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The Business of Justice

Lawyers' and higher compensation

As stated earner, the evictees though dissatisfied with the compensation awarded for the acquisition of their properties were ignorant of the law and its nuances. Moreover, few of them had the means to approach courts. At this juncture, especially in Mahboobnagar district, a few lawyers went round the villages, assessed the situation and prepared a scheme to extract greater compensation from the government.

They collected all the documents regarding the acquisition, the title deeds, the notifications, etc. as also signatures/humb impressions on a white paper.

They discussed the problem with the revenue officials at all levels, bribed them adequately if not substantially and had entire records changed, as if the people had protested and as if the government for various reasons had delayed in bringing the matter to the notice of the court. In some cases they appealed directly to the High Court, to review the compensation awards on humanitarian grounds as the people were not served notices properly (in most villages the notices remained with the village officials) and were illiterate and ignorant. Such collective writs were admitted by the High Court. The floodgates were opened. A group of ten to fifteen lawyers from Mahboobnagar Court and six or seven from the Kurnool District Court, mostly junior lawyers, took up the cases in a few villages in their areas of operation. Starting with a fee of 15 per cent of the amount of enhanced compensation to be awarded by the court, they soon raised it to 30 35 per cent and in some cases to even SO per cent. Sometimes, the villagers complained that they were not even informed as to how much the court had actually awarded and the amount deducted as fees. But the lawyers argued that they did not receive more than 5 to 10 per cent as their fees. When the elders from these villages heard that lawyers were taking up these cases, several of them, particularly village officials, i.e., karnams/patwaris and even professional pyraveekars (touts) of the villages flocked to the lawyers. These middlemen were instrumental in fixing the fees of the lawyers, in getting the records changed and in ensuring that the enhanced compensation awarded by the courts reached the displaced people in some form (after due deductions). The government responding to the complaints of the claimants, of not receiving the compensation awarded to them, ordered that cheques payable by the court should be in the names of the claimants. Unfortunately, this does not appear to have made much of a difference. Under this new procedure the claimant was required to open an account in a bank. In practice, the lawyer accompanied the claimant to the bank and gave the necessary introduction to the bank for opening an account. When the cheque was received a second or third trip was made by the lawyer (or his agent or middleman) to deposit the cheque in the account of the claimant. The signature of the claimant was obtained on the cheque or withdrawal slip of the bank and the lawyer/middleman received the full amount passing on the balance, if any, to the claimant after making the deductions towards fees, court charges, loans/advances given to the client, etc. A lawyer from Kurnool, however, complained that with the introduction of this new procedure they had to chase the claimants once the case was won to recover the fees, etc. apart from making several trips to the bank for helping the clients to open their accounts. He also cited instances when some of the claimants did not pay the fees agreed upon earlier.

Some lawyers had yet another grievance that the villagers or the middlemen had been playing truant. Once they got to know that all the necessary documents had been prepared and filed in the court and the case had to be only formally argued out, they tried to engage lawyers who were willing to argue the case at a much lower fee. According to them, this was possible because more lawyers were vying with each other to take up the compensation cases.

In this manner, by 31 March 1985 20,137 cases had been filed in Wanaparthy (Mahboobnagar district) and Kurnool Courts. Of these 10,011 cases were related to houses and 9,687 cases to land. Another 439 writs were filed collectively by groups of displaced people, sometimes whole villages, directly in the state High Court either for houses or lands or both. Of these, 8,695 cases were decided by the District Courts (5,026 cases related to houses and 3,669 cases related to land). In 74 per cent of these cases the judgements were challenged by the state government and the cases were transferred to the High Court. The remaining 2,205 cases were not challenged in view of the fact that the legal costs involved were likely to be much higher than the amount in dispute. Of the 6,490 cases filed in the High Court ',153 have been decided. In other words, of 20,137 cases filed only 3,358 cases (2,205 in the districts and 1,153 in the High Court), or barely 17 per cent had been finally settled by the end of March 1985.

