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The Supreme Court Thursday permitted the Madhya Pradesh government to resume the stalled canal work for the Indira Sagar and Omkareshwar dam projects, saying construction work that had been going on for years cannot be stopped.

‘A construction work which has been going on for 15 years cannot be stopped like this. Even the photographs submitted by you (Ministry of Environment and Forests) show that the canal work has been going on for several years,’ a bench of Chief Justice K.G. Balakrishnan said, allowing the state government to resume the work.

‘We cannot think of a dam alone without any canal,’ remarked the bench, which also included Justice J.M. Panchal and Justice B.S. Chauhan, while asking the state government to resume further acquisition of land and excavation and construction to build canals.

The bench gave the order partly setting aside a Madhya Pradesh High Court order on a lawsuit by the state government. The high court stopped construction of the canals on a lawsuit by civil rights activist Medha Patkar, who wanted the government to first rehabilitate the villagers affected by the projects.

The bench gave relief to the state government rejecting Narmada Bachao Andolan leader Medha Patkar’s contention that the work should start only after clearance from the Ministry of Environment and Forests.

The bench also ticked off the union government for remaining mute spectator for years about lack of approval for the Command Area Development (CAD) Plan, a pre-condition for the project, and asked Patkar not to take an extreme position on the issue.

Appearing for the central government, senior counsel A. Mariaputhan told the court that the state government has submitted its CAD Plan only last October and it has been sent to an expert committee for examination.

The court asked the expert committee to take a decision on the issue within six weeks and the MoEF to finally decide on it in four weeks thereafter.

The court said it would consider the issue of rehabilitation of oustees on March 25.

The apex court also made it clear that the MoEF would consider only the environmental aspects of the projects.

‘The MoEF cannot decide on the acquisition of land or excavation and construction of canals. It cannot decide where the canals should be,’ the bench said.

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