After 17 Days of Struggle in Mumbai, The People Are Victorious
As you know on September 11th more than two thousand Adivasi people from the valley of Narmada and the mountain ranges of Satpudas arrived in Mumbai. There were also representatives from the affected villages in Nimad, Madhya Pradesh and from Gujarat. About three hundred of them belonging to Punarwasan Sangharsh Samiti with Pratibha Shinde, were from the resettlement sites in Maharashtra. They had come after concluding the two months long Satyagraha, challenging the rising waters behind Sardar Sarovar that would have submerged their lands to life. The people demanded that the state government to accept and implement it in a systematic way the recommendations of Maharashtra State Government commissioned Jst. (Retd) Daud Committee Report that has exposed the legal violations and social injustice done to the oustees. The people demanded the government end its policy of making false claims and ad-hoc plans at the cost of justice. The villagers could no longer allow their land to be illegally acquired and usurped as land rights due to be granted to 73 Adivasi villages in Akrani are denied. They came from a district, Nandurbar, now famous for malnourishment deaths in spite of rich natural resources, and brought all the data-based complaints regarding varies Government services in health, education, drought relief works and fighting corruption too.
On the first day, the people gathered in front of the Tilak Bhawan, the Congress party headquarters in Mumbai, to question them about the tall promises they made in their build up to the 1999 elections. Fed up by the unaccountability of the elected representatives from the region falling under the Sardar Sarovar Project, people decided to confront the party, which supported their cause fully till the elections. In 1999, the candidates for Parliament and Assembly, along with the top district Congress office bearers agreed to in writing that the District Congress Committee would take up the NBA position opposing the Sardar Sarovar project and acknowledging resettlement had not taken place and compel the Government of Maharashtra to file a case asking for the review of the project. Once in power, they have conveniently forgotten all this and have instead sided with the pro dam forces to push the dam ahead even without rehabilitating the affected families
The Vice President of Maharashtra Pradesh Congress Committee, Dr. Vijaya Patil was compelled to meet the people. Socialist leader Gopal Dukhande, Marathi writer Ramdas Bhatkal, representatives of people's organisations - Vittal Ghag of Mill Workers' Union, N.D.Koli of National Fishworkers Forum and others came to express solidarity with the people.
The following day (12.9.2001) after meeting a delegation of Narmada Bachao Andolan who raised the issues of tribals' Land Rights, corruption at the local level, lack of schools and health facilities in the tribal areas, among others, the President of the Maharashtra Pradesh Congress Committee, Shri.Govindrao Adik, declared that until and unless the rehabilitation of the already affected has been satisfactorily completed there should not be any more construction of the controversial Sardar Sarovar Project. He also said that the state Congress Party would fully support the demand of Narmada Bachao Andolan that the Land Rights of the adivasis (of 73 villages in Akrani Tahsil and many villages in Akkalkua tahsil in Nandurbar district) are granted immediately. He advocated for acceptance of the Daud Committee Report in toto and the speedy implementation of its recommendations.
Former Union Finance Minister Madhu Dandavate and senior social activist Minar Pimple were present during the meeting. Shri.Madhu Dandavate, while addressing the people demanded that a coalition committee would have to raise the issues of SSP, the same way it was done for Enron. He expressed full solidarity with the struggle.
The following day (13.9.2001) determined that the Maharashtra government takes concrete action, the people decided to intensify the struggle. After taking out a rally from Tilak Bhawan to Azad Maidan winding 12 km through the heart of Bombay, conveying the message of the Narmada Valley to the citizens of Bombay the people decided that groups of adivasis representing many villages would begin relay fast from September 14th and if there was no response then senior activists of Narmada Bachao Andolan, including Medha Patkar would go on indefinite fast from Sept. 17th.
Relay Fast began by Adivasis
The next day (Sept 14th) relay fasts began to challenge the government that still remained apathetic. That day though, in discussions between Revenue Minister Shri Ashok Chavan and representatives from the Narmada Bachao Andolan in the presence of Shri Vilasrao Patil, Rehabilitation Minister and Shri Govindrao Adik, Maharashtra Pradesh Congress President, the Revenue Minister promised that the issue of land rights would be resolved as soon as possible and demanded that the officials make available all the relevant documents. A meeting with all the officials of the Revenue and Forest department and the Collector of Nandurbar district was scheduled to take place at the Mantralaya within the next 10 to 12 days.
The delegation presented in detail how in 73 villages in the Akrani tahsil of Nandurbar district basic settlement of land rights remains to be done and referred to the 1995 Supreme Court judgment (Pradip Prabhu Vs Government of Maharashtra case) directing the State Government to survey the cultivations of adivasis in forests and give them land titles for old cultivated fields. The adivasis who have been living here for generations are considered as 'encroachers'!
