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Indian Case Summary

Narmada Bachao Andolan vs Union Of India And Others on 18 October, 2000 – Case Summary

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In the case of Narmada Bachao Andolan vs Union Of India And Others on 18 October, 2000, the Supreme Court of India was faced with a dispute concerning the Narmada river, the fifth largest river in India and the largest west-flowing river of the Indian Peninsula. The case was presided over by B. N. Kirpal and Dr. A. S. Anand.

Facts of the Case

The Narmada river, originating from the Maikala ranges at Amarkantak in Madhya Pradesh, flows westwards over a length of about 1312 km before draining into the Gulf of Cambay. Despite its huge potential, there was hardly any development of the Narmada water resources prior to India’s independence.

In 1946, the then Government of Central Provinces and Berar and the then Government of Bombay requested the Central Waterways, Irrigation and Navigation Commission (CWINC) to investigate the Narmada river system for basin-wise development. The study commenced in 1947, and seven projects were recommended for detailed investigation.

The Central Water & Power Commission carried out a study of the hydroelectric potential of the Narmada basin in 1955. After the investigations, the Navagam site was finally decided upon for the construction of the dam. The project was inaugurated by late Pandit Jawaharlal Nehru on 5th April, 1961.

Issues

The main issue in the case was the dispute over the use, distribution, and control of the waters of the Narmada river. The State of Gujarat objected to the proposal of the State of Madhya Pradesh to construct Maheshwar and Harinphal Dams over the river Narmada in its lower reach and also to the agreement reached between the States of Madhya Pradesh and Maharashtra to jointly construct the Jalsindhi Dam over Narmada in its course between the two States.

Court’s Observations

The court observed that the height of the Sardar Sarovar Dam was determined at FRL 455 ft. The Tribunal was of the view that the FRL +436 ft. was required for irrigation use alone. In order to generate power throughout the year, it would be necessary to provide all the live storage above MDDL for which an FRL +453 ft. with MDDL + 362 ft. would obtain gross capacity of 7.44 MAF. Therefore, the Tribunal was of the view that FRL of the Sardar Sarovar Dam should be + 455 ft. providing gross storage of 7.70 MAF. It directed the State of Gujarat to took up and complete the construction of the dam.

The Tribunal also provided for rehabilitation of oustees and civic amenities to be provided to the oustees. The award also provided that if the State of Gujarat was unable to re-settle the oustees or the oustees being unwilling to occupy the area offered by the States, then the oustees will be re-settled by home State and all expenses for this were to be borne by Gujarat.

The Tribunal determined the utilizable quantum of water of the Narmada at Sardar Sarovar Dam site on the basis of 75% dependability at 28 MAF. It further ordered that out of the utilizable quantum of Narmada water, the allocation between the States should be as under:

  • Madhya Pradesh: 18.25 MAF
  • Gujarat: 9.00 MAF
  • Rajasthan: 0.50 MAF
  • Maharasthra: 0.25 MAF

The Tribunal in its Award directed for the constitution of an inter-State Administrative

Authority i.e. Narmada Control Authority for the purpose of securing compliance with and implementation of the decision and directions of the Tribunal. The Tribunal also directed for constitution of a Review Committee consisting of the Union Minister for Irrigation (now substituted by Union Minister for Water Resources) as its Chairperson and the Chief Ministers of Madhya Pradesh, Maharashtra, Gujarat and Rajasthan as its members. The Review Committee might review the decisions of the Narmada Control Authority and the Sardar Sarovar Construction Advisory Committee.

The Sardar Sarovar Construction Advisory Committee, headed by the Secretary, Ministry of Water Resources as its Chairperson, was directed to be constituted for ensuring efficient, economical and early execution of the project. Narmada Control Authority is a high powered committee having the Secretary, Ministry of Water Resources, Government of India as its Chairperson, Secretaries in the Ministry of Power, Ministry of Environment and Forests, Ministry of Welfare, Chief Secretaries of the concerned four States as Members. In addition thereto, there are a number of technical persons like Chief Engineers as the members.

The Tribunal’s decision contained in clause II relating to the determination of 75% dependable flow as 28 MAF was non-reviewable. The Tribunal’s decision of the determination of the utilizable quantum of Narmada water at Sardar Sarovar Dam site on the basis of 75% dependability at 28 MAF is not a clause which is included as a clause whose terms can be reviewed after a period of 45 years.

Conclusion

The case of Narmada Bachao Andolan vs Union Of India And Others is a landmark case in the history of India’s water disputes. It highlights the complexities involved in the management and distribution of water resources in a country with diverse geographical and political landscapes. The court’s decision in this case set a precedent for future disputes over water resources, emphasizing the need for equitable distribution, sustainable use, and the importance of rehabilitation for those displaced by such projects.