#India – Dams and the Doomed… min(e)d games of the state


 

April 29, 2013

 by Subrat Kumar Sahu

‘We all are living in a gang war… [in which] the state is just another gang!’ 
Arundhati Roy

In the wee hour 29 April 2013, at least 10 platoons of police cracked down on a gathering of about 2000 people, sitting in peaceful protest, on the bed of Suktel River, emanating from the magnificent Gandhamardan Mountains. Near Magurbeda village of Balangir district in Orissa, they were protesting against the construction of a dam at gunpoint on the river – their solitary lifeline – that will submerge more than 50 villages and devastate a self-reliant and robust agrarian economy. The forces came, saw the people, started beating them mercilessly, and invaded the ground. Several left injured and 16 of them arrested, including nine women. Among them were Lenin Kumar, poet and editor of Nisan (an Oriya literary magazine), and Amitabh Patra, an activist-filmmaker. Patra had received the severest of blows; understandably so, as he was filming the state-sponsored brutality live: his camera and head smashed. He fell unconscious and, only hours later, was taken to the hospital at the district headquarters of Balangir where he regained his senses.

Thousands of people of the Lower Suktel plateau have been agitating against this dam project for more than a decade now, facing brutal repression time and again. The state terror has magnified manifold since the past 20 days or so, as the state decided to push this project on war footing and complete it before elections next year – owing to unprecedented pressure from (1) the local politician class of all possible hues who have acquired huge tracts of farm land and hope to multiply returns if irrigation is ensured; (2) land mafia of Balangir who have duped and bought land from project-affected people even after the project was notified, which is illegal, in hope of pocketing hefty compensation amount (some of them are also leading a movement to raise the compensation amount); (3) big landholders of the area who have appropriated land from the aborigines (adivasis and dalits) over time; (4) the educated middle-class who see this brand of ‘development’ as a tool of salvation since the entry of a new market culture would cater to their aristocratic lifestyle and greedy capitalist aspirations (this includes many lawyers, engineers, doctors, professors, journalists, traders, contractors, and the likes). So, for the past 20 days or so, there have been unspoken brutalities unleashed on the people who have held the soil inviolate for centuries. More than a hundred people have been arrested so far and scores beaten up badly; a woman has also died of sunstroke while braving police aggression under a scorching sun.

What actually propels the state to get down to such excesses? Let’s have a quick take on it.

Nehru’s temple of doom

The fact that big dams and associated hydroelectric projects are actually NOT intended for irrigation and power-supply to people, as is always propagated, has come clearer to public perception in light of the recent controversy surrounding the Hirakud Dam in Orissa. The Orissa government’s decision to divert 478 cusec of water in 2007, originally meant for irrigation, from the dam reservoir to feed the mushrooming industries has created a political storm in the state in which ordinary folks have come out to the street in resistance. On 6 November 2007, more than 40,000 farmers gathered in front of Hirakud Dam and marched into the ‘prohibited area’ pulling down at least four police barricades in an unprecedented show of ‘civil disobedience’. The police though tried to push the demonstration back with a sudden and ruthless lathi charge, in which more than 35 farmers including women were badly injured, the successful act of civil disobedience by the strong gathering of ordinary people definitely jolted the powers-that-be in Bhubaneshwar out of their wits.

The controversy has even brought to fore how the dam has failed the originally promised irrigation plans and even produces electricity much below the promised and projected capacity. The water-carrying capacity of the reservoir has decreased drastically over the years, and nearly 50,000 acres of land in the irrigation command area has already turned dry. In such a demanding situation, the government’s plan to divert 478 cusec of water to industries would baffle any sensible mind. The fact that one cusec of water could irrigate 100 acres of land would arguably rage the farmers, especially when they were waiting for the government to set the worsening water situation right. Moreover, a large number of people displaced due to this project five decades back have not even been rehabilitated yet. Widespread reporting (for a change) of the harrowing facts that this movement brought forth into public gaze has had people learn a lot, especially that Nehru’s ‘temple of modern India’ for which innumerable sacrifices were made has only turned out to be the ‘temple of doom’ for the people! However, instead of learning from this blunder, the government kept on pushing numerous dams in various parts of the state down people’s throats, clearly indicating that dams are for industries, especially mining, and that industries are more sacrosanct than people.

Invoking the colonial ghosts

The fact that the Naveen Patnaik government has not left any doubt in public perception regarding its war-footing agenda to turn the entire state into an industrial graveyard explains it being so adamant and impatient in pushing several dubious dam projects throughout the state, despite strong opposition from the common folks as well as from environmentalists. Orissa now witnesses a sudden, uncomfortable, and outrageous influx of foreign mining and metal companies to set up shops there by destroying people’s homes, livelihoods, and cultures. These water- and energy-intensive industries, in turn, unleash unbearable burden on the natural resources, and the state government is only tamely obliging, pushing aside people’s needs and well being. Among these, the share of bauxite mining and aluminium-manufacturing units is the largest, especially in the western part of the state.

Supplying electricity and water to aluminium factories has historically been the central reason for the construction of big dams the world over. Europe and North America witnessed a spate of big dams built during the 1900s–1930s, soon after the technology of aluminium manufacturing matured in the West towards the end of the 19th century (Silenced rivers: the ecology and politics of large dams, Patrick McCully, 1998). This is because production of aluminium demands exceptionally large amounts of electricity and water. Producing one tonne of aluminium requires 15,000–16,000 kWh (kilowatt-hours) of electricity and 10,000–12,000 litres of water.

It is little wonder that the present plans for intensive mining of bauxite in Orissa alongside number of big dams, aluminium factories, and rail links actually date back to the 1920s. In fact, British geologist Cyril Fox had then outlined the whole plan for Orissa’s aluminium industry, as a colonial undertaking, involving aluminium factories, dams, railways, and ports, fed by bauxite mines on the main mountains (Double death: aluminium’s links with genocide revealed, Felix Padel and Samarendra Das, 2006). The Orissa government, of late, is only invoking the ghosts of colonial exploitation by welcoming foreign mining giants to dig every bit of the state while making their business easy by building dams, railway tracks, and roads with public and borrowed money, displacing and distressing millions of people and ensuring the state’s long-term indebtedness.

Damning a people

As the general mass is now aware of the warped intentions behind building dams, they are opposing such projects wherever there is an attempt to evict them from their homes and lands. The movement against the Lower Suktel Dam project is one such movement that is in its peak now in the Loisingha block of Orissa’s Balangir district.

