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Tuesday 4 January 2000
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CM's office asks NBA sympathisers to look at things in perspective

GANDHINAGAR: The chief minister's office has taken strong exception to the "mass of e-mail" it claims it has been receiving from different parts of India and abroad protesting against the alleged attack on the Narmada Bachao Andolan office on December 9.

In a written reply sent in December end to protests by voluntary organisations, the CMO has brushed aside all talk of attack on the NBA's Vadodara office as "irresponsible" and an attempt to "create adverse publicity for the state government against which the NBA has persistently carried out a campaign."

Signed by principal secretary to the chief minister PK Lahiri and dated December 27, the reply says that those indulging in the protest against the attack on the NBA office should have known that "drinking water is a major problem of Gujarat," with "more than 25 million people affected by this." Hence, if the government "does not spend millions of rupees on this, many families, as in the past, may be forced to migrate."

Claiming that the protest e-mails only "add salt to the wounds of the state," even if volunteered under good faith, the reply says that the information on attack on the NBA office is all "wrong." It emphasises, "If you try to live at a place where water is scarce then only you will appreciate the human agony and stop preaching what they should do... We would like to reprimand you for your irresponsible correspondence."

On the incident itself, the reply says, "On our inquiry, it is learnt that a cash of Rs 20,000 (US dollars 450 approx) have been missing from their cupboard and some furniture has also been damaged. Though the people were sleeping in the flat which is being used as an office at the alleged time of theft, and the phones were working, no attempt was made to inform the police on the emergency number 100. Moreover, no neighbour has also noticed any alarm. There have been counter-allegations that the whole incident is fake...."

Reacting to the reply, whose copy it had also received, the Setu Human Rights Resource Centre, Ahmedabad, agreed that it was in response to an e-mail to the chief minister expressing concern over the attack on the NBA office. Based on a TOI news item (December 10), the e-mail - signed by Suchitra Sheth and Achyut Yagnik of Setu, Ashok Chaudhary of Adivasi Ekta Parishad (Vedchhi), Ashok Shrimali of Gujarat Prakruti Sanrakshan Samiti (Junagadh), Karsanbhai Parmar of Shramjivi Samaj (Bhiloda) and Chandrasinh Mahida of Saurashtra Shramik Parishad -- said, "We strongly condemn the cowardly attack on the NBA activists on the eve of the international Human Rights Day."

Calling it an "attack on the right to peaceful protest, right to organise, and the right to the freedom of expression," the e-mail said, "Irrespective of whether one agrees or disagrees with the ideology and opinion of an individual or group, we believe in their inalienable right to expression in a democratic social order."

On inquiry from the Vadodara collectorate, a senior official confirmed, the NBA had filed a first information report three hours after the alleged attack on the office. "On inquiry, it was found that it was a case of simple theft, about which an inquiry is still on," the official said.

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