DECCAN HERALD Monday, April 24, 2000

Death of ex-serviceman in police custody

Narmada Bachao leaders on warpath

From Sunil Tambe
DH News Service
UMERGAON, April 23

The terrorised became fearless warriors and lodged the 'first information report (FIR)` against the police for the torture inflicted upon them that resulted in the death of Col (Rtd) Pratap Save, a 1971 war veteran. The miracle took place as the Narmada Bachao Andolan leader, Ms Medha Patkar, encouraged the local leadership that is opposing the Rs 12,000-crore port project, commissioned to consortium Natelco-Uncol Ltd, a muti- nationalconsortium, along the picturesque coastal town of Umergaon in Gujarat.

Mr Sagar Machhi told Deccan Herald that the complaint would be filed with the Human Rights Commission and the Ahmedabad High Court would also be moved. According to Mr Machhi, the morale of the local people was boosted with the solidarity expressed by the National Alliance of People`s Movements, Green Peace International and other organisations.

The local Congress activists have been capitalising on the situation to mobilise the people against the BJP rule in the state. Senior Congress leader, Mr Rajesh Pilot, is to address a public meeting on Sunday in Umergaon.

Col Pratap Save (56), the leader of the Kinara Bachao Samiti (Save Coast Committee), whose father, Mr Bhaskar Save (90) is a veteran freedom fighter, mobilised the masses, particularly the fishing community and the farmers against the proposed project. According to Mr Sagar Machhi, the secretary of the committee, the project would destroy the fishing community as well the agriculturists in the ecologically fragile zone.

The seven villages which will be affected by the proposed port had passed resolutions in the village panchayats opposing the port. Besides, most of the villages in the Umergaon tehsil including the taluk panchayat have also asked the Gujarat government to scrap the project.

Although the agitation is going on for last 15 months, the police cracked down on the villagers on April 8, when all the office-bearers of the Kinara Bachao Sangharash Samiti and the Umergaon Bander Hatao Sangharsh Samiti were arrested. Col Save was picked up from his house in the midnight and according to his wife, Ms Sunita Save, he was in a drowsy state when produced before the magistrate. He was tortured by the senior police officer, according to the villagers who were rounded up on the same day. On the same night he was admitted to the local hospital which directed the police to take him to Mumbai for the lack of medical facilities.

The deputy superitendent of police of Valsad district told Deccan Herald that Col Save was immediately released and his relatives were asked to take care of him. He was in coma when brought to Hinduja Hospital in Mumbai. He died on April 20. According to Dr Kapadia, who performed two brain surgeries on Col Save, severe head injury was the cause of his death. However, no wounds were found on the colonel`s body.

The people in the township of Umergaon, which flourished on shallow water fishing and horticulture, were so terrorised by the police repression that no one was ready to talk to the press. However, the situation changed as Col Save`s mortal remains reached the village, Dehri. The support started pouring in from all directions. Former MPs, Mr Uttambhai Patel (Cong), Mr Chhotubhai Patel (BJP), Mr Devjibhai Tandel (BJP) from Daman, paid a visit to offer their condolences to the Saves.

Former member of Planning Commission, Dr Jayantrao Patil, and Col (rtd) Sadashiv Vartak also offered their condolences.

The atmosphere was charged when the NBA leader, Ms Medha Patkar, had a meeting with the local activists. After the meeting, the widow of Col Save, filed the FIR against, the Deputy SP, Mr Narendra Amin, Inspector, Mr J DJhala and other police personnel ''for causing death of my husband.`` The morale of the activists was so boosted that along with her, four other women also registered the FIR against the police for the torture inflicted upon them. Over two thousand people took out a peaceful procession to the police station for registering the FIRs.


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