The project has an interesting history, which evidently links to the state’s notorious mining agenda. The first survey for the dam project (the Lower Suktel Major Irrigation Project) was done way back in 1979; soon after it came to public knowledge that BALCO had been given permission to mine the adjacent Gandhamardan Mountains for bauxite. But, the government’s contention on the dam project then was also that for irrigation. However, a strong and determined people’s movement threw BALCO out of Gandhamardan in the 1980s and the government eventually scrapped its mining plans there. Interestingly, following that, work on the dam project also did not move ahead from there.

Now that scores of mining companies (including the infamous Vedanta and NALCO) have applied for and are eagerly waiting for approval to mine Gandhamardan, suddenly the dam project has once again become the state’s priority agenda. As people clearly see a nefarious nexus between mining and the dam, they have pulled up their sleeves in opposing it. Moreover, the government is unbending in not making public the DPR (detailed project report) despite demands from all quarters. While the people are united in fighting under the banner of the Lower Suktel Budi Anchal Sangram Samiti, government officials have earlier forced people in many villages to accept the so-called compensation money. Police force has been used mercilessly against the villagers in number of occasions and false cases have been registered against hundreds of them, including teenagers. In 2005, 52 persons (including school-going girls) from Dungripali and Pardhiapali villages were arrested, beaten up badly (two of them later succumbed to the injuries), and sent to judicial custody. They were released on bail after 21 days after the intervention of a local lawyer while the cases are still pending.

The Lower Suktel area is known as the vegetable garden of Orissa and is one of the most fertile land sites of the state. Even without any irrigation programme, the area has never witnessed drought or famine in history. Moreover, its forests are abundant in medicinal plants and revenue-generating tree species, apart from containing a rich biodiversity.

Interestingly, the Suktel River does not have much water to make way for a dam meant for irrigation. Villagers believe that it is a dangerous ploy by the state to first displace majority of the population through this dam project so that there will be few left to oppose when some inane mining giant comes to mine the Gandhamardan Mountains. There is also a plan afoot to interlink the Hati River to the Lower Suktel reservoir considering that Suktel does not hold much water. That makes it clear why a reservoir is needed exactly where it is being built. That would perfectly serve the mining company by providing it with a water source just next door.

The people’s movement against the project here offers a microcosm of the political economy of mining, linked to dams, devastation, and displacement – all in the name of ‘development’ (of a tiny sect of people, as listed in the beginning, whose greed and aspirations are acknowledged by the state as ‘will of the people’)!

While the villagers are resolute in putting up a strong resistance and had till now forced to stop the construction of the dam, meanwhile the government, after setting up several police stations in tiny villages, in the middle of nowhere, and a massive police barrack next to the dam site, has now declared war on its own people.

 

#India – Why are people opposing Lower Suktel Irrigation project in Odisha ?


 

“O government! Open your ear and listen to us ,We do not need Suktel dam.”
                   – writing on a wall in GS Dungripali, one of the villages that will be submerged if the Dam comes up

piccourtesy- down to earth

 

Context / Background

 

 

 

The river ‘Suktel’ originates from Gandhamardan Mountain (situated in between Balangir and Bargarh districts) in Orissa and flows into ‘Tel’ river. As a part of Lower Suktel Irrigation Project, Government of Orissa plans to build a dam on Suktel river which will be located 20kms from Balangir. According to Government of Orissa (GoO) this irrigation project will wipe out all miseries of people in Balangir which is otherwise known for its droughts and poverty. If the project promises such bright future ahead, why is it that people are protesting against the project for more than a decade now? The issue is much more complex than it seems to be and it is understood by the people in the area – at least those who have been with the ‘Lower Suktel Budi Anchal Sangram Parishad (LSBASP). In the following section we will explore more about the hidden and not so hidden agenda of this irrigation project and the larger politics behind it, the wrath of devastation, the evolution of a mass struggle and the process so far apart from understanding the organizational structure and systems.

 

 

 

The Project & the Scale of Devastation

 

 

 

The water resources department, GoO describes Lower Suktel irrigation project as a ‘major irrigation project’ where a dam and a spillway will be built. According to the GoO the dam will fully displace people from 16 villages and people of another 10 villages will be partially displaced. The survey that was done in 1996 pitched the figure of displacement at 4160 families which is much less than the real number. The GoO has apparently identified the land in three villages to build the rehabilitation colony. Around 638 hectare land will be affected due to this project. There are plans to hand over non-forest areas to the forest department for afforestation and GoO has a provision of Rs. 159.26lakh for this.

 

 

 

The dam project is stated to be planned with a help from the World bank worth Rs.600 crores.

 

 

 

The compensation package for a displaced family include 20 decimal  homestead land, 2 acre irrigated land or 4 acre non-irrigated land, money to build the house, financial assistance for one year, money for relocating in new place plus Rs.500/ -.

 

 

 

The GoO has obtained the required permissions from Central Water Commission, Forest Department and Pollution Control Board. This project entails an investment of Rs. 217.13 crores and the GoO has already given the permission for the same.

 

 

 

The number of villages to be affected as given by the government seems unrealistic and has not been updated with the changes in plans. The original height of the dam that was cited by the government was at 36 meters which is now slated to be at 56 meters. This essentially means many more villages coming under water. At least 142 villages (86 full & 56 partial) are estimated to be affected due to this dam/irrigation project.

 

 

 

Loisinga block of Balangir, with 48% tribal population, which will be affected by the project is known for its extremely fertile land. The thick forest around the area and through which Suktel river flows is known for rich flora and fauna and is said to be home for wild animals. The fertile land enables people to produce very good quality vegetables such as parwal & brinjal, mahul, mango, jamun, jackfruit etc and crops. People not only in Balangir district but also many other districts in Orissa are benefited by this produce. The area has a massive reserve for Kendu leaf.

 

 

 

There will be a loss of at least Rs.10crores due to the felling of trees which will lead to minimal rains ultimately affecting the eco-system of the area. It is not understood how a dam can be built and effectively used for irrigation on a river which is already not heavy flowing and without rain, it will be a dry river.

 

 

 

 

 

The Ground Swelling and the Process so far

 

 

 

There was enough speculation among the people about the project despite rigorous attempts by the state to create a favorable opinion among the masses about the project. In 1997, the then district collector Bijay Arora organized the first ever public hearing in Chudapali, one of the villages which will be affected due to the project. More than ten thousand people from 26 villages, which were said to be affected, came to the public hearing. The district collector invited 30 representatives from the gathering to present their views on the construction of the dam in the name of irrigation. Everyone except one representative voiced against the dam. The only person who did not cite against the dam had only said that the dam is ok as long as it does not damage the road. The district collector ironically concluded the public hearing saying that people have no objections to the dam. This was unacceptable to people who had gathered there and especially when 29 out of 30 had opposed the dam construction.

