DECCAN HERALD Friday, April 7, 2000

M'rashtra govt has betrayed tribals: Patkar

DHULIA, April 6 (DHNS)

The Maharashtra government has betrayed the tribals affected by the Sardar Sarovar project on the Narmada river, charged Narmada Bachao Andolan (NBA) leader Medha Patkar.

Ms Patkar resorted to the agitation from March 27 at Nandurbar, the headquarters of the recently carved out tribal district in north-Maharashtra, bordering Madhya Pradesh and Gujarat. Her indefinite hunger strike was forcibly discontinued by the government authorities when, she along with two other tribal leaders - Mr Vesta Dama Pawra and Meher Singh, was admitted to the civil hospital in the neighbouring Dhulia district.

The police arrested over 150 activists of the Punarwasan Sangharsh Samiti and NBA on April 3 at the Nandurbar collectorate and Ms Patkar was shifted to Dhulia. She broke the fast formally on April 4. She was released on the same day. Her health is stable.

Ms Patkar told Deccan Herald that she was shocked by the repressive measures adopted by the Vilasrao Deshmukh government, since the very same government had agreed to hold a joint survey of the availability of land for rehabilitation of the affected people. But it did not honour its commitment, said the NBA leader.

By filing an affidavit in the Supreme Court on March 23, the Maharashtra government has reaffirmed its ''false`` affidavit filed earlier about the availability of the land for resettlement of the tribals, Ms Patkar charged.

The issue is of vital importance as the apex court is holding the final hearing of the writ petition filed by the NBA challenging the SSP. The NBA is demanding that the Maharashtra government should endorse the stand of the Madhya Pradesh government, since it did not have land for rehabilitation.

Moreover, it also should seek a review of the whole project that has already uprooted hundreds of tribal families in the state, said Ms Patkar.

Chief Minister Vilasrao Deshmukh had earlier initiated the process of dialogue with the NBA and Punarwasan Sangharsh Samiti and assured joint survey of the land to be made available for the rehabilitation. The additional chief secretary of the government was asked to submit the report of the joint survey. Accordingly, the concerned officer held two meetings with the activists in January this year. ''However, the government made a complete volte face and filed another false affidavit in the apex court,`` lamented Ms Patkar.

Mr Vesta Dama Pawra said the issue of rehabilitation also involved some issues on which a protracted battle was on since 1978. As per the land records with the government, most of the tribals affected by the SSP are encroachers on the forest land which would be submerged due to the project. Even as the central government regularised the encroachments in 1978 and the state government in issued a subsequent notification in 1985, the tribals` right has not been recognised yet, he said.

Mr Pawra pointed out that the rehabilitation package offered two acres of farm land each to legitimate land owners while the encroacher would get only one acre. This contentious issue is yet to be settled in the lower court, he said.

Moreover, the forest land offered by the government to the handful of evacuees had already been encroached by the other tribals and the evacuees are not getting possession of this land either, he said.

It may be recalled that the three Congress legislators from Nandurbar district, including the present minister for the rehabilitation, Mr Surupsingh Naik, had accepted all the issues raised by the Punarwasan Sangharsh Samiti.

''They assured us in December last that the government would not file any affidavit in the apex court without reviewing the rehabilitation programme and ascertaining the availability of the land with the activists,`` said Ms Pratibha Shinde.

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