| Medha Patkar after ending her fast. Picture by Prem Singh
New Delhi, April 17: The Supreme Court today did not stay construction at the Sardar Sarovar dam but asked the parties in the dispute to shun bellicosity.
Work cannot be halted till the replies of the Centre and the states involved are considered, the court said in a blow to the Narmada Bachao Andalon (NBA), which argues that every single day of construction is causing irreversible damage.
But as it gave the governments a week to file their replies and fixed hearing for May 1, the court made it clear there would be no “compromise” on rehabilitation.
“It is made clear to the state governments that if the relief and rehabilitation to the unfortunate oustees is not granted in true letter and spirit, this court will have no option but to stop the work of (the) dam,” the three-judge bench headed by Chief Justice Y.K. Sabharwal said.
As Delhi sought permission to establish a mechanism to review the rehabilitation being done by Madhya Pradesh, the bench said the Centre could go ahead and try to settle the dispute though it was pending in court.
Yet, no solution was possible in the “charged” atmosphere that now prevails, the judges felt. “The matter deserves to be examined in a fair, reasonable, cool and calm atmosphere'. We hope that they (the lawyers) will persuade the stakeholders about this requirement. If (a) balanced approach is not found, there will be a great threat to the civil society.”
Emerging from the courtroom, social activist Swami Agnivesh said nothing short of a halt to construction was acceptable.
NBA counsel Shanti Bhusan had earlier told the judges that work should be stopped till rehabilitation was complete, because the construction was pushing hundreds of families into the submergence zone every day.
The Centre said thousands of families in 177 villages needed to be rehabilitated and that this was the sole responsibility of Madhya Pradesh. It sought three months ' till August, when the monsoon is expected to submerge the areas ' prompting Bhusan to quip, “Not even God can complete the rehabilitation in three months.”
Madhya Pradesh counsel Harish Salve argued that the Centre’s orders relating to rehabilitation through the proposed mechanism could not be made binding on the state.
He claimed the oustees had been compensated long before March 8, when the Narmada Control Authority (NCA) decided the dam’s height could be raised. He challenged the report by the central team, led by water resources minister Saifuddin Soz, which cites gaps in rehabilitation.
The Gujarat government backed him, citing the NCA decision had been unanimous.
The bench was hearing a petition seeking a halt to the construction, which aims to raise the dam’s height from 110.64 metres to 121.92 metres.