 

 

 

It is on that very occasion and at that place, people gathered there decided to organize their energy and fight against this conspiracy. The deceitful act of the government led to the formation of a campaign under the banner of ‘Lower Suktel Budi Anchal Sangram Parishad’ (LSBASP). A Parishad was formed in each of the 26 villages that were to be affected, according to the government record, due to the project. An eleven member team was constituted in each village with a President and a vice-President to intensify the campaign and mobilise the affected communities.

 

 

 

Mobilisation on the ground grew as people understood the hidden agenda of the dam project. The politics behind the dam project was becoming clear as people could see a direct connection between the dam project with the mining plans in Gandhamardan. It must be noted here that the mining plans in Gandhamardan, which faced strong opposition in 1980s, is resurfacing now since as many as 200 companies trying to get permission. Strong peoples’ resistance in Gandhamardan in 1980s had forced the company to go back even after investing 32crores. Biju Pattanaik’s government finally scrapped the project in early 1990s. But the agenda of the state to give the mountain for mining remained and it looked for ways and means to get there. The dam project, otherwise portrayed as an irrigation project, was designed to get to Gandhamardan. It is rather ridiculous to even have a dam on a river which usually does not have enough water throughout the year. The reservoir is planned as such that water could be ultimately sourced from it for mining purposes in the Mountain, especially for the proposed refinery in Taankapani, a mere 20kms from the reservoir.

 

 

 

This inter-linkage was not difficult for people in Suktel area to understand and when they realized the actual danger inherent in the irrigation project, the struggle even became much broader. The support and solidarity action became much more vigorous as many other movements and peoples’ organizations joined in this struggle across the state.

 

 

 

Sensing the danger from the government in going ahead with the project, LSABSP adopted the strategy of establishing a shrine to worship ‘Banadurga’ at the entry point in Pardhiapali  village – giving a clear signal about the protest. The project faced a strong opposition from people when the government decided to lay the foundation for the project in 2001. LSBASP mobilized 30 thousand people on that day to stage a massive protest. Deterred by this agitation on the ground, the administration hurriedly located another place away from the village for the chief minister to lay the foundation stone for the project. The administration applied section 144 apart from issuing warrant against few agitators in the new area so as to keep the agitators away.

 

 

 

Defying the repressive measures of the administration broke the police barricade and entered the area cordoned off for the programme. Shouting slogans against the project, the youths waived black flags to the chief minister. Interestingly, the Pashim Orissa Krushaka Parishad, a government outfit in an act to appease the chief minister intentionally interpreted it wrongly and communicated to him that the group is happy about the project. Unfortunately, the state of Orissa has a chief minister who does not understand Oriya and also such protest measures. Police arrested around 70 protesters in addition to the warrants it had already issued. This was vehemently protested and demanded their release by 30 thousand people who had gathered there to oppose the project.

 

 

 

LSBASP continued to contact people in all the villages and build collective strength through various mediums such as cycle rally, mashal yatra, village meetings and so on. The village-wise Parishad unit was effective in building one voice of resistance. On the human rights day in December 2001, the Parishad mobilised around 10-12 thousand people and submitted a demand letter to the collector and also sent it to the President of India. Interestingly, the President’s office responded and asked for papers (20 sets) on their struggle and suggests ways of irrigation without constructing a dam. Being a mass organization, the Parishad has always given primacy to the needs of the campaign on the ground and thus the requirement cited by the President’s office was beyond their bound. The Parishad communicated to the President’s office about the their inability to accommodate the request and urged him to visit the area to understand the situation first hand.

 

 

 

LSBASP asked the administration on 18 November 2001 about the reasons for not consulting people before going ahead with the project.

 

 

 

As the Parishad intensified its campaign, the state tried to mobilize people with lucrative offers. In 2002, people of 6 villages decided to withdraw themselves from the Parishad as they fell into the state tricks of compensations and benefits. The administration continued to motivate people through various ways such as taking the village Sarpanch into their fold. The roles of the land acquisition officer (LAO) and the bank officials have been extremely destructive as they have decided to play to the tunes of the state agenda and have continued to mis-guide people. This has led to people saying yes to compensation and rehabilitation deals and another 4 villages have got added up who have dissociated themselves from LSBASP by now.

 

 

 

The usual trick played by the LAO is to motivate the panchayat sarpanch and getting the entire village say yes to the offers. There are several instances where he alongwith the loan officer in the bank have told people to take compensation and build houses in the same area so as to get more compensation later. In the area, there are absolutely new houses coming up rapidly. This goes alongwith the line maintained by the Rural Development Commissioner (RDC)of the state who recently said that ‘there will be only compensation and no rehabilitation.’

 

 

 

Despite public outcry and massive demonstrations by LSBASP, the administration went ahead and distributed compensation in Khutpali village in 2003. A massive demonstation was organized in front of the police station by LSBASP and the administration assured that no more compensation will be distributed without consulting the organization. Apprehensive about the motive of the administration, LSBASP continued to strengthen its struggle on the ground. It ahs been demanding the admistration to make the ‘detailed project report’ public which the administration has been evading. The rift between Khutpali and GS Dungripali is growing as it is fuelled by the administration.

 

 

 

Compensation was distributed in Parjhapali on 11 January 2004 with heavy police presence. In fact the police did flag march in the entire area to keep off the people from resisting the process.

 

 

 

LSBASP has always communicated its displeasure about the manner in which the administration has motivated people to take the compensation. The leadership has always maintained that they are against the dam construction and thus no question arises about discussing compensation package. They find it very unfortunate to see the RDC engaging in mobilizing the people as Gagan Dhal, the RDC once said that compensation will help people to buy vehicles which they could use during the construction of the dam and earn a living. Ever since the villages have fallen into the clutches of the administration and accepted the compensation, there is an increase in the number of egg and liquor shops, vehicles and new houses in the area. The happiness of those who have taken money is short-lived

 

 

 

For LSBASP 11 May 2005 was the day when the administration and the local representative made the biggest blunder so far. The day was slated for bhumi pujan by the administration and as usual there was a heavy deployment of police. The local MLA Narsingh Mishra, whom people used to have a lot of faith, had assured people that there would be no such activity in the area till the administration makes the documents public and till people agrees to go ahead with the project. On this day he duped people and got the police to raid GS Dungripali village. People in the village recount that day with horror and anguish as they stood mute spectator to the dastardly act of the police. Police picked up 70 people including minor children. Each house in that village was ransacked by the police and women were abused severely. There were 15 platoons of police deployed for this task.

 

 

 

People also retaliated and it can be left to imagination to think what would have happened to the local MLA if he was there. It was kind of a ceasefire that continued for quite sometime. It took more than a month for LSBASP to mobilize support and get the people released.

