India’s Supreme Court is continuing its hearings into the state of Gujarat’s complaint that Narmada Bachao Andolan (NBA) is ignoring the court’s orders. The publication of material on the Sardar Sarovar dam project (SSDP) in different newspapers, journals and other media is also under consideration by the court.
The court, after reviewing various statements, NBA press releases and also certain comments in an article on the Narmada dam controversy by author Arundhati Roy, observed that there was an attempt ‘to undermine the dignity of the court and influence the course of justice’.
The court has appointed K K Venugopal, senior advocate and president of the Supreme Court Bar Association, to assist the court in regard to any action required to be taken in this matter as well as the main petition. Earlier, Venugopal contended that, on the basis of material presented, the petitioner, NBA and its leader Medha Patkar, had ‘contravened’ the court’s order dated 11 April 1997, which prohibited the parties from going to the press or taking recourse to any other forum or media.
In the meantime, Patkar and 61 other protesters were taken into police custody but released after protesting against the submergence of the Domkhedi tribal village caused by rising water levels behind the Sardar Sarovar dam. The rise in the water levels was attributed to heavy rainfall in the Narmada watershed and releases from three dams upstream of the SSDP. Patkar and others had stood waist-deep in water for almost 12 hours, refusing to move in protest against the Government’s failure to rehabilitate and resettle the people displaced from the SSDP in Gujarat.
According to NBA SSDP will displace about 2500 families. NBA charges that the state government of Gujarat has yet to resettle the families displaced at the previous height of the dam at 80.3m. In February this year the Supreme Court permitted Gujarat to proceed with the construction of the dam to its designed height.
Construction had been halted for over four years due to legal wrangling by NBA. Build-ing work on the dam originally began ten years ago and about US$1.74B has been spent on the project so far. Officials say power cannot be generated until the dam is at 110m high.