Some specific features of these cases are:

  1. The government had not won a single case.
  2. The award of the court in the case of houses was on an average 262 per cent higher than that originally awarded by the government. Similarly, in the case of lands it was higher by 150 per cent. In fourteen cases studied at the project office, the enhancement was found to be on an average 276 per cent.
  3. In spite of such generous enhancement the total compensation paid was barely half the value of the property lost.
  4. Rumours were rife in the court corridors that some lawyers had manipulated a few judges in obtaining favourable and generous judgements.
  5. The government was required to pay an interest of 9 per cent on the additional compensation awarded by the court from the day of the acquisition of the property (earlier this interest rate was only 4 per cent).
  6. When the court allowed a petition for hearing, the government was expected to deposit the value of the disputed amount in the account of the court. There was, however, inordinate delay in this regard. For instance, in cases where the court had issued a decree way back in November 1981, the government had yet to deposit the money. In this manner a large number of cases were unnecessarily pending thus causing not only extreme hardship to the displaced people who were in need of money but also avoidable financial loss to the government which was required to pay large additional amounts by way of 9 per cent interest on the enhanced amount from the date of award of original compensation. According to the project authorities, some government employees who were accustomed to accepting bribes were responsible for the delay.

According to the research team's estimates, the government would have to pay the displaced people anywhere between Rs. 35 to Rs. 90 crores. If the cases continued for years, the government would have to bear further loss. In an attempt to clear these cases, the government set up two special courts to try the compensation cases in the two district headquarters of Mahboobnagar and Kurnool.

For a project which was initially claimed to cost only Rs. 38 crores, the government had already spent Rs. 46.6() crores by way of compensation alone. It would have paid another Rs. 35 to Rs. 90 crores as compensation by 1988. (The amount paid as compensation for the forest areas submerged has not been mentioned in the government data).

In any case, after all the heavy expenditure incurred by the government by way of higher compensation to the evictees, a substantial share would be deducted by the lawyers as fees, charges, expenses, and repayment of advances taken. The remaining amount would largely, if not c completely, be used in repaying old debts incurred especially in the construction of houses. What little remains would be used in no time for their daily needs. When the state displaces a group of people without their involvement and approval either in the decision-making process or in the actual act of displacement, the absolute minimum obligation of the state would be to ensure that the displaced people are, at least? properly rehabilitated in terms of earning a decent livelihood. When displacement poses unmanageable problems on the criteria of justice, it throws into question the very assumptions underlying the development process itself.

Annexure I
Srisailam Project: Details of Submerged Villages

Particulars of
Kurnool District MahboobnagarDistrict Total
  Villages Hamlets Villages Hamlets Villages Hamlets
1. Fully submerged villages
2. Villages where village sites in full and part of agricultural
lands were submerged
7 13 7 - 14 13
15 - 29 1 44 1
3. Villages where part of village sites and part of agricultural lands were submerged 2 1 5 2 7 3
4. Villages where village sites were not affected but only part of agricultural lands vere submerged 14 - 21 - 35 --
Total 38 14 62 3 100 17

Annexure 2 Lands and Houses Acquired by the Gouvernment and Compensation

District Extent of Land
Amount of
No. of Houses Amount of
Compensation Paid
Kurnool 42887.87 126041865.09 9888 55176437.29
Mahboobnagar 41884.685 91549714.70 11192 59444542.16
Total 84772.555 217591579.79 21080 114620979.45
Grand Total 84772.555 217591579.79 21080 332212559.24

Average amount paid per house acquired: Rs. 5,458.14.
Average amount paid per acre of land acquired: Rs. 2,560.00.
6.875 acres of kind and eleven houses had yet to be acquired, enquiry was under progress.

