Fundamental rights of Narmada river communities have been violated: Justice Gowda

A Jan Adalat (public hearing) was called by activist Medha Patkar on June 4 by the Narmada Bachao Andolan organisation. Justice Gopal Gowda and Justice Abhay Thipsay concluded the meeting with their prima facie views.

jan Adalat
Bhopal: The 33 years of struggle for a river and the lives dependent on it were summarised by two eminent judges on June 4. Justice Gopal Gowda and Justice Abhay Thipsay concluded the Public Hearing of the Narmada aur Kisaani Bachao Andolan. They made a concluding speech at Neelam Park, Bhopal.
A Jan Adalat (public hearing) was called by activist Medha Patkar on June 4 by the Narmada Bachao Andolan organisation. “Tribals, farmers, workers and fishermen from Madhya Pradesh, Gujarat and Maharashtra are going to attend the public meeting. They would march to Narmada Regulatory Authority to raise their issues. River Narmada has come on its verge of extinction due to the construction of dams, illegal sand mining and channelizing of its water into other tributaries. The link projects on energy, politics of giving benefit to industrial houses and failure to rehabilitate destitute have proved disastrous. Farming in Madhya Pradesh and the country has become a non-profitable occupation. Why are five farmers committing suicides daily in the state even when, as per government claims a number of steps have been taken in their interest. NBA would continue the agitation till farmers get right price of their produce,” NBA media in charge Rahul had said.
The final report by the judges will be presented on July 31 at Nisarpur, a Gram Sabha in Madhya Pradesh near the Narmada riverbanks.
Full text of Justice Gowda and Justice Thipsay’s judgment on the Save Narmada and Farming movement-
The Narmada river flows through four states: Gujarat, MP, Maharashtra and Rajasthan.
We have assembled here to conclude the public hearing of the Narmada aur Kisaani Bachao Andolan. We have come to address the grievances of the people who are affected by the acquisition of land for the Narmada Project.
Me and my colleague, Abhay Thipsay, are honoured to be presiding over this public hearing after our retirement. We took this opportunity to serve the farming community of this country.
I have worked as a judge for 18 and half years from being a High Court Chief Justice to working in the Supreme Court. My brother sat on the lower court to the high court of the constitutional functionary. He has worked for 30 years. We confess that the judgements rendered by us in constitutional courts did not satisfy us as much addressing the grievances and laying down rules of justice for this community has. Even though we have rendered historical judgements to serve the citizens.
Listening to your agony and woes has lit a fire in us to serve the country better.
We suffer the hot sun with you today because we understand your struggle. You have suffered for 40 years. You are life givers and you protect the humanity of this universe. Your service is greater than ours and we have listened to the witnesses for the last three hours and feel for your woes, difficulties and grievances.

