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The Hindu on : Taking dharna to the Supreme Court

Online edition of India's National Newspaper on
Saturday, December 16, 2000

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Taking dharna to the Supreme Court

By Gaurav Vivek Bhatnagar

How did hundreds of activists of ``Narmada Bachao Andolan'' -- led by social activist Medha Patkar and Booker Prize winner Arundhati Roy -- manage to stage a dharna at the main gate of the Supreme Court on December 13 without any prior permission?

Under attack for an apparent intelligence failure -- that too barely a couple of months after a deranged man had exploded three bombs at the main gate of the apex court -- the Delhi police now says that it did not want to precipitate matters before a large number of foreign media personnel who were accompanying the NBA activists.

The officers admit that the activists -- who were demanding immediate review of the Supreme Court verdict allowing construction of the controversial Sardar Sarovar Dam -- reached the Supreme Court unannounced. The Deputy Commissioner of Police (Special Branch), Mr Balaji Srivastava, accepts that the there was an intelligence lapse as the activists had not taken any prior permission for a protest. Now, he says, efforts are being made to ensure that such a thing is not repeated.

But it appears the police has been a wee bit slow on the uptake. Already, the NBA activists have held a number of protests without informing the authorities and these include their storming of the office of the Ministry of Water Resources at Shram Shakti Bhawan in the recent past.

Also, known for making surprise moves, the NBA activists had entered the World Bank office last year and smeared cow dung all over the place to register their protest. Still, when hundreds of their activists converged at the Supreme Court, the police were caught clueless.

It is now learnt that many of the activists had reached Delhi from Indore by train. Upon alighting at New Delhi railway station at about 8-30 a.m. they had contacted several mediapersons to inform them about their planned agitation.

The protestors had then converged at Supreme Court main gate. Ready for a long day of protests, they had on hand a Tata 407 vehicle which served as a temporary kitchen and served hot khichri and pickles on ``pattals'' (leaf plates) to the activists during the day.

The Joint Commissioner (New Delhi Range), Mr Suresh Roy, says the activists took everyone by surprise. ``But since it was not a violation of Section 144 of the Code of Criminal Procedure, we (the police) did not want to mess up the matter.''

But while the police initially had thought that the activists, who had gathered at about 11 a.m., would stay on for a couple of hours and then leave, the protestors had other plans. They held their ground till 7 in the evening.

Mr Roy says it was only when the protestors decided to camp at the place for good that the police decided to evict them. ``With bare hands, the protestors, who were literally clutching to the ground, were removed.''

What has irked the police is that the protestors were accompanied by a group of ``dedicated cameramen'' who were filming each and every move of theirs as also the police.

Wiser by the experience, Mr Roy says a regiment of the police has now been placed at Supreme Court to prevent another surprise protest by the Narmada activists.

Incidentally, following violent protests by industrial workers last month, the Delhi police had made elaborate security arrangements and foiled a planned demonstration by the agitators at the Supreme Court. This was done to ensure that no harm was done to the court structure or any of the persons present.

The reason probably lay in the fact that Supreme Court had been the target of a bomb attack by a 50-year-old ``mentally unsound'' man on October 10. Upendra Kumar Mohanty, had hurled three crude bombs at its main entrance.

The culprit had a weird idea in his mind and wanted to get it fulfilled by knocking at the doors of the Supreme Court. He reached Delhi with a placard which had newspaper articles and a photograph of Netaji Subhas Chandra Bose pasted on it and also carried a bag stuffed with literature on freedom-fighters.

Since he was not allowed to meet the Chief Justice the first time he went to the Supreme Court in August, this time he assembled three crude bombs on reaching New Delhi railway station from his native place in Orissa and then went to the main gate of the Supreme Court and exploded the devices, causing injuries to three persons.

After that incident, the security at Supreme Court had been strengthened. But it did not prevent the Narmada activists from targeting the venue. However, their protest did not go down well with some lawyers, who objected to their staging a dharna at the Supreme Court.

In fact on December 14, three of the lawyers --

Mr Jagdish Parasher, Mr Umed Singh and Mr Rajender Virmani -- lodged a complaint against the NBA activists at the Tilak Marg police station.

In their complaint, the lawyers claimed that when they

told the activists that Supreme Court was not the place to hold a dharna and they should instead go to Jantar Mantar, they were pushed around by the NBA activists.

Though the police have not registered an FIR so far, Mr Virmani says they would get the same registered as a matter of right. ``If the police do not register an FIR then they will have to give an explanation.'' Knowing full well how things move in the police, the lawyers have sought the intervention of the Supreme Court itself to ensure a safe environ within.

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