Indian families uprooted by dam win compensation after decades-long battle

NEW DELHI, Feb 10 (Thomson Reuters Foundation) - After a decades-long struggle by campaigners, India’s top court has ordered Madhya Pradesh state to compensate hundreds of families forced from their homes to make way for a dam.

The Supreme Court on Wednesday ordered the state government to pay 6 million rupees ($90,000) to each of the 681 families who did not receive any compensation for their land that was acquired for the Sardar Sarovar project in western India.

“You have been struggling for compensation for 38 years. We are giving it to you in one shot,” Chief Justice J.S. Khehar told counsel for rights group Narmada Bachao Andolan (NBA), or Save the Narmada Movement, which had filed the petition.

The ambitious Sardar Sarovar dam is the centrepiece of the multi-billion dollar Narmada Valley development project to provide water and power to millions in India’s west through a series of dams, reservoirs and canals spanning three states.

It was completed in 2006, about two decades after construction began. The project has been mired in controversy since it was conceived in the 1960s, with protracted battles over water sharing, evictions and compensation.

The NBA has said the dam displaced 320,000 people -- many of them poor tribal farmers who were not properly resettled on fertile land -- and disrupted the lives of tens of thousands more. Thousands have still not been compensated, the NBA said.

The families who have won compensation had remained on their land, refusing to accept the state’s terms. The court asked them to leave by July 31.

The court also ordered the state to pay 1.5 million rupees each to 1,358 families who had earlier agreed the compensation, and asked the states of Gujarat and Maharashtra to prepare a plan for relief and rehabilitation for others displaced there.

“I am happy with the Supreme Court order, but I think the court should have covered more families for compensation,” said Medha Patkar, lead campaigner of NBA.

“All the affected families would have benefited then.”

About 65 million people were displaced in India by dams, highways, mines, power plants and airports between 1950 and 2005, according to Geneva-based Internal Displacement Monitoring Centre. Less than a fifth have been resettled.

The fight for land and resources has intensified in India in recent years as the government looks to generate economic growth and jobs for 1.2 billion citizens.

While legislation has been introduced to protect the rights of poor villagers and farmers over their land, the laws are often diluted or not implemented properly, activists say.