 

 

 

This gruesome act of the administration has left the people in other villages completely baffled and scared. According to a villager in Kaindapali, “we saw what happened to people in GS Dungripali as police beat people mercilessly. It was cruel and we do not want to face the same situation. Police can do that to us also and we do not want that. That’s why we said yes to taking compensation when the administration came to us.” Kaindapali is one of those villages where the people have taken compensation but now refuse to move if they are not given equally fertile land and appropriate house to stay. This is the village where a man has got Rs. 6/- as compensation in lieu of his big house. So, one can imagine the skewed way of calculations as far as compensation is concerned.

 

 

 

Earlier this year, 2008, the present collector said that the collectorate will engage in any kind of discussion with LSBASP only if it agrees for dam construction. This put off the leaders and they decided to meet the RDC who showed sympathy but expressed his inability to do anything. The helplessness of the state government is vividly seen all over the state. In fact, the state government is in this kind of a situation not by chance but by choice where all the decisions are made in serious consultation with the corporate and international financial institutions.

 

 

 

The main slogan of the movement is “Maribu pache chati pati, nai chadu; Maribu pache Daribu Nai.”

 

 

 

Demands

 

 

 

 

 

The stated objective of the dam is to irrigate Balangir and flood management. But the fact remains that ground will be prepared for mining companies to take over Gandhamardan Mountain which has a rich bauxite reserve in the name of community development by way of compensation during the irrigation project. This will essentially destroy the age-old practice of lift irrigation in the area. As mentioned earlier, this area produces maximum variety of vegetable in large numbers and the production here caters to at least 6 big towns in Orissa.

 

 

 

IN last more than a decade LSBASP has seen people coming together, drifting away under pressure, state repression and so on. But the resolve of the organization is far from shying away from the struggle. The organization has the following demands:

 

 

 

–       No dam for irrigation – promote lift irrigation

 

–       no displacement

 

–       the rich bio-diversity can not be compensated

 

–       government must make the DPR public

 

–       stop state repression in the area

 

–       withdraw the false cased filed against people in 2005

 

 

 

The organization functions as a mass organization and draws strength and solidarity support from like-minded groups and individuals. Each village where the organization is active has a Parishad which amalgamates with the collective. LSBASP is led by a President and vice-President who are also office bearers in the Parishads in their respective villages. Women have continued to play major role in demonstration, rallies, mobilizing people in their villages. The organization recognizes the contribution of women in the struggle but does not have a policy to have them at the decision making body. The common notion, as shared by a number of Parishad office bearers, the office bearers have to do a lot of running around and women are not in a position to do so. This is the reason, according to them, why women do not figure in the list of office bearers in any of the villages actively involved in the struggle.

 

Written by — Mamata Dash

 

 

PRESS RELEASE-International Anti Big Dam day- People oppose Vishnugad-Peepalkoti HEP in Ganga valley


A pic of the Tehri dam taken from a moving bus...

 

  • Today on 14th march in Alaknandaganga valley, on the occasion of international Anti Big Dam day demonstration held .on one hand , across the country, there has been no rehabilitation of the people displaced by big dams ,the environmental norms have been grossly violated ,on the other side the proposed power generation has not happened .In Uttrakhand itself the situation of the Dams constructed so far , is very dismal .the dams pose a danger not only for the river but also spell doom for the state. For seeking their rights , Tehri Dam displaced people had to go up to the supreme court only then some semblance of rehabilitation has happened. For the last 21 years litigation has been going on in the case between N.D. Juyal and shekhar singh V/s GoI. The struggle for rehabilitation has been spearheaded by the anti dam campaigners .

    In uttrakhand on Alaknandaganga under construction Vishnugad–Peepalkoti HEP area ,under the banner of Matu Jansangthan, men and women of the affected villages of kaudiya ,Durgapur ,Harsari ,Naurakh ,Tagari etc. protested .In Harsari village people gathered at the Dam site where the construction of tunnel is under way ,the work was stalled and THDC officials were gheroed .After this the procession proceeded to the THDC office at Siyasedh ,shouting slogans like Ganga ko aviral Bahene do ,Badhe bandh Dhoka hai ,and vowed to continued their struggle .

    In the meeting Naurakha Vansarpanch Brihashraj Tadial said that destruction of our future would not be tolerated, we do not want Dams .We have fought till today and the struggle would continue.
    Narinder Pokhariyal said that for the last 9 years our village peopel are facing the consequences of this proposed Dam but the company has not shown any concern . Even Hatt village people are hanging on to mere assurances only.

    Ramlal said that the company has not been able to compensate for the damages done during the survey so the people can well gauge the future .Geeta devi said that due to site blasting at night while the people have lost their sleep the government is sound asleep . Women at various villages Masuri Devi ,Nandi Devi ,Bhadi Devi all protested daming of the river.

    Impact of even samll Hydro Electric Project are in bad in Uttrakhand. For example on July 24 and 3rd aug 2012 ,in Assi ganga river valley due to cloud burst under construction Kaldigahat and Assi ganga Phase-I and II Hydro electric project caused disaster and Bhagirathi ganaga in Maneri Chal phase II caused lots of destruction. There is no account or record of the deaths of the workers . The villages along Assiganga have been badly affected. The pathways have been eroded . But no action, no enquary has been setup on the dam builder.

    Under this situation our struggle is on against dams to save our rivers and our rights over on natural resouces.

    Narendra Pokhriyal, Bindadevi, Ramlal, Keshridevi, Vimalbhai

 

 

 

 

#Maharashtra – Displaced and damned for a generation


Date: 18 February 2013

Koynanagar (Maharashtra), February 15, 2013, The Hindu

Displaced and damned for a generation

Alok Deshpande

A view of the Koyna dam. File photo
PTI A view of the Koyna dam. File photo

First, a dam, then an earthquake and finally a tiger reserve — families in Satara district’s Koyna have been displaced thrice in one generation. In 1960, the people had to move, paving the way for the Koyna dam; in 1967 following the earthquake and then for the Koyna tiger reserve in 1985, says Jagannath Vibhute, an activist of the Shramik Mukti Dal and one of the many farmers displaced by dam projects.

According to him, the people who did not want to leave the area shifted to higher areas to be safe from the dam waters.

“But later the area was announced as the tiger reserve, so they had to relocate themselves again.” Representatives of around 27,000 displaced families in Satara have been on an indefinite Thiyya Andolan (sit-in agitation) at Koynanagar — the site of the first major dam in Maharashtra post-independence, constructed in 1960. Of the 10,000-odd families displaced by this project, as many as 1,500 are yet to be rehabilitated even as around 1,000 have bought new land on their own rather than rely on a red tape-hit bureaucracy. Incidentally, Satara is the home district of Chief Minister Prithviraj Chavan.

