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The Hindu on : Police have their way, protesters have their say

Online edition of India's National Newspaper on
Tuesday, April 24, 2001

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Police have their way, protesters have their say

By Lalit K. Jha

NEW DELHI, APRIL 23. A strong police force both inside and outside the Supreme Court complex here on Monday prevented a repeat of the December 13 dharna by Narmada Bachao Aandolan (NBA) activists that had resulted in ``unprecedented'' closure of the Court's main gate.

Led by the NBA supremo, Ms. Medha Patkar, and the noted writer, Ms. Arundhati Roy, nearly 300 people -- mostly from the affected areas of Madhya Pradesh and Maharashtra -- assembled near the Supreme Court on Monday morning. Displaying banners and placards flashing slogans in Hindi like ``Save Narmada'', ``We will not allow dam to come up'' and ``Give us proper rehabilitation'', the activists started marching towards the Supreme Court singing songs that have become the movement's anthem of sorts.

Well aware of the surprise tactics adopted by the activists in the past as also on December 13, the police today had made elaborate arrangements. There was not only a heavy police bandobast at all the gates of the Supreme Court but even entry inside the premises was restricted.

As a measure of precaution, the NBA activists were stopped a few hundred metres away from the Court. Familiar with such obstacles, the activists promptly squatted on the road -- refusing to budge for the next two hours.

A nine-member delegation was, however, allowed to proceed towards the Supreme Court as Ms. Patkar, Ms. Roy and Mr. Prashant Bhushan, senior advocate, had to appear in person in connection with the contempt case proceedings initiated against them by a Supreme Court advocate, Mr. J. R. Parashar. Accompanied by a large media contingent, this delegation entered the Court premises. However, except for the advocates of the respondents, no one else was allowed to enter the courtroom.

Meanwhile, at the dharna site, the protesters formed a human chain to express their solidarity with Ms. Patkar. The gathering turned into a rally after she returned from the Court. A large number of activists addressed the villagers who wrapped up this round of protest with a traditional meal right there on the road.

Even though the police had apprehended a repeat of December 13, NBA leaders said ``we had not come here for any confrontation''.

``This was only to express our solidarity with Medha Didi,'' said one of them on the way to the World Bank office at Lodhi Estate where the second part of today's agitation was to unfold. There the activists registered their protest against the Social Forest project being funded by the World Bank in Madhya Pradesh. Led by Mr. Vijai of Adivasi Mukti Morcha, the protesters submitted a memorandum to the World Bank.

Ms. Patkar, meanwhile, led a delegation to Sardar Patel Bhavan on Parliament Street for a meeting with the Chairperson of the National Human Rights Commission, Mr. Justice J. S. Verma, in connection with a case of alleged killing of four poor tribals by the police in the Dewas district of Madhya Pradesh on April 2.

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