Three decades on, many Sardar Sarovar Dam affected persons still await rehabilitation

The third and final part of the series on the project is an overview of the shortcomings of the government in providing resettlement and rehabilitation to project affected persons


As a saying goes, “Until the lions have their own histories, the history of the hunt will glorify the hunter.” This is what has exactly happened in the case of the Sardar Sarovar Dam. As many as 5,00,000 people in the three states of Maharashtra, Gujarat and Madhya Pradesh have been displaced, more than 50 percent of them being Adivasis or the indigenous people. Their lands, livelihoods and cultures now stand submerged in the dam waters and they still await proper resettlement and rehabilitation, three decades on.

As per a Lok Sabha Reference Note, 2013, Development Displacement Population is the single largest category among all Internally Displaced Populations (IDPs). In India around 50 million people have been displaced due to development projects in over 50 years. Around 21.3 million development-induced IDPs include those displaced by dams (16.4 million),mines (2.55 million), industrial development (1.25 million) and wild life sanctuaries and national parks (0.6 million).

The note stated that according to a report, during the last 50 years, around 3,300 dams had been constructed in the country and most of them had led to large-scale forced eviction of vulnerable groups. It added that the situation of the tribal people was of special concern as they constituted 40 to 50 percent of the displaced population; and this was highlighted during the agitation against the construction of the Sardar Sarovar Dam. The dam was and is still called ‘India’s most controversial dam project’ and the agitation against it was spearheaded by Medha Patkar of the Narmada Bachao Andolan (NBA). While official figures said that around 42,000 families were to be displaced by the project, the NBA and other non-governmental organizations pegged that number to be around 85,000 families or 5,00,000 people.

The Narmada Water Disputes Tribunal (NWDA) which was set up in 1969 to resolve the water sharing dispute between Maharashtra, Gujarat and Madhya Pradesh, also aimed to set out conditions regarding the resettlement and rehabilitation of the people to be displaced by the dam. It is noteworthy that though the World Bank in 1985 lent the three state governments a total of $200 million and gave them $250 million in credits to finance the dam, even six years later the state governments hadn’t prepared any comprehensive plans for the resettlement of the affected individuals. It then pulled out of the project in 1993 after the Morse Committee recorded the numerous violations that had been done during the project.

Resettlement and Rehabilitation offered by the Narmada Control Authority (NCA)

As per the liberalised policy, the Govt. of Maharashtra are now allotting 1 hectare agricultural land free of cost to each landless oustee, and 2 ha agricultural land to major son and unmarried major daughters of all category of oustees besides a subsistence allowance of Rs.4500/- per oustee. Moreover in Maharashtra, compensation of land and house acquired will be paid to Project Affected Families (PAF) and land will be allotted free of cost.

The Government of Gujarat is allotting 2 ha land to landless agricultural labourers, each major son of all category of oustees with January 1, 1987 as cut-off date and free core house/financial assistance of Rs. 45000/- for construction of core house to the oustee families & their major sons.

The Government of Madhya Pradesh (MP) has increased the rehabilitation grant from Rs.11,000/- to Rs.18,700/- for SC/ST/Landless agricultural labourers/small and marginal farmers and from Rs.5,500 to Rs.9,350/- for other labourers and landless families. Liberalisation has also been made to purchase the productive assets. Accordingly, the amount to purchase the productive assets has been increased from Rs.29,000 to Rs.49,300 for SC/ST/Landless agricultural labourers and from Rs.19,500/- to Rs.33,150/- for other labourers and landless families. The Supreme Court in its landmark Judgment dated February 8, 2017 in Writ Petition No. 328 of 2002 extended compensation to 681 PAFs of MP of Rs. 60 Lakh per family who have not received any compensation and Rs. 15 Lakh per family to 1358 PAFs (now 943 PAFs after scrutiny) of MP who were paid both instalment of Special Rehabilitation Package (SRP) earlier after deducting earlier paid instalments.

In addition, the PAFs, who opt for shifting from submergence villages and wish to construct their houses later on can avail the option of receiving Rs 60,000/- for rental transit accommodation and Rs. 20,000/- for arranging meals/food, etc., for a period of 3 months. These PAFs have also been extended benefit of Pradhan Mantri Aavas Yojna @ Rs. 1.5 Lakh per family (including Rs. 18,000/- towards labour component under MGNREGA).

On-ground issues with Resettlement and Rehabilitation

Writing about ‘The Sardar Sarovar Dam Project: An Overview’, Philippe Cullet explains that the first object of debate, which still stands today, is the number of people displaced by the dam. When the Narmada Water Disputes Tribunal (NWDT) Award was given, it was estimated that only 6,147 families were to be displaced. By the mid-1980s, this number soared to 13,335 families, by the 1990s, it went up to 40,245 families and today the number stands at around 85,000 families who have been displaced.

The reasons for such differences in the human count are explained by earlier estimates not being backed up by actual door-to-door surveys, not all people ousted by the project being recognised as oustees (people displaced by the construction of the canal network not falling under the protection offered by the NWDT) and the debate over the definition of oustees since it was only people who could show that they owned land would get the full benefit of the resettlement and rehabilitation (R&R) package. This proved a major problem for Adivasis who were said to be encroachers on their own land and even fisherfolk, river-bed farmers or boat people who didn’t own land there.

