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UN experts concerned about raising dam's height

By Super

New Delhi, Apr 18: UN Secretary-General's Special Representative and Special Rapporteur on adequate housing Miloon Kothari has expressed concern on the decision of the Narmada Control Authority to raise the height of the Sardar Sarovar Dam on the Narmada River from the present 110.64 m to 121.92 m.

''We are concerned about the recent decision of the Narmada Control Authority to further raise the height of the Sardar Sarovar Dam on the Narmada River from the present 110.64 m to 121.92 m amidst reports indicating that this will result in the submergence of villages and displacement of over 35,000 families,'' a UNHCHR statement here today quoted him as saying.

According to the Supreme Court judgement in 2000 any further increase with respect to the height of the Sardar Sarovar Dam should be preceded by the implementation of resettlement and rehabilitation measures, the statement said.

However, according to reports received, adequate rehabilitation had not yet been provided for those affected at the current dam-height, many of them indigenous peoples and farmers, it added.

Official estimates say that an additional 24,421 families in 177 villages of Madhya Pradesh were to be displaced at the dam height of 121.92 metres, it said and added ''We are concerned about information indicating that in Madhya Pradesh rehabilitation sites are still not ready and none of the sites have sufficient house plots for affected families and that this may leave people homeless when affected villages are submerged.'' Furthermore, alternative agricultural land was reportedly not being provided, and where land had been allotted as in Maharashtra and Gujarat, it was uncultivable and inadequate, it was stated.

''We are aware of the indefinite sit-in by the over 300 dam-affected and activists of the Narmada Bachao Andolan in Delhi since March 17, demanding a halt to construction at the Sardar Sarovar dam. We are also aware of the three NBA activists who have been on an indefinite fast since March 29, recently joined by other human rights defenders.'' ''We are seriously concerned about recent information according to which on the night of April 5, a large police force allegedly used indiscriminate force against the protestors, arrested and hospitalised Ms Medha Patkar and Mr Jamsing Nargave on the eighth day of their fast and detained another 25 NBA activists. Testimonies suggest that the use of force was excessive and disproportionate,'' the statement said.

In view of the above, we urge the Indian government to release the report of the findings of the three Union Ministers who visited the Narmada Valley on April 7 to assess the status of resettlement and rehabilitation, as reportedly announced by the Minister of Water Resources in a statement dated April 4, it said. We also urge the government and appropriate authorities to take immediate steps to ensure that any further raising of the dam height would not result in the violation of the human rights of those affected, including to ensure that just and proper resettlement and rehabilitation of all the affected was provided in accordance with international human rights instruments, including the right to food and adequate housing as enshrined, for example, in the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights, the statement added.

Such measures could include the undertaking of a comprehensive assessment of the entire resettlement and rehabilitation experience in the areas affected by the Sardar Sarovar dam in Gujarat, Maharashtra and Madhya Pradesh, possibly through the setting up of an independent inquiry. Until the human rights of those affected could be guaranteed we recommend that the construction of the dam was halted, the statement said.

''We are also deeply concerned regarding the situation of those carrying out peaceful protest to demonstrate their opposition to the raising of the dam-level. We remind the government that the United Nations Declaration on Human Rights Defenders protects the right to peacefully react or oppose any action detrimental to human rights or fundamental freedoms,'' it said.

''We, therefore, recommend that the allegations of indiscriminate and excessive use of force by the police against activists engaged in the protest is properly investigated and that action is taken against the responsible officers, as appropriate. In this context it is also recommended that proper and swift investigation is undertaken with respect to allegations of false charges, if any, against Ms Medha Patkar and other NBA activists,'' it added.

Besides, UN Secretary-General's Special Rapporteur on adequate housing as a component of the right to an adequate standard of living, the statement was also supported by UN's Special Rapporteur on the human rights and fundamental freedoms of indigenous people Rodolfo Stavenhagen and human rights activist Hina Jilani.


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