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Thursday, April 08, 1999
Science & Tech
Medha Patkar, several NBA activists arrested
By Our Special Correspondent
New Delhi, April 7.
The Union Government today displayed its intolerance to voices of thousands of people displaced from the Sardar Sarovar Project (SSP) on Narmada, who travelled here from villages in Gujarat, Maharashtra and Madhya Pradesh to air their grievances and seek justice. Instead of giving them a hearing, the Government ordered their arrest, unmindful of whether it were hundreds of women, old men, along with a bedridden Baba Amte, Ms. Medha Patkar, Kishan Patnaik or Swami Agnivesh.
Nearly 2,500 people displaced by the SSP today suffused the lawns of Shastri Bhavan here to apprise the Union Welfare Minister for Social Justice and Empowerment, Ms. Maneka Gandhi, of their predicament, only to be snubbed by the Minister and arrested by the Delhi police. Ms. Maneka Gandhi heads the Ministry which has to oversee the rehabilitation and resettlement (R and R) of the dam-affected people whose land and homes face submergence.
After initially agreeing to meet a delegation of the Narmada Bachao Andolan, led by Ms. Medha Patkar, the Union Minister made a volte face and though she was present in office, did not make herself available to the delegation when they went to meet her. Minutes later, a huge contingent of police swooped on the demonstrators, who were tribals and villagers from the Narmada valley in Gujarat, Maharashtra and Madhya Pradesh, and forcefully dumped women and old men in hired buses. Several women were injured due to manhandling by the police of the Parliament Street station.
In the beginning the police allowed the oustees to stage a dharna in front of Shastri Bhavan. Since there were thousands of people who had been travelling from April 1, through the affected States on a Manav Adhikar Yatra (Human Rights March), they had requested the Minister to give a hearing to their problems.
``In this Delhi, where can people who are faced with the matter of life and death, go? The (Supreme) Court has given an interim order to raise the height of the SSP with the understanding that the oustees would be rehabilitated and resettled simultaneously. But that is not happening on the ground. The State Governments have given incorrect information on affidavits in court. The villagers have already exposed false claims of land availability in Maharashtra and Madhya Pradesh. And people settled in Gujarat are returning to their homes for lack of facilities and acceptability, leave alone non- irrigatibility of land,'' said Ms. Medha Patkar, after she was released. Some women rallyists had passed down at the police station after being arrested as they were not provided with drinking water for more than two hours. Later when the police arranged for water, Cauverybai of Kushel tehsil in Madhya Pradesh rejected the water saying the Government has enough water to submerge their homes but the Delhi police did not have water to quench their thirst. Madhu Joshi, also of M.P. told the police, ``Dafri jao (Go away), we will not drink your water. You have manhandled our women''.
Baba Amte said he had come only to stir the conscience of the nation, which is ``in a moral comma''.
Among those present with the rallyists were the former Chairman of the Khadi and Village Industries Commission, Mr. Surendra Mohan, Ms. Manju Mohan and the leader of the National Fishworkers Forum, Mr. Thomas Kochery, who came from Kerala. Ms. Maneka Gandhi was not available for comment.
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