Rights Forum Says No Polavaram Project Works Till Tribal Rights Settled

Justice Gopala Rao deplored that the government has been revising project cost every time to benefit contractors, but keeps silence on rehabilitation packages. He said that funds for rehabilitation also should be increased as per requirements

Expressing severe concern over negligent attitude of the state and central governments over the fate of the displaced tribals due to construction of mega irrigation project at Polavaram on river Godavari in Andhra Pradesh, the Human Rights Forum has demanded that no further works should be take place till rights of the tribals are settled as per law.

The Forum charged that revenue records in village are fudged so that names of outsiders are replaced with the names of original tribal residents who will end up not receiving any rehabilitation package. It further said that details of the rights of tribals living in the submergence area of the Polavaram Project, as enunciated by the Forest Rights Act, are not even documented, before which the tribals are being displaced.

The fact finding team of the Forum headed by retired judge of Andhra Pradesh High Court Justice A Gopala Rao deplored that the individual and customary traditional rights of the tribals have not been codified and gazetted by the governments yet. Even before it is done, they are being displaced with a nominal compensation. In this regard, the Forum reminded that in the history of independent India lakhs of acres have been brought under cultivation by constructing big dams and the tribal communities have been displaced. But most of them are yet been rehabilitated.

The Forum demanded that details of the rights of each individual, his family, his community, lands under cultivation, and grazing lands should be documented along with traditional customary rights and boundaries of the community enjoyment areas. It should be done under the supervision of Grama Sabha, and the recommendations accepted by the government.

Recalling that the Supreme Court had directed the government in 2006 to constitute a monitoring committee, the Forum expressed concern that it has not been constituted till now. It demanded that such committee should be cosnstituted immediately after discussing with the local communities and the tribal organizations. Till this committee gives the clearance as directed by the Supreme Court, it said no further activity shall take place. In the absence of such monitoring committee, the Forum felt the affected people unable to represent grivences and no authority is coming forward to look into any lapses. For example, it said in Chegondapalli village a tribal nurse was died in a blast and her mother’s legs were broken. But till now no assistance was provided to their family and authorities even refusing to acknowledge such incident.

Alleging that the government has been adopting very brutal and most inhuman attitude towards vacating submerged villages, it pointed out in Devaragondi village all the houses were bulldozed fearing displaced tribals may return back. Even school building was demolished. Pointing out that some tribals were given farm lands abut 15 to 20 kms away from the houses provided to them, it wonders how can they cultivate their lands from such distant place ?

The report noted that revenue records in the villages were fudged so that names of outsiders are replaced by the names of original tribal residents who will end up not receiving any rehabilitation package. Nobody in the seven villages have received the relief and rehabilitation settlements, he said, and pointed out that even while increasing the project cost since 2005, it has not occurred to the government to increase the amount payable for those being displaced.

Though land for land and house for house are on offer, land and housing plot are separated by long distances, unlike in the present villages where they are adjacent to each other. The team visited the villages named Mamidigondi, Devaragondi, Ramayyapeta, Thota Gondhi, Singanapalli, Pydipaka and Chegondipally, which are the first to be submerged by the project.

Team members demanded that the government conduct meetings, interact with the gram sabha and local politicians, and preparing a road map based on mutual agreement and consent, before laying the next brick for the project. The issue of rehabilitation should be discussed by the State and Central governments within these parameters.

It sought that the package should be as per the directions by the monitoring committee, and if the package is found to be lagging in reference to the fixed benchmarks, construction should be deferred or stopped. In the interests of the rights of the project-affected families, the area of relocation should be declared as Scheduled Area, so that the protection and benefits of being Scheduled Tribes are not lost.

Justice Gopala Rao deplored that the government has been revising project cost every time to benefit contractors, but keeps silence on rehabilitation packages. He said that funds for rehabilitation also should be increased as per requirements.

Pathetic site of tribal communities being displaced and their inhuman living conditions is part of record. All the right thinking democratic institutions and person must remember that this contentious issue of Polavaram Dam is being discussed and rival contentions regarding the dam etc are being raised without recognizing the fact that the tribal communities have to leave their home land, agriculture field, mother forest for the sake of this dam.

So, the Forum insists that until the state and central governments document, record and given full gazzettee publication regarding the traditional rights of the tribal communities in the affected villages, no further work regarding the dam shall be taken up.

It also says that the monitoring and evaluation of the implementation of relief and rehabilitation should be done by an independent monitoring committee consting of eminent experts and NGOs with adequate powers to effectively peform its function. Concurrent monitoring and evaluation of the progress made in the implementation should be cari3ed out under the direction and supervision of such monitoring committee.

By Ch Narendra from Hyderabad

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