Another issue for many years which has been condemned, has been the attempt to distinguish between temporarily affected (during the monsoon) and permanently affected oustees. One more problem that emerged was the quality of the R&R package. While concerned authorities tend to claim that all is well on this front, various official and independent reports have found major shortcomings with regard to proposed and existing resettlement sites. With regard to resettlement sites in MP, for instance, the Group of Ministers noted that:

Dharampuri had been shown to the GoMs as a success story by the Madhya Pradesh Government and it turned out to be the worst example of not doing anything by way of settlement when there was apparently no difficulty in respect of resources. The people there showed to the GoMs two dry water pumps and a heap of stones that had been dumped there a day before the GoMs’ arrival indicating that roads would be built soon.

An independent team led by Professor Chenoy that visited several resettlement sites later in 2006 gave a similar picture. Earlier, the Daud Committee that surveyed rehabilitation sites in Maharashtra found that:

[e]xcepting the resettlement village of Simamli in Gujarat, which offers a little satisfaction, rest of the resettlement villages from Maharashtra in particular, visited by us, lack almost all the basic facilities required for habitation, especially quality and availability of suitable agricultural land. One cannot ignore the enormous number of complaints that the Committee came to hear from the aggrieved people about having been shifted to the new sites without being provided with compensatory agricultural land. One of the greatest shortcomings is that of non-availability of water even for domestic purposes like cooking and drinking. Even in Simamli, it is not as if everything is as it should be.

A fact-finding report by the Housing and Land Rights Network (HRLN) in 2002 showed the resettlement sites promoted by the three state governments had been generally rejected as unsuitable by the affected people. Many of the villagers were refusing to move to the sites, saying they couldn’t grow anything on the land because it was of such poor quality, of insufficient size, or that there was no access to common property resources such as grazing land which was essential for their livelihood needs.

A villager in Gujarat conveyed the pittance he received in return for his land. He told HRLN, “What is the solution? We have sacrificed our land, our livelihood was taken away and we are given a pittance in return. We are asking only that our standard of living be restored and that has not happened. We have lost food security, grazing land, crop land and livelihood. Here I cannot even dream of having milk.”

An evaluation by MANIT Bhopal which had carried out an extensive survey of 88 R&R sites in MP also found that there were many inequities in provisioning infrastructure – no primary schools, no primary health centres, drinking water amenities, drainage systems, community ponds, street lights, etc.  

In terms of compensation offered, the findings of the Central Fact Finding team which visited the submergence areas in Madhya Pradesh, can tell us that the compensation offered was pitiable. A villager informed the FFT that the monetary compensation was absurdly low, INR 5.58 lakh for 5 acres of land, whereas irrigated land – even in the interiors in this area – was not available for less than INR 15-16 lakh per acre. The FFT also checked with several others only to find that at places close to roads and highways, prices were even higher, anywhere between Rs. 25 lakh and Rs. 70 lakh.

The NCA in 2018 had stated that as per the direction of Hon’ble Supreme Court dated 08.02.2017 in Writ Petition No. 328 of 2002, the MP government through its Grievance Redressal Authority has made payments of compensation of Rs. 15 Lakh/ Family to 892 PAFs (out of 946 PAFs) and Rs. 60 Lakh/family to 723 PAFs (out of 681 + additional 100 PAFs declared by GRA/ Government of Madhya Pradesh). However, in an article in the same year, the NBA said that while over 700 families received the package, hundreds still remained. It also said that according to the same SC order, the MP government was to provide facilities at all rehabilitation sites, but even 1 percent of that was not done. Post this, the MP government had announced an additional package of Rs. 900 through which each family would receive Rs. 5.8 lakh for the construction of houses at resettlement sites.

In 2019, when IndiaSpend visited villages in MP, it was found that though the Modi government in 2014 claimed that every single family in the dam’s submergence zone had been evacuated, there were at least 6,000 families still living there waiting for their final rehabilitation payments. Apart from this, cases of another 10,000 families were being heard at grievance redressal forums. One of the villagers explained to Indiaspend that though he had received a 5,400 sq. ft. plot, he had only received Rs. 1 lakh as compensation which wasn’t even enough to lay the foundation of the house. He said he was still waiting for the package announced in 2017 and until he received it, he couldn’t leave the village.

Social Activist Shabnam Hashmi who also visited these villages in MP in 2019 stated that over 150 families from Chikhalda village were yet to get the Rs. 5.8 lakhs. In Pichhodi, out of the 55 houses which were submerged, all got the Rs. 5.8 lakhs, but 17 families didn’t get land plots. As many as 17 families which were eligible for the Rs. 60 lakh compensation still hadn’t received it and 15 families eligible for Rs. 15 lakhs were still waiting to be compensated. In Eklabara village, 22 families received only the first instalment from the 5.8 lakh package which 10 families which were available didn’t even see their name on the list. Out of the total 542 affected families there, 276 were yet to get one or the other – compensation or land. 

The NCA website since 2015 says that 32,000 families have been resettled and rehabilitated, but the situation on ground is completely different. If so was the case, why was the government still offering compensation to people right until 2017?

Long before the dam construction had even begun, one could see the glaring loopholes in the R&R plans set up by the government. Ousted tribals who were supposedly resettled returned to their submerged lands as the resettled colonies didn’t have the basic amenities or arable land to support their livelihoods. While some haven’t received land, others haven’t received compensation and most have been ousted by strong-arm measures used by the government. Another issue was that of ex-parte land allotments, which was used as a tactic to show inflated numbers of rehabilitated persons.

The construction of the dam has led to a loss of livelihood by robbing people of their lands and their futures, and this has been done with utter impunity. This goes on today, as the government continues to throw away all requirements for environmental clearances in the bin and overlook the needs of the country’s indigenous population and ignores the tenets of sustainable development.


Sardar Sarovar Dam and the denial of Adivasi rights

The environmental impact of the Sardar Sarovar Dam




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