The British came as businessmen to this country, colonised us for 200 years and exploited our material and human resources. It was the sacrifice of farmers, student communities, intellectuals, teachers and the youth under the leadership of Mahatma Gandhi and other great leaders that gave us our independence on August 15, 1947. We became a republic on January 26, 1950. We have great literature like the Bhagavad Gita, Quran and the Constitution. The parliamentary democracy has been vibrant due to politicians and statesmen. After listening to the painful stories of the people who lost their land to save the Narmada river and their quest for justice for the last 40 years, the people dependent on the environment for their survival, it doesn’t feel like a democracy that we fought for. It is a mobocracy.
This misery is ridiculous. A democracy doesn’t mean a majority rule, then why is it happening in our country? 74 per cent of the population lives in rural areas practising farming, agriculture labour, fishing and more. From the 74 per cent, 50 per cent are women. Even today, most of you who have gathered here are women. Why are you being ruled by industrialists and corporates in the name of democracy? Does nobody think it is so shameful for this country?
You are ‘anndata,’ the gods of nourishment. Can the 26 per cent of the people living in urban cities and towns like Delhi, Chennai, Bangalore, Kolkata, Bhopal and more survive even an hour without the supply of milk, fruits, vegetables, cotton and silk that you provide?
By taking advantage of illiteracy and unawareness, they exploit the majority, women, agricultural labourers, peasants and workers. Parliamentary democracy is under the aegis and governance of a great political document, the Constitution of India written by the great Babasaheb Ambedkar.
Equality is enshrined in the constitution. Article 21 gives citizens the right to livelihood. Right of residence is guaranteed in article 19 1 (E). Right of occupation is guaranteed under article 19 1 (G). Life needs a source of income for livelihood and liberty. Without these, can this farming community supply food to the 24 per cent of people in this country? At what cost do the kings in cities and corporations want convenience? What has governance and the fundamental federal features been reduced to?
Do the chief ministers or the Prime Minister of India care or are aware of the hardship that Indian citizens have to endure in Gujarat, Maharashtra and Madhya Pradesh? The last 40 years of Narmada Bachao were not just to save the river herself, it was to save the farming community.
In the garb of constructing dams on the river, what has actually happened? Fishermen have lost their lives. Labourers have lost their wages. Farmers have lost their farm, food grains and livelihood. What is happening? What is the Narmada dam development authority doing? What is the grievance redressal authority doing? You have heard 30 witnesses and 30 viewpoints. It took the tribunal 39 years to pass the award after considering certain terms and conditions to protect the community in the four states. But, witness after witness has said how they have not received compensation for their land that now lies submerged. They have not been rehabilitated. Where should the families of displaced people go? What should happen to them? A worker of the century mill said that he had to fight to draw 1 lakh 25 thousand litres water to run his mill. Does he have money to pay the full fees? Is he in that position? It is not just about rehabilitation and resettlement today. It is the lakhs of rupees owed to you because of the agony you’ve had to endure. Under Medha Patkar’s leadership and the Save Narmada movement, many courts have issued orders and directions to the stated over the last 20 or so years. States need to hear to the grievances of the land losers, compute the amount for compensation, award land to them, rehabilitate them, provide civic amenities and infrastructure to the displaced.
In a democratic country like India, under the governance of the constitution, what is happening? There is no rule of law in the state of MP, Maharashtra or Gujarat. They are violating the law. They are behaving like pick-pockets who steal from bus passengers but the amount here is not a few notes. A pick-pocket is still charged with a theft case but what about the governments? Thousands of people’s compensation has not been paid. For 40 years they have been deprived of a livelihood and their children have been deprived of education. What should happen to CMs and ministers in such a scenario?
This is why the work of Medha Patkar and her team becomes so important and why this public hearing is justified. We are retired judges but even we have social obligations beyond the court. We are the part of the system. My father was a farmer too. I know the pain and the suffering of cultivating paddy, maize, cotton, pulses and earning just Re 1 for all your hard work. Who else will protect the hard-working people of the country who just want to live and earn? If the public servants can’t then are we living in a democracy? Is it good governance?
After listening to the leaders from different states and how Medha Patkar has summed up all the problems, we are of the prima facie view that witness’s statements are the undisputed facts. Fishermen have been deprived where water has been diverted and civic facilities were not provided. Rehabilitation has not been completed to its fullest extent. MP government had addressed some issues in this regard. The Grievance Redressal Authority needs to provide and come clean on its directives. The chief ministers of the states should take note of the problems. More awareness about industrial effluents merging with river waters and causing illnesses needs to happen. The chemical reaction due to the effluent mixing with the Narmada river water is affecting agriculture, crops, drinking water, irrigation and more.
We have reports from Kaveri and Ganga basin where the effluents have caused cancer and deaths. It is yet to be ascertained if the same is happening to Narmada river.
The Narmada river development authority, Grievance Redressal Authority are in blatant violation of the orders of the Supreme Court and High Court. You need to exercise the power of your votes and elect a government that will serve you. That is the spirit of democracy. Vote in your interest and vote with awareness.
I also want to talk about MSP (Minimum Support Price.)
Lipsticks, toothpaste and other products come with a fixed price or MRP. But if you grow vegetables, wheat or cotton, there is no fixed price.
Two bills will be tabled soon, Freedom from Debt and Guaranteed MSP, in the Lok Sabha. Remember that 21 political parties have supported that bill. Remember that they can change their stance once they come in power through your votes. The Swaminathan report in favour of farmers has been pending for 18 years. Farmers consistently bear the burden of Non-performing assets and are punished for someone else’s mistakes.
We will forward our directives and observation to the concerned authorities soon.
And further, I wanted to tell you that, don’t stop fighting! You are born fighters and have been relentless for 40 years. You must be repaid. If they ignore you and the farming community, it will be their biggest loss. They must always be under pressure. For that, you must remain united and choose representatives that genuinely care about your rights and will protect you. If SC or HC orders are violated, people like Medha Patkar will lead you and people like us will guide you. They will represent you in courts and we will request lawyers in the SC, either Indore or Jabalpur belt, to get you relief. Don’t feel tired. It is your relentless spirit that makes this country work.
Our tentative prima facie view is that direct orders have been violated. Resettlement, rehabilitation and provision of civic amenities have not happened. Fundamental rights of citizens have been violated. The environment has been affected. Industrialists have gone scot free. Surplus power in stations has not been provided to people who need it most. Those stations generating that power have come at these people’s cost. They operate because the community has been displaced. You can challenge these industries. You must file PIL’s. you must see to it that these industrialists are not allowed to exploit water reserves meant for irrigation and drinking in these four states.
Thank you very much for giving this great opportunity for us to meet you all. It would not have been possible to assemble like this had our forefathers not fought like you do today. We would not have independence.
[The speech was edited for relevance. The entire speech can be seen here.]



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