A small note on Tehri Dam case heard in Supreme Court and the current scenario
After the Uttarkashi’s (now in Uttaranchal state) earthquake Oct. 1992 Sh. N. D. Jayal and Sh. Shekhar Singh had filed a public interest petition in the Supreme Court, raising the issues regarding the controversial Tehri dam project.
In the course of this petition, in January 2002 Supreme Court ordered the Govt. to present the latest status on the issues related to earthquake, environment and rehabilitation. The central environment ministry, Tehri Hydro Development Corporation and Govt. of Uttaranchal submitted affidavits showing the latest status of earthquake, environment and rehabilitation works.
In February 2002 Sh. Sanjay Parikh the petitioner’s lawyer had asked information of the status of the actions taken on the Govt. orders (related to earthquake, environment and rehabilitation) passed since 1973 through a questionnaire. Through the incomplete answers the fact came into light that the Govt. has disobeyed the conditions laid by the environment ministry in its conditional acceptance.
The Supreme Court bench comprising of Justice Rajenra Babu, Justice Devbrat Dharmadhikari and Justice Mathur started the final hearing on the project from 21 January 2003. It was not expected that court would hear Tehri case in full. The Honorable Court allowed Senior council Ms. Indira Jaisingh and Adv. Sanjay Parikh in the main case. Adv. Mr. Rajeev Dhavan argued on behalf of Mr. Sunderlal Bahuguna as intervener in the main case.
The advocates raised objections on the conditional clearance given by the ministry of environment to Tehri dam project on 19 July 1990. They said that the Govt. has not implemented the conditions mentioned under Environment Clearance. There is no treatment of the catchment area and no development of command area. No study has been conducted for the plants and species to be plunged in the reservoir. There is no plan for water conservation, maintenance of quality of water and disaster/ crisis management. Bhagirathi valley basin Management Corporation has also not been established. The accepted recommendations of Hanumanth Rao committee and Expert Group on safety, which were formed after the 74-day long fasting by Sh. Sunderlal Bahuguna, have also not been followed by the Govt.
During the first 4 days long hearing the advocates from the petitioner’s side expressed their surprise as to how a Govt. official can reject the recommendations made by a Expert Group, appointed by the Govt. itself. It is clearly mentioned in the Environment Conditional Clearance that “The rehabilitation package covering population affecting Koteshwar dam as well as those living on the rim of the reservoir and likely to be affected will be prepared before 31.3.1991.”
Senior advocate on behalf of the petitioners said that now govt. is preparing another package for two groups according to affidavit filed by govt. of Uttaranchal on 7 January 2003. This indicates that Govt. is postponing the work, which was supposed to be completed before 12 years. She further argued that: -
- The issue of dam’s safety is related with the lives of lakhs of people living in the areas below the dam.
- Not having a study on flora and fauna in the Himalayan region that is full of bio-diversity is an irreparable loss to the environment. This is not a technical fault but intentional negligence.
- The condition of Pari-Pasu (environmental and rehabilitation work should progress with the raise in the height of dam accordingly) has also been violated.
The petitioner prayed that following directions be issued by the honorable Court. Firstly, 2 tests (three dimensional study (3D) and second is dam break analysis) should be undertaken. Secondly, there should be no further construction of dam until these tests are done. Thirdly, no increase in the water level of the reservoir; no closure of diversion tunnel no. 1 and 2 and fourthly, appoint a commissioner by the Court (as the Court has already done in the cases of death due to hunger) to submit a report to the Court after reviewing the status of issues related to environment and rehabilitation within a period of 8 weeks or within a time period as determined by the Court. Senior advocate Ms. Indira Jai Singh suggested the name of former Secretary Sh. N. C. Saxena for this purpose.
The monitoring process of rehabilitation and environment works just like those in case of Sardar Sarovar dam on Narmada River were demanded for the Tehri Project so that the direction of Pari-Pasu given under Environment Conditional Clearance could properly be followed. Petitioner’s lawyer mainly raised following issues:
- The recommendations of Hanumanth Rao committee should fully be applicable under which married adult of 18 years should be given 2 hectare of land considering him eligible and unmarried boys and girls should be given 1 hectare of land. Cut off date should be considered as 19 July 2002 according to Hanumanth Rao committee.