Daji Shelar of Shirsingi in Ajara taluk was asked to vacate his village in 1985 because it fell within the proposed tiger reserve. He moved to Sangli district, where “we had to build our home at our own expense. We did not get any of the allowances sanctioned by the government. We are yet to get the promised land from the government.”

Some of the project-affected people who were given land in the forest areas of Thane district cannot make the transition due to opposition from tribals there. After the notification of the tiger reserve, the Forest Department slapped restrictions on the locals, who had been living on forest land for generations.

“It has become difficult for our women to even collect fuel wood for daily use. The department has stopped construction of the only road which connects villages inside the forest area,” said Sitaram Jangam of Waghavale village.

“There was no need to evict locals, as they used to stay in the forest area. Rather, they were the ones who protected the forest for so many years even before it was announced as the forest. They could have helped the government save and protect the forest,” said Mr. Vibhute.

The agitation is not limited to Satara district. Similar sit-ins are in progress at eight more places in Maharashtra, including Kolhapur, Sangli and Ratnagiri.

Around one lakh affected people have contributed to the Thiyya Andolan, which began last week under the leadership of the Shramik Mukti Dal.

Tukaram Mohite, 72, from Umarkanchan, which was displaced for the Wang Dam in the Patan tehsil of Satara district, laments that people do not want to marry off their daughters to young men from his village.

“We are the displaced ones. The land which some of us received from the government is in an arid area, unlike the irrigated land we had earlier. Some did not get any land. Would you want your daughter to marry a landless farmer’s son or someone who does not have irrigated land?” he asked narrating his plight to fellow farmers. The dam, built in 1996-97, displaced 1,800 such families from nine villages.

With a command area spread over 8,000 hectares in two districts, the dam has opened the door to prosperity to many, but the displaced are still fighting for rehabilitation.

“From a high rainfall area, we were thrown into dry areas. What was given to some of us was waste land in the place of the fertile land we earlier had. We having been displaced from one village, the other village never welcomes us. The government has accepted our demands two years ago, but there is no action on the ground,” said Mr. Vibhute.

At a meeting on May 15, 2012 with Bharat Patankar, president of the Shramik Mukti Dal, the Chief Minister accepted all demands of the project-affected people and even set a three-month time frame for action.

But none of the promises has been met and the farmers will agitate until a government resolution is published resolving their problems. Ironically, similar promises were made by the government at an earlier meeting too, on May 5, 2011.

Chavan promises action

At the end of a meeting held here on Wednesday, Mr. Chavan promised Mr. Patankar’s group that a resolution would be issued in the next 15 days.

The major demands are equal rights for women on land, independent gram panchayats for all new settlements which have 500 or more population, issue of BPL ration cards to all project-affected families and allotment of grazing land (gairan) for rehabilitation in case no other land is available.

Mr. Patankar said the recommendations of the government-appointed committee, released eight months ago, for improving the Rehabilitation Act must be accepted immediately.

 

PRESS RELEASE- Koyna Dam Project Affected Peoples’ Indefinite Movement in Maharashtra #mustshare


Today [Thursday, February 6] is the third day of the state-wide indefinite
sit-in movement Of dam evictees and project-affected people going on in
seven districts of Maharashtra. It might spread more, to several more
districts. The movement is led by Shramik Mukti Dal. More than l lakh
people are involved in this movement. People are sitting day and night
without caring for the heat of the afternoon sun or the cold of the night.
Most of the people are sitting nearby the major and some minor dams of
Maharashtra.

Satara district, which has the maximum number of project-affected people
compared to any district of Maharashtra, 27,000 families, is mobilized
nearby the first major dam of post-independence Maharashtra, Koyna dam.
This produces the major chunk of hydro-electric power; if it is withdrawn
from the grid all industries in Maharashtra and the domestic supply would
stop and there would be a collapse of the national grid. Of around 10,000
families which were displaced around 1960, 1500 families remain to be
rehabilitated. This is the sacrificial effect of the so-called development
implemented by the Maharashtra government. A couple thousand
representatives, men and women, are doing a sit-in or Tiiyya andolan at
Koynanagar.

Another major dam where people are doing a Tiyya andolan is Warna dam which
is on the border of Sangli and Kolhapur districts. Around 500
representatives of the dam evictees and Tiger Project evictees are doing
the Tiyya andolan near the base of this dam in the Hutatma Smarak — the
memorial to the martyrs of 1942 of Mangur village in Sangli district.

People are also doing a Tiyya andolan near Gad Nadi dam in Ratnagiri
district, Teen Vira dam in Raigad district, and Tembhapuri dam in
Aurangabad district. Also, they are doing a Tiyya andolan at Azra tehsil
of Kolhapur district and at Pandharpur in Solapur district. Also in Dhamani
dam in Kolhapur district an andolan is People are determined that they will
not go home unless and until the government begins the implementation of
their policy-level demand, twice-sanctioned in the proceedings of the
meetings with Chief Minister Prithviraj Chavan on 5 May 2011 and 15 May
2012, that (a) considering sisters as having equal rights in ancestral
property, they should be treated as independent PAPs (project-affected
persons) like brothers; (b) all the new settlements which have 500 or more
population should be given independent gram panchayats by a special GR for
PAPs; (c) starting free vocational training for sons and daughters of PAPs
so that they will get assured employment in industries by tying the program
with the various industrial houses; (d) below-poverty-line ration cards
will be given to all project affected families; (e) first priority will be
given in giving funds to start small-scale production for the women’s
self-help groups of the PAP families; (f) grazing lands (gairan) should be
allotted for the rehabilitation of PAPs where the land ceiling in the
benefited zones doesn’t yield sufficient land to be given to them; (g) a
special development program should be implemented for Tiger
Project-affected people, making them part of the development of the forest;
(h) increasing the house-building subsidy from Rs 10,000 per PAP to Rs
70,000 per PAP.

