NEW DELHI, Feb 10 (Thomson Reuters Foundation) - After a
decades-long struggle by campaigners, India's top court has
ordered Madhya Pradesh state to compensate hundreds of families
forced from their homes to make way for a dam.
The Supreme Court on Wednesday ordered the state government
to pay 6 million rupees ($90,000) to each of the 681 families
who did not receive any compensation for their land that was
acquired for the Sardar Sarovar project in western India.
"You have been struggling for compensation for 38 years. We
are giving it to you in one shot," Chief Justice J.S. Khehar
told counsel for rights group Narmada Bachao Andolan (NBA), or
Save the Narmada Movement, which had filed the petition.
The ambitious Sardar Sarovar dam is the centrepiece of the
multi-billion dollar Narmada Valley development project to
provide water and power to millions in India's west through a
series of dams, reservoirs and canals spanning three states.
It was completed in 2006, about two decades after
construction began. The project has been mired in controversy
since it was conceived in the 1960s, with protracted battles
over water sharing, evictions and compensation.
The NBA has said the dam displaced 320,000 people -- many of
them poor tribal farmers who were not properly resettled on
fertile land -- and disrupted the lives of tens of thousands
more. Thousands have still not been compensated, the NBA said.
The families who have won compensation had remained on their
land, refusing to accept the state's terms. The court asked them
to leave by July 31.
The court also ordered the state to pay 1.5 million rupees
each to 1,358 families who had earlier agreed the compensation,
and asked the states of Gujarat and Maharashtra to prepare a
plan for relief and rehabilitation for others displaced there.
"I am happy with the Supreme Court order, but I think the
court should have covered more families for compensation," said
Medha Patkar, lead campaigner of NBA.
"All the affected families would have benefited then."
About 65 million people were displaced in India by dams,
highways, mines, power plants and airports between 1950 and
2005, according to Geneva-based Internal Displacement Monitoring
Centre. Less than a fifth have been resettled.
The fight for land and resources has intensified in India in
recent years as the government looks to generate economic growth
and jobs for 1.2 billion citizens.
While legislation has been introduced to protect the rights
of poor villagers and farmers over their land, the laws are
often diluted or not implemented properly, activists say.
($1 = 66.9480 Indian rupees)
(Additional reporting and writing by Rina Chandran
@rinachandran, Editing by Ros Russell. Please credit the Thomson
Reuters Foundation, the charitable arm of Thomson Reuters, that
covers humanitarian news, women's rights, trafficking, property
rights, climate change and resilience. Visit news.trust.org to
see more stories.)