- As the sale-purchase of land was banned after 1976, there should be a provision in the package relating to the prices of land providing the prices of land equal to the prices of circle rates of 2003.
- Time limit of the promise of providing employment should be according to the ascertained plan that has not been done.
- House construction assistance should be in accordance of the prevailing construction costs.
- The reservoir should not be filled before the completion of construction of bridges and other facilities in the cut of area.
- Govt. of Uttaranchal has a mention for the acceptance of giving land rights to the oustees at new rehabilitation site, in their affidavit of February 2002; beside this land is being given on lease only. Land rights should be given to the displaced people.
- The villages like Khand (Bhagirathi valley), Syansu, Bhald etc. which are under the category of partially submerged villages should be considered under the category of Fully submerge under special circumstances.
- The displaced people should not face repeated displacement.
On fourth day of hearing the Supreme Court gave a chance to environmentalist Sh. Sunderlal Bahuguna to put his arguments. Sh. Bahuguna emphasized his concern on the condition of people living in hills, quality of water, risks involved with the break down of dam, water rights of the people of Raika Patti and the problems faced by the women in the hills and requested the Court to give a direction to put an end to the money order economy so that the youths of hills may stay in the hills. Rehabilitating and forcing the residents of hills destroys the life of people. He said plantation would support the continuous availability of water in the rivers. Dam is a temporary solution; the residents of hills can continuously provide water to the country. The people of hills are so strong and hard working because they drink flowing water. Dam’s water looses its vitality. The Govt. should make arrangements for the protection of Himalayas.
Govt. claimed that they have done good work on Environment and rehabilitation issues. They are taking care of safety measurement of the Tehri Dam. They claimed that there is no need of three-dimensional study of the dam, no need of dam break analysis, no need of Disaster Management Plan, these all are only theoretical exercises. They said that they are not only following the condition of PARI-PASU (Env. and rehab. work of dam will be done simultaneously with the engineering work of the dam) but also not legging behind then the Environment Conditional Clearance of July 1990.
In fact when hearing started only one junior lawyer was present in the court on behalf of the govts. They were repeatedly asking more time to reply the petitioner’s arguments. Honorable Court was very much annoyed with the govt. and THDC. Because they were not aware what the petitioners presented in the court? Court took it as its insult that in ‘such a serious case govt. is behaving like this? Not giving required attention.’ In the last hearing Hon’ble Court fixed this date as final hearing for Tehri Dam case.
Last day of hearing 25 Feb 2003
After listening to the petitioner’s rejoinder and some comments of respondents the bench has completed the hearing and reserved the judgment / decision. In the first half of the day Sr. Adv. Ms. Indira Jaisingh read the rejoinder of the petitioner. She filed a list of the Dam in the world where ‘3-Daimentional study of the Dam’ and ‘Dam break Analysis’ done. Govt. repeatedly said in the court that these are only mental or theoretical exercise, these studies never made. Petitioner also filed a photo album showing the photo of Old Tehri Town, Villages going to be submerge and showing impoundment due to closer of tunnel no. 3 and 4.
So, we are waiting for the judgment and meanwhile govt. of Uttaranchal is trying to finish rehabilitation work on paper. In the first week of April Director of rehabilitation declare that they have completed the rehabilitation till 780m RL (reservoir level). According to authorities rehabilitation of 56 villages has been fully complete. These villages will be fully submerged. Reality is quite different. Oustees did not get land in many villages. For example in village Chamm not even house surveys have been done. Villagers of Biryani did not get house plots. It is same in village Sanyasu. In village Bhaldiyana, which has been recently, awarded, oustees did not get land. Villagers of Badkot were going to block the stone trucks for the dam, because they did not get land. Authorities again ask time till 23 April to solve the issue. On 28 January also authorities made the same promise.
Two bridges, which will connect cut off area, where more then 80,000 people are living, work on one bridge in Bhagirathi valley is now abandoned and another in Bhilangana valley is under construction and will take more then one and half years.
In old Tehri town people are still on Dharna. More then 200 families are residing there facing serious troubles regarding basic civic amenities.
And Tehri Hydro Development Corporation CMD declared in the capital of Uttaranchal, they will supply drinking water for Delhi and Uttar Pradesh in December 2003.
THDC has been awarded with another project in Chamoli district of Uttaranchal named VISHNUGAD on river Alaknanda.
We are waiting for the Supreme Court decision.