashtra and MP and the inter-state body, Narmada Control Authority (NCA).

In an earlier hearing on September 26, the Union government and NCA rejected the plea for reducing the water level in the Sardar Sarovar to 122m by keeping the gates open. Their affidavits also claimed that the NCA and its various subgroups for R&R as well as the environment had already granted all the requisite permissions for filling the reservoir to FRL in 2017. The Gujarat government also contended that the Supreme Court’s order of February 8, 2017, had directed all the PAF to vacate the villages by July 31, 2017, and this should have been complied with.

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