Annexure 3 Rehabilitation Cash Grant (RCC)

District Total No. of
Families to whom
RCG; to be
No. of displaced
Families Jo whom
RCG was
Amount of
Balance No. of
Families to be
Kurnool 14186 14012 37633199.78 174
Mahboobnagar 14048 13713 29738055.41 335
Total 28234 27725 67371255.19 509

People's Resistance Against Displacement by Large Dams

The experience of the people displaced by the srisailam project is not unique. it replicates the pattern of social and ecological dis location that has always been the 'hidden cost' or 'invisible negative externality' of building large dams in India. Each water develop ment project creates 'evictees', people whose life has been violently disrupted and who,have little say in the decisions about their eviction.

The construction of the Ukai Dam across the river Tapi in Gujarat displaced 52,000 people. These farmers, cultivating fertile lands, were forced to resettle in an area recently cleared of forests for the purpose. They were given up to 4 hectares of land on the basis of the extent of ownership in the old villages. Before they shifted to the new site, the government promised to level the land, clear the area of tree stumps, sink wells free of cost and instal power connections, etc. But once they moved, all these promises turned out to be false. The land was levelled with some assistance from the government. But the tree stumps had to be cleared by the farmers themselves with great difficulty. All this only resulted in the top soil being washed away within a few years and no crop would grow sufficiently after that. The promised wells were never sunk as the government clarified that only those who had wells in the old villages would be provided with new ones. In the old villages lands were largely near the river bank and not many farmers needed to sink wells. Without enough water, little food and almost no work, they soon became a migrant labour force to work in the sugarcane fields of the farmers in they command area.

The story of those uprooted by the Tehri Dam in the Himalayas is also very similar. The Pong Dam in Himachal Pradesh displaced 16,000 families (nearly one lakh people). An attempt was made to rehabilitate about half of them in the faraway deserts of Rajasthan in the command area of the project. Each family was given 16 acres of land. (The highest so far under any rehabilitation scheme in the country). In spite of this, unable to adjust to the new climatic conditions, water, people and language, most of the displaced people sold their lands and returned to their native place. Under the Bhakra Dam 2,180 families of Bilaspur in Himachal Pradesh were displaced. They were promised lands in the command area in Haryana in the lower region twenty-five years ago. But to date only 730 families or 33 per cent had been 'rehabilitated'. While lands were acquired from them in 1942-47 at the then prevailing rates, the lands allotted were at the rates prevailing in 1952-57 which means that the displaced people could only get between 1 to 5 acres. Since the land allotted was not very fertile and since they were unable to adjust to the changed environment as well as the not so friendly local population, most of the 'rehabilitated' families soon abandoned/sold their allotted lands and returned to Himachal Pradesh.

While in the past, conflicts between displaced people and those benefiting from large dams were always resolved in favour of the latter, the ecological imperative for the protection of nature has added a new dimension to the struggle of displaced people. They are now perceived as fighting not merely for their own survival, but for the survival- of their forests, rivers and land.

In East India, tribals belonging to 121 villages to be displaced by the Rs. 800 crore Koel-Karo project in Bihar have successfully managed to stop the construction work. The project envisages impounding the water of the river Koel at Basia and diverting it to the river Karo through a 22 km link channel, and the construction of another dam near Lohajamir village in Topra block, Ranchi district. If constructed, the project will submerge over 50,01)0 acres of land including 25,000 acres of forests whose customary rights are held by the tribal communities. Tribals have held demonstrations, blocked construction and resorted to legal action. A writ petition has been filed in the Supreme Court and in 1984, the Court issued an injunction restricting any type of dispossession of land till the final hearing of the case. Similarly, tribals likely to be evicted due to the construction of the Icchampalli and Bhopalpatnam projects in Maharashtra have organised themselves to struggle against the construction of these dams. A strong movement of tribals has grown against the Suvernarekha project in Bihar, which consists of two major dams-one at Chandil on the river Suvernarekha and the other at Icha on the river Kharkai. The Rs. 1200 crore project is supposed to provide irrigation. The primary aim, however, seems to be to supply water to industrial centres like Jamshedpur. Irrigation has traditionally been provided through 'ahars', which appear to be ecologically more sustainable and socially more just than the gigantic canal system of the Suvernarekha project which is devastating the beautiful Chotanagpur plateau. On completion, the project will submerge 45,000 acres of land including 10,000 acres of forest lands. Nearly 75,000 tribals from 120 villages will be displaced from their ancestral lands, to which their life is very closely linked, and from which they cannot be alienated according to the Chotanagpur Tenancy Act.