With no action on the government's part, the relay fast continued the next day with another 36 villagers picking up the fast from the 40 who had preceded them. They included Jerma Vasave (Bamni village), Kandya Padvi (Mukhdi), Tetya Vasave (Danel), Lalsingh Tadvi (Chandsailimal) and others.
While the pressure on the Government built over each day so did the spirit and enthusiasm of the people. The 'pendal' was a live house with constant activity in the form of speeches, songs, slogans and dances. Adivasis, activists, students...all were full of energy, linking the various struggles and providing hope and inspiration to many others. Even the 'Bhojan Samiti' (Food Committee) which had the task of cooking for more than 2000 people did so with no complaints. The grains were collected from the plains of Nimad, the affected region in Madhya Pradesh. Many groups from Bombay too tried to reduce the pressure of providing food for so many people by contributing one meal a day on occasions.
The police at the Azad Maidan were extraordinarily helpful and supportive too helping by making water available promptly whenever needed besides always being at hand with transportation to take us for our various meetings. Azad Maidan, a place directed as the only place for all mass actions in Mumbai is without any basic amenities and that itself was a cause we raised from the dharna site. All others Electropathy doctors demanding recognition, PWD workers demanding implementation of a cabinet decision, slum dwellers protesting against unjust eviction all joined in this. Water supply and garbage collection improved while a permanent amenity complex remains to be erected.
Indefinite Fast in front of Mantralaya
In the early hours of the 17th of September, the 2000 adivasis marched in the pouring rain from the Azad Maidan to the Gandhi statue near the Mantralya reaching the park before 7 a.m. The government would not respond to the people's claims so they brought their issues to its doorsteps. Furthermore the conditions in Azad Maidan had become uninhabitable with the tent collapsing under the rain in addition to a lack of drinking water and toilet facilities.
At 11.00 a.m. Shri Ganpatrao Deshmukh, Minister for Employment Generation Scheme and a mediator in the NBA cause, came to the public place and met them and promised to convey their demands to the Chief Minister. Later in the day he informed the NBA that the Chief Minister had agreed to meet them on Wednesday (Sept. 19) at 4.30 p.m. Later, a delegation later went to meet the same Minister at the Mantralya to discuss the sorry state of affairs with regard to the employment generation schemes in Nandurbar district. In the last two - three years, which were drought affected, the Government had failed to provide drought relief works for employment generation. He promised to look into the village-wise details provided to him immediately and rectify the mistakes made by the local administration. At 3.30 p.m. the Minister for Food and Civil Supplies Shri Laxmanrao Dhoble met the people in the park and had a long discussion with them trying to understand the unbelievable corruption and inefficiency of the local officials. He desired the NBA to extent its complete support in dealing with the issues raised. A meeting at the district headquarters, Nandurbar, was promised to be held within the coming 15 days to try and resolve the problems and which he himself would attend.
Despite the government's seeming willingness for "dialogue," the peoples' demands had not been met. As a result, seven members of the Narmada Bachao Andolan, Medha Patkar, Himmatsingh Sildar Pavra from village Maal, Saisingh Khajya Pavra from Teenismaal, Narsingh Ruboji Valavi from Goramba, Tejla Rodwa Valavi from Danel-Mandwa, Dakhalsingh Vasave from resettlement site Amlibari, all from Maharashtra and Sitaramkaka from village Kadmal and Ashish Mandloi from village Chhota Barda in Madhya Pradesh, began an indefinite fast.
Meeting with the Chief Minister
On 19th September, at the meeting with Chief Minister Shri Vilasrao Deshmukh, he declared that a favorable decision will be taken within 2-4 days in the issue of land rights of the adivasis in the 73 villages of Akrani tahsil in Nandurbar district (including 24 affected by submergence in Sardar Sarovar project). He also clearly stated that whatever the costs, a pro-adivasi position will be taken on the Jst Daud Committee report after calling a cabinet meeting within the next 15 days. The Chief Minister also considered the possibility of taking the NBA's position that under the present circumstances further construction of the dam cannot be allowed and the realistic position will be informed to the Inter-State body of the Narmada Control Authority. The Rehabilitation minister also present, further accepted that there is no land and that the resettlement of already affected families is far from completion due to paucity of agricultural land.
On this third day of the indefinite fast, the condition of those on fast was weak, but their spirit and determination were sound. The previous two days saw many dignitaries, including the Minister for Rural Development, Shri.R.R.Patil, leader of Republican Party of India, Shri.Ramdas Athawle, Socialist leaders Mrinal Gore, Gopal Dukhande, Senior leader of Maharashtra dam oustees, Baba Adhav, students from Bombay colleges like St.Xavier's, Sophia's and Nirmala Niketan visited the dharna place and declare solidarity with the people on fast and dharna.
