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The Hindu on indiaserver.com : Medha Patkar begins fast in jail

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Sunday, October 03, 1999


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Medha Patkar begins fast in jail

By Our Special Correspondent

NEW DELHI, OCT. 2. Ms. Medha Patkar of the Narmada Bachao Andolan began an indefinite fast today in Dhule jail where she is lodged along with 385 others, for allegedly violating prohibitive orders under Section 144, clamped in the Sardar Sarovar Project (SSP) submergence villages of Domkhedi and Dhargaon in Maharashtra.

Ms. Patkar began the fast in protest against police action and demanded unconditional release of the people arrested from their homes, when the State had not offered them any alternate rehabilitation and resettlement.

She was arrested three times in three weeks from the submergence villages as she along with others faced the rising waters of the SSP. According to Ms. Nandini Oza of the NBA, ``with every arrest, police oppression worsened and people including Medha were roughed up''.

This, within a week of the Prime Minister, Mr. Atal Behari Vajpayee, writing a letter to Ms. Patkar in Dhule jail seeking the involvement of ``dedicated and committed social activists such as you'' in resolving the highly complex issue of the Narmada project.

The focus of the Prime Minister's letter was to appeal to Ms. Patkar to withdraw her decision to face the rising waters of the Narmada.

Ms. Patkar's fast is to press for unconditional release of the arrested people, a dialogue with the State Government, a survey of the proclaimed available land for rehabilitation and a cost- benefit review of the SSP.

The NBA has challenged the recent statements of the Maharashtra Chief Minister, Mr Narayan Rane, who reportedly said that the controversial SSP was beneficial to the State and that there was enough land for settlement of the project affected people.

``Let the Government come forward and prove the cost benefit of the SSP, the benefit of power to Maharashtra and show the availability of 2200 hectares of land for rehabilitation of the displaced people within 48 hours,'' says the NBA.

Ms. Oza said that the 386 people arrested from the Narmada Valley were in Dhule jail from September 23 and did not accept release on personal bond in the case against violating prohibitive orders.

But on Friday when the case came up for hearing, the State police opposed their release and pressed for surety of Rs. 3,000 each. The Sessions Judge of the Nandurbar district headquarters, Mr. Kharkar, has already quashed police action against Ms. Patkar and others.

Meanwhile, a delegation of prominent citizens, NGOs and acamedicians presented a memorandum to the President, Mr. K.R. Narayanan on Friday in which they detailed the water problem in Gujarat of which the SSP was the answer.

While ``appreciating'' the concern of all well meaning people, most specifically the President himself, the delegation claimed that the task of resettlement of the project-affected people was ``manageable'' contraray to the claims of the anti-dam activists.


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