In addition, to this, (1) the government should accept the report given by
the government-appointed committee for improving the existing
rehabilitation act immediately. This committee has given this report 8
months ago. The president of Shramik Mukti Dal, Dr. Bharat Patankar, was a
member of this committee as a non-governmental person but the majority were
government officials. It will give more facilities for the benefit of PAPs
in Maharashtra. (2) Though the land district to the PAPs is called as
“land in the irrigated areas,” it is not given the benefit of irrigation
for years, at some places more than 50 years. Irrigation facilities should
be given immediiately or a livelihood allowance of a minimum of Rs 3000 per
month for making up the losses in a minimal way that PAPs have suffered
because of the difficulty of growing crops in non-irrigated land. (3) In
Raigad district where the water of Amba-khore project was to be given to
15,000 acres in the kharepat area, instead the water was diverted to
industries and being wasted for the last 35 years into the Arabian sea: now
because people’s movement has forced out various big power projects in the
area this water should be immediately given to the peoples’ land for
irrigation. Also, the land which was taken by the big industrial houses
from the farmers and not used for any development of industry for years
together should be given back to the farmers. The farmers have put forward
an alternative development plan for the area based on modern, renewable
energy-based technology; this should be accepted by the government instead
of implementation of the so-called “corridor businesses.” 15,000 acres of
land are forced to become saline and remain fallow for the last 25 years;
these should be again made cultivable in collaboration with the people and
Khar Land Development Board. (4) The Department of Rehabilitation and
Resettlement which is supposed to be distributing land to the PAPs has
itself obstructed the taking over of this land and distributing it. These
obstructions should be summarily removed.

Except for the letter of Krishna Khore Irrigation Minister Ramraje
Nimbalkar to the Chief Minister Prithviraj Chavan for arranging a meeting
with Shramik Mukti Dal representing the movement, there is no response
whatsoever from the state government. It is the first time in the history
of Maharashtra that people have had to continuously struggle for two years
mainly for the implementation of already sanctioned demands. People say
that this government has become only a government giving slogans and
written sassurances but it is a non-working government in relation to
implementation of their own commitment. “This government is dead,” as far
as its implementation aspect is concerned. It is expected from the
discussion with the Chief Minister and deputy chief minister of Maharashtra
that they will respond to the movement and arrange a meeting and decide a
modus operandi for implementation of the policy decision. Now people are
not ready to become sacrificial goats in the ;yagna of political parties.

 

FOR MORE DETAILS CONTACT

) dr.prashant panhalkar — 9422032636
2) jagannath vibhute — 9423360174

#India- Desperate for a dam, ready to displace 100,000 people


Author(s):
Sugandh Juneja
Issue Date:
2013-1-15

Government skews facts to plan a project in Rajasthan that will displace 100,000 people

Government says<br /><br />
the proposed dam is 150 metres upstream of a wildlife sanctuary, while<br /><br />
residents say the project falls inside it

Government says the proposed dam is 150 metres upstream of a wildlife sanctuary, while residents say the project falls inside it (Photo: Sugandh Juneja)

“We will die but not give our land.” This is the cry of residents of 50 villages in Rajasthan’s Jhalawar and Baran districts. They are at risk of being displaced by a dam planned in the area for irrigation and drinking purposes. The dam will be built 120 km from Kota town in Akawad village of Jhalawar on river Parwan. At an estimated cost of Rs 1,114 crore, the dam’s capacity is 490 million cubic metre (MCM). Of this, 300 MCM is reserved for irrigation and 50 MCM for drinking (for 862 villages). The dam also has provision for supplying 100 MCM to thermal power plants.

The dam is likely to submerge 10,000 hectares (ha), including more than 1,600 ha of forestland. The state government says the dam will completely submerge 17 villages and partially inundate 30 villages. Residents allege that the government’s definition of complete submergence is skewed. “The planned dam will submerge almost 50 villages, but the government does not recognise this,” says Hari Ballabh of Manpura village in Jhalawar.

Most of the residential areas in the two districts are on a hillock, while the agricultural land is at a lower altitude. “What is the point of declaring villages at a higher altitude partially submerged if their fields and roads are going to be fully inundated?” asks a resident of Bilendi village in Baran. As a result of the categorisation, the government has served a notice under Section 4 of the Land Acquisition Act, 1894, only in the villages termed completely submerged. The Section 4 notice identifies the area that is to be acquired for public purpose or a company. Any person interested in the identified land can file an objection against the notice with the Collector within 30 days. Akawad village has not been served the notice. Residents of the villages that received the notice have filed their objections under the name of Parwan Doob Kshetra Hitkari evam Jungle Bachao Samiti (PDKHJBS). A people’s organisation, PDKHJBS is headed by Lokendra Singh, resident of Sarthal village in Baran. “Most people have small land holdings or are landless and till someone else’s land. Where will they all go?” he asks.

A resident of Bukhari village in Jhalawar points to another problem. “Nobody is interested in marrying the youngsters of our villages because they believe we will lose our land,” he says.

Is the dam really needed?

The land in the submergence area is extremely fertile with “black cotton soil”. The common crops grown are garlic, coriander and soy. “People in the region have government-licensed pattas (land titles) for the cultivation of opium and it is well known that opium grows in fertile soil,” says Chhattrasal Singh, member of PDKHJBS. But the residents say the government has categorised their land as barren or a single-crop land so that compensation amount decreases. “The government authorities have not yet informed us about the rehabilitation and resettlement package,” informs Bhanu Pratap of Maloni village in Baran district.

Road to the 8th century Kakoni temple<br /><br />
will get submerged if the dam is built

Road to the 8th century Kakoni temple will get submerged if the dam is built

As per the dam proposal, of the total area of 0.6 million ha in Jhalawar district, 0.3 million ha is under cultivation. Of this, 0.2 million ha is irrigated. About 80 per cent of this area is irrigated using groundwater or existing anicuts, while for the rest supply comes from reservoirs and canals. “Villages in the command area of the dam use groundwater for irrigation,” says Govind Singh of Maloni. “They will want this dam so that they can save money on the electricity spent on extracting water,” he adds. Narendar Singh of Aamli village, which falls in the command area, agrees, “We are using tubewells for irrigation, so a dam is important.”

The tubewells go 90 metres deep in the area and no rainwater harvesting is practised. His son says the decision of having a dam or not cannot be based on the present situation. “We will need it in the future since the water level is going to fall if we keep using groundwater,” he says, adding, “but people should be adequately compensated otherwise it will be injustice.” Durga Daan Singh of another village in the command area is unsure. “I do not know if it is fine to have development at the cost of others. We sometimes get water from the Shergarh weir (barrier across a river) but it is causing problems since the government is not maintaining it,” he says. The weir is 10 km downstream of the proposed dam. There is another issue that is bothering residents: the dam’s water allocation provision for thermal power plants. “Adani is setting up a plant in Kawai. If water is given to power plants, the purpose of the dam will be defeated,” says Narendar Singh. Similar concerns are voiced by those in the submergence area. “More than half the water from this dam will be given to power plants. Government would not give water for irrigation,” says a Bilendi resident.