Gangaram Kalundia who was leading the resistance against the dam at Icha was killed in a police encounter in 1982. The tribals of Singhbhum are determined to continue their struggle against the construction of the dam through the local organization of displaced people called the 'Icha-Kharhai Visthapit Sangh'.

The Narmada Valley project is considered the world's largest water project, consisting of 30 major, 135 medium and 3,000 minor dams on the river Narmada and its tributaries. It will uproot one million people, submerge 350,000 hectares of forest lands and 200,000 hectares of cultivable lands and cost Rs. 25,000 crores over the next twenty-five years. The Sardar Sarovar Dam is already under construction, but is facing major opposition from tribals likely to be displaced, as well as from human rights and environmental groups. The submergence of 39,134 hectares of land will displace people of 234 villages. The Narmada Sagar project which is the next in line will submerge 91,348 hectares and displace people of 254 villages.

While the Narmada Dam struggles began as a fight for a just and human rehabilitation of the displaced people, it has rapidly evolved into a major environmental controversy, questioning not just the method of compensation, but also the logic of large dams. That the logic is questionable is indicated by the withdrawal of two major dam proposals-the Silent Valley project and the Bodhghat project. As water becomes increasingly scarce and demands for water resources grow, to provide energy for industry and irrigation for the production of agricultural commodities, conflicts over large dams will increase in intensity. As these conflicts emerge and grow, they will not only address problems created upstream due to submergence, they will also be linked with problems created downstream due to overuse and misuse of water for intensive irrigation.

Since large water projects for power and irrigation are capitalintensive, they have usually been financed by international aid. World Bank loans have made a significant contribution to the construction of large dams and canal systems in post-independent India. The water projects financed by the World Bank in India are presented in Table 8.1. The role of the World Bank and other sources of multilateral and bilateral development aid in the construction of gigantic projects with heavy social and ecological costs is generating a new level of conflict between the interests of international agencies and local communities. A new era of ecological politics is unfolding, in which people affected by ecologically destructive projects are trying to make international financial institutions accountable for their lending practices.