The following day (Sept 20th) some false reports that the indefinite fast and the dharna had been called off surfaced and the NBA strongly condemned the distorted news. The condition of the 7 representatives of the valley on fast, including Medha Patkar, continued to deteriorate but they remained sound in their resolve that the fast would continue till a formal decision is taken on the issues covered in the Daud Committee Report and land rights and conveyed to NBA.
Condition of those on fast become serious
On the subsequent fifth day of the fast health condition of four activists, Medha Patkar, Saisingh Khajya Pavra, Narsingh Ruboji Valavi and Dakhalsingh became serious but they refused to be admitted in any hospital. In reference to the government's continued inaction despite its encouraging words, Medha Patkar stated "It seems that State government is reneging on its commitment under some pressure. But we are resolute to continue with our struggle and will not leave Mumbai until Government fulfils the commitments made." The Government also further postponed any decision till 25th September in a proposed meeting with the Revenue Minister Shri Ashokrao Chavan.
On this 11th day of mass action in Mumbai scores of activists, supporters and youths including the Students Federation of India, Chhatra Bharati, Lokanche Dost and Rastravadi Congress Vidyathi Sanghatana extended support to the people in their on going struggle.
The following day, (Sept 22nd) the government's apathy towards the plight of the people in the valley continued and the people condemned it for dragging its feet on the firm commitment made by the Chief Minister in the meeting on 19th September, the state government maintained a silence on the issues and served a notice through the Police that the fast should be ended in view of the falling health of some of the activists. Medha Patkar maintained that, " The state government, instead of police, should respond to us and to the issues raised and agreed by the Chief Minister. Till any such response, our fast will continue and if the police try to break it, the struggle will further be intensified."
On the seventh day of the fast (September 23rd), the Maharashtra police forcibly removed three activists on fast, Tejla Valvi, Sai Singh and Nar Singh, to the hospital in view of their precarious health condition. Medha Patkar and four colleagues continued the fast and restated their resolve. Two others - Gonya Vasave from village Atthi and Gulab Tadvi from village Ambawadi - had joined the fast in place of the ones who were shifted to the hospital
The Secretary to Rehabilitation to Ministry, Mr.Bhargav visited the dharna at midnight on the 22nd but could not give any satisfactory answer to the questions raised by the people. Though he conceded to meet NBA representatives about Daud Committee report on Monday (24th Sept), the government's apathy towards the serious questions about displacement was obvious as it had not acted on any of the specific directions outlined in the meeting with NBA by the Chief Minister himself.
That Monday, hundreds of men and women belonging to the organisations of tribals and other depressed classes in Thane, Raigarh and Mumbai region under the banner of Shoshit Jan Andolan, Kashtakari Sangathan, Shramik Mukti Andolan, Jagruth Kashtakari, Sarvahara Jana Andolan, Shramik Mukti Sangathana, Kinara Bachao Andolan (Umbergaon, Gujarat), National Fishworkers Forum, Palghar (Konkan), National Railway Mazdoor Union expressed their solidarity with the demands of the Narmada Bachao Andolan as the indefinite fast entered its eighth day. Dignitaries included, socialist Mrinal Gore, Communist Party (Marxist) leader Prabhakar Sanjhgiri, CITU leaders Shri. Bajaj and others, AITUC leaders Shri. Chitnis and others, Hindu Mazdoor Sabha leaders Shri. Bagal and others (all trade unions), prominent Congress leader Shivaji Rao Patil. The organizations declared that the Narmada struggle is a part of the larger struggle for the rights of the tribals, dalits, fisherpeople, peasants and other depressed classes for their rights and their resources which are violated in the context of globalization. " If the Maharashtra government fails to give the legitimate rights in to the tribals, the government would invite the statewide unrest" declared the organizations. Three women activists representing Kerala Shastra Sahitya Parishad and DSS activists from Raichur, Karnataka
In the discussions with the Minister of State for Rehabilitation, Shri.Ram Raje Nimbalkar, the villagers voiced their disgust with the pretext of what the Minister conceded was 'procedural delay' for the granting of the land-rights. " Do you take 12 years for implementing the decision taken a decade back?" shot back the veteran Dadlia Mundya Vasave, Karbhari (headman) of village Domkhedi.
In the 25th of September meeting, the government seemed adamant to concede nothing to the people of the valley in its ongoing negotiations with the Narmada Bachao Andolan. The officials refused to accept the report by Justice Daud Committee, which was appointed by the state government itself or concede the legitimate land rights in the 73 villages. The NBA team and the supporters, including N.D.Patil, Bhai Vaidya, Mrinal Gore, Bopshetty, Gopal Dukhande and others at the negotiations resolved that they would not leave the Mantralaya (Secretariat) till the issues regarding the land-rights and displacement-resettlement were resolved. The Government then decided that they would support us in the case we NBA had filed with regards to Land Rights. The decision on the recommendations of the Jst Daud Committee was then to be discussed on the 26th September.