Source: Irrigation department, Kota division. Map not<br /><br />
to scale

Source: Irrigation department, Kota division. Map not to scale

According to Shambhu Singh of Aamli, only villages under total submergence zone are at a loss. “In villages that are on the outskirts of the submergence area, like Sarthal, water will retreat for some time but it will make the land fertile and irrigated without any external help. People can at least grown one crop in these villages,” he says. But people in the submergence area are not convinced. “Why can’t the government build small anicuts instead of a dam?” they ask. “If the project comes up, there will be blood, not water, in the river,” says Ganim Boh of Bilendi.

What’s at stake?

Besides submerging villages, the project will affect religious places of heritage value. For example, Kakoni, the eighth century temple in Baran, which was declared protected by the state archaeological department in 1970. The temple priest says every time the department digs up some area around the temple, it discovers new statues. “A new page of our history unfolds here almost every day,” he says. Chhattrasal Singh of PDKHJBS informs the temple is on a hill. “It won’t be submerged but all access to it will go under water,” he says. Religious sentiments will be hurt along with loss of architectural heritage, says a resident of Bukhari village in Jhalawar. The Kalla Maharaj temple near Akawad village is under threat of submergence. People offer wall clocks in the temple when their wishes get fulfilled. Umrao Singh, superintendent for Kota from the Rajasthan archaeological department, explains the importance of the temples. “These are old temples. If they are lost, we will lose our history. I hope the government has a plan in mind about giving an approach road to the Kakoni temple,” he says.

When the Union Ministry of Environment and Forests (MoEF) was contacted to check whether the project has been granted environment and forest clearances, it seemed confused. “We are carrying out a preliminary enquiry and it appears that ‘probably’ the expert appraisal committee considered the project and granted environment clearance in September last year,” says a senior MoEF official. When Down To Earth checked MoEF online records no information on the project was found.

The planned dam, which is yet to receive forest clearance, is likely to submerge some protected forest patches.

In September this year, the Forest Advisory Committee discussed the dam project and its requirement of diverting 1,835 ha of forestland. Pointing out that the project site is just 150 metres from the Shergarh wildlife sanctuary, home to crocodiles, panthers and nilgai, the committee formed a sub-committee to visit the site. T C Todaria, an independent member of the sub-committee, says the planned visit is yet to happen.

The dam actually falls inside the sanctuary (see map). It is in Niharia block which is next to the Bilendi block. The line that demarcates Niharia from Bilendi is also the boundary of the sanctuary. People in the area and the government are at loggerheads over the dam location; while people say it is in Niharia block, the latter claims it is in Bilendi block. To resolve the issue, in June, the forest department called for a joint survey, involving the revenue and forest departments and the local community. PDKHJBS head, who participated in the survey, says the study started from Mokhampura village, walking on the Bilendi block boundary from east to west. After walking some distance, the boundary overlapped with the common line between Bilendi and Niharia blocks. The boundary of the sanctuary and the blocks was marked using the block files and pillars.

The land in<br /><br /><br /><br />
the submergence area of the dam is extremely fertile, but the government says<br /><br /><br /><br />
it is barrenThe land in the submergence area of the dam is extremely fertile, but the government says it is barren

On the next survey date, instead of starting from the place where they had left, the government officials started studying from Maloni village toward the north along the Parwan river. In their inspection report, the officials concluded that the dam site is 150 metres upstream of the boundary of the sanctuary. “The officials had a fair idea by the end of the second day that if they go according to the block file, the dam site would fall in the sanctuary in Niharia block,” says PDKHJBS head.

Residents produce a letter dated June 12 from the principal chief conservator of forests (PCCF) in Jaipur to the chief conservator of forests (CCF) at Kota. In the letter, the PCCF has asked the CCF to produce a report stating “the Parwan scheme does not fall in the Shergarh Sanctuary”. The CCF Kota passed similar orders to the district forest officer (DFO) at Baran on June 13. This was followed by the joint survey.

DFO Baran, P D Gupta, says the dam was initially designed to be at the boundary of the sanctuary. “At my intervention, it was shifted 150 metres away. According to their feasibility report, this was the maximum they could shift.” Mohan Lal Meena, chief conservator of forests (CCF), says the sanctuary boundary is the same as the boundary between Niharia and Bilendi blocks. He confirms:“The dam is 150 m away from the sanctuary.” Meena adds that he knows why people are against the dam. “The dam will submerge forests that have been encroached upon by people for residing or agriculture. These encroachers will not get any compensation if the project comes up,” he explains.

Chhattrasal of PDKHJBS, who was also a part of the joint survey team, says even if the project is 150 metres upstream of the sanctuary, it falls in an eco-sensitive area and needs to be dealt with accordingly. Asad Rehmani, a member of the National Board of Wildlife (NBWL), says there is a ruling by the Supreme Court that a 10-km buffer zone has to be maintained around all eco-sensitive areas, including sanctuaries and national parks. “No projects can be allowed within the zone,” he says, adding, “once NBWL receives the proposal, I will assess the impact and convey my opinion to the board which will take the final call.”


Source URL: http://www.downtoearth.org.in/content/desperate-dam

 

10th day of Jal Satyagraha – Video Appeal #OmkareshwarDam


This video depicts the plight of the ordinary Indian, when their government and courts abandon them. The video is made on the tenth day where the evictees of the Omkareshwar Dam, one of the 30 large dams constructed in the controversial Narmada Valley Project, have decided to protest by staying in neck-deep water, after the Madhya Pradesh state government in India decided to increase the water level to 196.60 meters, though many villagers who lost their land and livelihood are yet to be identified and adequately compensated by the government. This is from the 10th day of the protest in water.

The Asian Human Rights Commission (AHRC) has received a report from the Narmada Bachao Andolan (NBA) that a large group of villagers who have been evicted from their land without compensation for the construction of the Omkareshwar Dam are protesting against the illegal increase in the water level, beyond that is allowed by the Supreme Court of India. It is reported that in a unique form of protest held in East Nimaar region in Khandwa district of Madhya Pradesh state, the villagers have been sitting within the dam’s catchment area claiming that they are willing to drown to death than been denied their rightful claim for adequate rehabilitation for the lands they have lost.

In the meanwhile, water level is increased gradually in the dam, that soon the water would submerge the protesters. The protest has entered the 10th day today. In a litigation decided by the Supreme Court of India and earlier by the Madhya Pradesh High Court, the courts have categorically instructed the government as well as the consortium managing the dam, that the water level should not be increased beyond 196.60 meters and that all steps are to be taken, so that those who are adversely affected by the dam, particularly those who have lost land by submergence, are properly identified and compensated before the reservoir is filled to its maximum capacity. NBA reports that so far the height of water was 189 meters and now the state government has declared that it would increase the water level to 193 meters. This however is done without rehabilitating those who have lost their land to submergence, which is a violation of the commitment made by the government in court and is against the court’s directives hence the protest. Civil society groups have condemned the total disregard of the government to the plight of the poor villagers.