Table 8.1 World Bank Financed Water Projects

Project IBRD Loansl
IDA No. Credit
DVC Project IBRD Loan 72 18.5
DVC Project IBRD Loan 203 25.00
Koyna I IBRD Loan 223 25.00
Koyna II IDA Credit 24 21.10
Upper Indravati IBRD Loan 2278 156.40
Upper lndravati IDA Credit 1356 170.00
Indira Sarovar IBRD Loan 2416 157.40
Indira Sarovar IDA Credit 1613 143.00
Salandi Irrigation IDA Credit 14 9.54
Shetrunji Irrigation IDA Credit 13 5.19
Punjab Drainage IDA Credit 15 12.05
Sone Irrigation Project IDA Credit 21 18.09
Puma Irrigation Project IDA Credit 23 15.67
Beas Equipment Project IDA Credit 89 26.59
Madame Irrigation Project IDA Credit 176 36.55
Pochampad Irrigation Project IDA Credit 268 40.60
Chambal Irrigation (Rajasthan) IBRD Loan 1011 52.00
Rajasthan Canal IDA Credit 502 83.00
Godavari Barrage IDA Credit 535 45.00
Chambal CAD (Madhya Pradesh) IDA Credit 562 24.00
Andhra Pradesh Irrigation IBRD Credit 1251 145.00
Tamil Nadu Irrigation IDA Credit 720 23.00
Maharashtra Irrigation IDA Credit 736 70.00
Orissa Irrigation IDA Credit 740 58.00
Karnataka Irrigation IDA Credit 788 126.00
Guiarat Irrigation IDA Credit 808 85.110
Haryana Irrigation IDA Credit 843 111.00
Punjab Irrigation IDA Credit 989 129.00
Maharashtra Irrigation IDA Credit 954 210.00
Guiarat Irrigation IDA Credit 10H 175.00
Mahanadi Barrage IDA Credit 1078 83.00
Madhya Pradesh Medium Irrigation IDA Credit 1108 140.00
Karnataka Tanks IDA Credit 1116 54.00
Madbya Pradesh Major Irrigation IDA Credit 1177 220.00
Kallada Irrigation IDA Credit 1269 60.00
Kallada Irrigation IBRD Loan 2186 20.00
Second Chambal Irrigation    
(Madhya Pradesh) IDA Credit 1288 31.00
Suvernarekha Irrigation IDA Credit 1289 127.00
Second Haryana Irrigation IDA Credit 1319 150.0
Maharashtra Water Utilisation IBRD Loan 2308 22.7
Maharashtra Water Utilisation IDA Credit 1383 32.00
Orissa Irrigation 11 IDA Credit 1397 105.00
Periyar Vogal Irrigation IDA Credit 1468 35.00
Upper Gang Irrigation IDA Credit 1483 125.00
Gujarat Medium Irrigation IDA Credit 1496 172.00
Sardar Sarovar Dam. IDA Credit 1552 100.0
Sardar Sarovar Dam IBRD Loan 2497 200.00

Table 8.1 Contd.

Project IBRD Loans! Amount
  IDA No. Credit  
Water Delivery and Drainage IDA Credit 1553 15().(X)
Maharashtra Composite Irrigation IDA Credit 1621 161).(0
Andhra Pradesh Irrigation 11 IBRD Loan 2662 131.()0
National Water Management IDA Credit 177() 114.00

Intensive Irrigation and Water logging: Conflicts in the Malaprabha Command Area

Most anti-dam movements in india have emerged from move ments of people facing displacement due to the submergence of large areas upstream of dam sites. These struggles are expressions of a conflict of interests between those who bear the social and ecological costs of dams and those who benefit from them.

However, large dams have diverse and complex ecological impacts. and they often generate environmental costs for those very groups who are supposed to be the beneficiaries. Waterlogging and salini sation are twin problems caused by the wasteful use of water.

Waterlogging is caused by the interaction of a large number of factors such as irrigation intensity, soil characteristics, drainage. seepage from reservoirs, distributaries and field channels. Since large-scale irrigation systems are linked to the uniformity of water distribution, which enforces the uniformity of cropping patterns. and uniformity in the landscape, waterlogging becomes inevitable in areas with undulating topography and water retentive soils. In such cases, farmers who are supposed to be the 'beneficiaries' become victims of irrigation projects and irrigation authorities. In areas where irrigation has led to the transformation of productive lands into waterlogged wastelands, conflicts arise between farmers and the state. The 'Mitt) Bachao Andolan' in the Tawacomman area is an example of such conflicts." In the Krishna basin, conflic generated by irrigation projects were highlighted by the farmer agitations in the command area of the Malaprabha project.

The Malaprabha project was completed in 1972-73. With the introduction of canal irrigation, nearly 2,364 hectares of land i the project area has become waterlogged and saline' Before the introduction of perennial irrigation, the undulating semi-arid land in the project area was used for growing water prudent crops like jowar and pulses. Due to a sudden change from rainfed agriculture to intensive canal irrigation, the low lying areas have become waterlogged. The cultivation of water demanding crops like hybrid cotton has aggravated the problem. In addition, seepage from canals has also raised the water level.

The Malaprabha project includes a storage dam of 1,068 million cum capacity near Saundatti in Belgaum district which feeds the 138 km Malaprabha right bank, 168 km left bank canal, and the Kolachi right bank canal. The command areas of these canals presented in Table 8.2.


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