Though the conditions of those on the indefinite fast further worsened on the ninth day, all activists were determined not to relent and continued their fast. Medha Patkar had not allowed full tests to be conducted. Dakhal Singh Vasave and Gonya Vasave however were taken to Intensive Care Unit as their pulse collapsed. The protestors on dharna were also determined to oppose any attempt by the state government to forcibly arrest the fasting activists.
In a separate incident, about hundred college students and a dozen artists from Mumbai held a protest demonstration at the gate of the Mantralaya, defying the strict prohibitory orders. The artists and students painted the squares demarcating land before Mantralya as reserved for the oustees, and raised slogans protesting against the Maharashtra governments' disregard for the people. The police forcibly arrested all the protestors after released after hours. While in the police station the spirited youths took it over and tried convincing everyone there including the police officers.
In a letter to the C.M, Prominent social activists, writers, jurists and journalists from Delhi including senior journalists Prabhash Joshi, N. Ram, former Lok Sabha Speaker Rabi Ray, educationist Anil Sadgopal and renowned writer Arundhati Roy have appealed to the Maharashtra Chief Minister to immediately take concrete steps regarding the issues raised by the ongoing dharna of Narmada Bachao Andolan.
The following day (September 26th) the Maharashtra government announced what it would do to address the NBA's demands and the injustice in the valley:
- set up a committee under the chairmanship of district collector of Nandurbar to verify the number of project affected families who have not been given the status of PAFs
- in such a case that "new" PAFs were identified the Government conceded to "write to the NCA not to construct the dam beyond 90 meters till the newly added PAFs, if any, are resettled as per the orders of the Supreme Court".
- give land rights to the 24 'forest villages' in Akrani tahsils supporting the NBA's case regarding this in Mumbai High Court so that it is amicably settled
- prepare master plan of rehabilitation
- accept those recommendations of the Justice Daud Committee, which will have no "significant financial implications"
- distribute only that much land, of which it is in the possession - the government also admitted that hitherto the government had 'resettled' the people even when the land was not available
- give Rs. 3000 per oustee per acre per year as grant for those who had still not received land inspite of displacement and / or submergence
Though these admissions represented some step forward, the government included many slips and escape routes that could be used to avoid the people's demand. The NBA resolved to decide on the offer the following afternoon only after it received explanations on vital points like what the government considered financial implications and it would not agree to a committee without representation from the people and their organizations like the NBA.
The same day Left and progressive parties in the ruling coalition and people's organizations, including the Peasants and Workers' Party, CPI, CPM, Republican Party, Janata Dal, Samajwadi Party, Samajwadi Jan Parishad, and Shoshit Jan Andolan held a solidarity dharna at Azad Maidan.
The next day, September 27th, the eleventh day of the fast, Medha Patkar, Seetarambhai, Himmat Pawra, Ashish, Ganyabhai ended their indefinite fast as the Maharashtra government agreed to most of the points raised by the NBA in negotiations with Chief Secretary Mr. V. Ranganathan led by Pratibha Shinde and Clifton D' Rozario. In addition to what it had announced the previous day and with some modifications Maharashtra government agreed to the following specific demands by the NBA:
- adopt 'no resettlement-no increase in dam height' position
- not allow the increase in the present height of the controversial Sardar Sarovar Project
- to constitute a Task Force to verify the status of resettlement in every SSP affected village in Maharashtra for the dam height of 90, 95 and 100 meters to be headed by the Divisional Commissioner with the Sarpanches of the resettled villages, representatives of the affected people in the villages and the representatives of the NBA and the Punarwasan Sangharsh Samiti (PSS) which will submit its report within two months
- set up a 'Planning Committee' on ministerial level to prepare a master plan of resettlement and a State-level 'Overview Committee' in a meeting between NBA, PSS and the Minister of state for rehabilitation, within 15 days
- No ex parte allotment of land would take place hereafter.
- support the NBA's contention regarding giving the land rights in the Mumbai High Court
"The state government could have done all this within a day by holding proper discussions with the NBA. But the tribals and peasants have to struggle with their lives for just and fair demands. However, this is only one step forward. Now, by monitoring the government actions in Narmada valley, mobilizing and strengthening the people's struggle in the valley, we will intensify our struggle against the unjust and iniquitous development, particularly against the so called Gloabalization, which has put displacement and expropriation of natural resources on a fast track", declared Medha Patkar while concluding one of successful phase in the 16-year long movement.
After 17 days of Dharna and 11 days of fast the government finally listened to the voices of the people in the valley. The strength and determination of the people combined with the solidarity and support from people and organizations all over the country left the Government of Maharashtra with no hope. While those who could travel to the Maidan, the letters of support and news of solidarity actions also kept the people's spirit high. We thank you and request your continued support as this victory represents just one small step towards achieving justice in the Narmada Valley.
Clifton D' Rozario