New Delhi: The Supreme Court on Thursday directed the Central Government to convene the meeting of high powered Review Committee comprising of the Chief Ministers of the four states – Madhya Pradesh, Maharashtra, Gujarat and Rajasthan under the chairmanship of Union Minister for Water Resources to meet and take decisions regarding the rising water level of Sardar Sarovar Dam, which is poses the threat of submergence of several villages in these states.

A Bench comprising of Justice N.V. Ramana, Justice Sanjiv Khanna and Justice Krishna Murari gave this direction while hearing the petition filed by several Project Affected Persons seeking provision of Rehabilitation and Resettlement (R&R) measures before inundating their villages. Senior Counsel for the petitioners, Sanjay Parikh, pointed to the Bench about the gravity of submergence, which is affecting human life and livelihood. He said that R&R measures have not been taken by the Governments and the Dam is being filled up to the Full Reservoir Level (FRL) posing a threat to the lives of Project Affected Persons. He sought a direction from the Court to the Government to reduce the water level in the Dam.

Solicitor General, Tushar Mehta, submitted on behalf of the Central Government and Narmada Control Authority (NCA) that the water level in the reservoir has been raised as per the procedure in the award and there is no violation of the orders of the Supreme Court also. In the counter affidavits filed by the Union of India and the Narmada Control Authority, they have rejected the plea for reducing the water level in the Sardar Sarovar to 122m by keeping the gates open. They claim that the Narmada Control Authority and its various subgroups, for Resettlement and Rehabilitation (R&R) as well as environment, have already granted all the requisite permissions for filling of the reservoir to FRL in 2017 itself.

The State of Gujarat in its affidavit contended that the Supreme Court’s order of 8.2.2017 itself had directed that all the project affected families must vacate the villages by 31st July 2017 and that this should have been complied with.

The petitioners, on the other hand, submitted that thousands of families have been residing in 76 villages, and their R&R remains pending. About 3000 applications by the claimants are pending in Madhya Pradesh state for the land entitlement or Rs 60 lakh package, granted by the Supreme Court itself in its 2017 order. The Madhya Pradesh Government in its communication has accepted that a number of tasks related to R&R remain pending and the civic amenities as per NWDTA & state policy, such as drinking water, roads, drainage and others, were not in place.

Senior counsel Kapil Sibal, appearing for the Madhya Pradesh Government sought time to file an affidavit pointing out the status of R&R measures in the state. He also asserted that the impact of submergence is much more severe than what has been presented. The Court directed the State of Madhya Pradesh to file its affidavit by 30th September and fixed the matter for hearing on 1st October.

As is known, the present controversy arose because the state of Gujarat wanted to increase the water level to 138.68 m in spite of Madhya Pradesh resisting it on the grounds that with R&R of thousands of families still pending, submergence cannot be done. Because of the rise in water level in Sardar Sarovar, 176 villages have been submerged, severely impacting the life and livelihood of thousands of people.

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