MORE HERE

UPDATE- Omkareshwar and Indira Sagar Dam and jal satyagrah #mustshare


Chief Minister, Madhya Pradesh: reduction in water levels of Omkareshwar and Indira sagar dam
HUMAN RIGHTS COMMISSION INTERVENES TO SAVE THE LIVES OF JAL SATYAGRAHIS & RECOMMENDS THE STATE & AUTHORITIES TO REDUCE WATER LEVELS

 
NBA‘S REPRESENTATIVE MEETS THE CHIEF SECRETARY OF THE NARMADA VALLEY DEVELOPMENT CORPORATION TO DISCUSS ON THE ISSUES
 
CONCERNED CITIZENS FROM VARIOUS PLACES RAISE THEIR VOICES IN SOLIDARITY WITH THE JAL SATYAGRAHIS
 
JAL SATYAGRAHA CONTINUES FOR THE 7TH DAY AT GHOGHALGAON
 
 
HUMAN RIGHTS COMMISSION INTERVENES TO SAVE THE LIVES OF JAL SATYAGRAHIS & RECOMMENDS THE STATE & AUTHORITIES TO REDUCE WATER LEVELS
A petition was submitted by a representative group regarding the on going Satyagraha in Ghoghalgaon highlighting the fact that water has reached up to the chin level of 51 Oustees who are standing in water for the past 7 days. Thus it was demanded that the water level be reduced to 189 meters in Omkareshwar Dam & 260 meters in Indira Sagar Dam. Observing the seriousness of the situation Acting Commissioner of the State Human Rights Commission, Shri. A.K. Saxena passed an interim order recommending the Chief Secretary, Commissioner of Indore Division & the Collector of Khandwa to reduce the water level in the Dams to save the precious lives of the Oustees.
NBA’S REPRESENTATIVE GROUP MEETS THE CHIEF SECRETARY OF THE NARMADA VALLEY DEVELOPMENT DEPARTMENT TO DISCUSS ON THE ISSUES
 
Under the aegis of Narmada Bachao Andolan a representative group of Oustees affected by Indira Sagar & Omkareshwar Dam met Shri. Rajneesh Vaish, Chief Secretary of the Narmada Valley Development Department. He was informed that the water level is being raised in Omkareshwar & Indira Sagar dams in violation of the orders of Supreme Court because of which, the houses & fields of Oustees are getting submerged without rehabilitation. It was demanded of him that the water level is reduced to 189 meters in Omkareshwar Dam & 260 meters in Indira Sagar Dam. Also, it was demanded that Land for Land and rehabilitation be completed by granting other rights relating to the same. it was also brought to his notice that the Satyagraha is on for the past 7 days in Ghoghalgaon & any further increase in water would lead to death of Satyagrahis. After listening to the group the Chief Secretary instructed the District Authorities & NHDC to resolve the issues at District level. And he would try to resolve the issues at the earliest after consulting the NVDA officials as well as with the Chief Minister’s office.
CONCERNED CITIZENS FROM VARIOUS PLACES RAISE THEIR VOICES IN SOLIDARITY WITH THE JAL SATYAGRAHIS
The Jal Satygraha continues to be strong & sturdy even as it reaches the 7th day. Number of concerned citizens from various places is extending their solidarity to the Satyagrahis. The water has reached till the chin level of the Satyagrahis early in the morning which has become a major issue. Few officials & volunteers of Narmada Bachao Andolan sat to protest against the water level increase outside the collector’s residence early in the morning & demanded an immediate reduction of the water levels to save the lives of the Satyagrahis. State wide protest was held by groups from Bhopal like the Bhopal Gas Tragedy Victims Group, M.P. Mahila Manch, Bhopal Cultural Group, All India Revolutionary Student’s Association, Muskaan etc., & In Indore by groups like All Indian  Women’s Association, Rupankan, Domestic Workers Union, Centre for People’s Development, AITUC, CPI, IPTA, IAC etc.. Some people from the affected villages of District Khargone staged a protest in Mandleshwar at Tehsildar’s office.
PLEASE  SIGN ONLINE PETITION
chief-minister-madhya-pradesh-reduction-in-water-levels-of-omkareshwar-and-indira-sagar-dam
 

Bombay HC orders state to stop work on Kalu dam


Dam Damned

Dam Damned (Photo credit: Lingaraj G J)

By Mustafa Plumber | Place: Mumbai | Agency: DNA

The Bombay high court on Thursday stayed the construction of a dam being built on Kalu River in Thane district because necessary permissions were not obtained by the state government from the Ministry of Environment and Forest (MoEF).

The stay would continue for three months until the ministry decides on the proposal seeking permission.

On June 5, DNA had first reported how the dam, if built, would submerge an area of 2,100 hectares, including around 1,000 hectares of dense forest, and displace four villages.

“The private construction company appointed by the state government cannot undertake any activity unless further permission is given by the court,” said the division bench of Justice DD Sinha and Justice VK Tahilramani.

The bench rapped the ministry for not deciding on the proposal within three months as per the forest conservation rules, thus allowing the state government to carry out the construction activity on the dam site. “If it is a temple or a resort, it is ok. But if the matter is in larger public interest, it should be decided on a priority basis. You cannot keep everything on hold,” the bench said.

The bench noted that the ministry was non-apologetic for the delay.

“It is unfortunate that the statement made by the ministry on completing the entire exercise within four weeks was not honoured. However, nor there is an apology or regret in this regard. Because of procedural technicalities, the process was not completed. Due to the apology by the counsel, we don’t propose to take this matter any further.”

The bench directed the MoEF to decide on the state government’s proposal, seeking permission for development on forest land within three months. The Central Advisory Committee of MoEF has two months to submit its report/suggestions/recommendations based on the report dated February 9, submitted by the Chief Conservator of Forest (Central) in the ministry for consideration. Thereafter, the central government has to take a decision on it within a month.

The directions were given during the hearing of a petition filed by Shramik Mukhti Sanghatana, an NGO, alleging that the dam is being built without required permissions from the forest department.

In an affidavit, the state government admitted that work on Kalu dam in Murbad began in October 2010 without permission from the Centre and MoEF.

The MoEF had carried out a site inspection and the report submitted by the chief conservator of forest said the construction should be stayed as the state government had not got the necessary permission.

Advocate Gayatri Singh, appearing for the Sanghatana, argued that the work order was given on May 29, 2010, and only after the petition was filed, the state government applied for permission to the chief conservator of forest in June 2011.

According to the state government, as per a resolution passed on July 9, 2009, it was granted an approval for building the dam.

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