Central intervention to ensure SC/ST status for Narmada oustees

Dhirendra K Jha/New Delhi

The Union Government plans to introduce a bill in the monsoon session of Parliament to ensure that the oustees of Sardar Sarovar Dam, rehabilitated in Gujarat, are allowed to retain their SC/ST status.

Sources say, the State Government has been dithering over the issue for it would entail "considerable strain" on the State exchequer. Once their SC/ST status is recognised/acknowledged by the State Government, the oustees from Madhya Pradesh and Maharashtra, become entitled for the compensation package as established by the Constitution. The Centre's move will ensure precisely this, said a top source.

Despite repeated pleas by the Narmada project-affected families -- as also by the Governments of Madhya Pradesh and Maharashtra -- the deadlock has continued as the Gujarat Government has refused to "see reason", a volunteer working with the Narmada oustees said.

The proposed bill seeks to ensure that these settlers enjoy in their new place of settlement all the benefits applicable to them under the SC/ST Orders (1966), Civil Rights Act (1955) besides various constitutional provisions for the Dalits and tribals.

Sources said, Social Justice and Empowerment Minister Maneka Gandhi will introduce and pilot the proposed bill in the Monsoon session of Parliament.

When contacted, Ms Maneka Gandhi, however, refused to comment on the character of the bill.

According to Narmada Bachao Andolan (NBA) sources, so far about 680 families from the "submergence villages" in Maharashtra have been resettled on 18 resettlement sites in Gujarat. From Madhya Pradesh, about 3,200 affected families have been shifted to 56 settlement sites in Gujarat.

The resettled families are predominently tribals. While in Maharashtra the process of shifting the oustees began in late 1980s, in Madhya Pradesh the Sardar Sarovar Dam affected families were started to be taken to Gujarat in 1990.

Barring a few families, most oustees were shifted to resettlement sites without much planning and in an adhoc fashion.

The economy of the oustees in their original villages was based on land, forest, river and cattle resources. While the resettlement package sought to compensate, though not fully, the land losses, the income generated from other sources was lost forever.

The loss of the back-up economy together with the refusal of the Gujarat Government to bestow on them their SC/ST status hit the oustees hard, forcing them to resort to daily wage labour.

The resettled families are also facing the wrath of the local communities who graze their cattle on the land allotted to the oustees. The latter, being in minority, have been unable to counter the pressure of the local populace.

In certain resettlement areas such as Chaklad, Tarasava, Kangam, Akotadar, Suryaghoda, Tandalija, Kavitha and Bamboj the lands given are water-logged.

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Referred by:Mukundan CM
Published on: July 24, 2001
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