August 23, 2000
Chief Minister of Gujarat: Keshubhai Patel, Fax: +91-2712-22020
The Government of Gujarat has once again demonstrated its true undemocratic colors. Yesterday (Aug 22 2000), it arbitrarily detained a Narmada Bachao Andolan (NBA) activist and 4 other supporters when they were traveling from Baroda to Domkhedi, Maharashtra. These activists were traveling to Domkhedi to be part of Saga of Narmada, a program of the communities affected by the Sardar Sarovar Project (SSP). Under a flimsy pretext of preserving “public order”, the Gujarat Government has deployed hundreds of policemen to prevent activists and supporters from traveling to the Narmada Satyagraha sites in Maharashtra and Madhya Pradesh. Furthermore, it has been suggested that others who wish to travel to the Satyagraha site tomorrow will also be detained in a similar manner. According to Mr. Rajindar Sachar, retd. Chief Justice of Delhi High Court, "I am given to understand that the police here have been given orders to detain my colleagues and me when we leave Baroda for Domkhedi tomorrow morning. No law has been shown under which this action is proposed."
This latest repressive measure is of course in line with the Gujarat Government's history of draconian measures to squelch public opinion and the unalienable rights of citizens to protest against the SSP. It may be recalled that the Gujarat Govt had used the bogey of public order to prevent the World Commission on Dams (in 1998) and the Rally For The Valley (during monsoon 1999) from traveling to the Narmada Valley. It is also under the atmosphere of official repression that the office of the NBA in Baroda was attacked by unidentified individuals during the night of Dec 8, 1999. This repeated attempt to ban peaceful programs proves that the Gujarat Govt. is not interested in promoting any free and fair discussion on SSP, but would rather hide the reality.
We, the international support groups of the Narmada Bachao Andolan strongly condemn such draconian measures and demand the immediate withdrawal of the deployed police forces and the release of all people detained in this manner. We demand that the Government of Gujarat respect the fundamental rights of its citizens and desist from arbitrary use of police forces in an attempt to deny the NBA and its supporters their unalienable right to freedom. We would also like to point out the responsibility of the Government of India to take measures to uphold these rights of its citizens.
The Satyagraha is part of a long series of non-violent protests by the adivasi (indigenous) and peasant communities and activists of the Narmada Valley who are to be seriously affected by the Sardar Sarovar Project. It is also relevant in this context to recall that the requisite clearances for the SSP have lapsed and hence the construction of the dam is itself illegal. We urge the Government of Gujarat and the Union of India to refrain from such highly undemocratic moves and to engage in a meaningful dialogue with the citizens of the Narmada Valley. Highly significant proposals for alternatives to the SSP and modifications of the project with fewer impacts have been available for a long time now. In light of these alternatives and in the interests of preserving the rights of the people of the Narmada Valley we demand that further construction on the SSP be halted and that a comprehensive, transparent and participatory review of the project be initiated.
Vinay Kumar, Venu Govindu and Aniruddha Vaidya
Susanne Wong, Patrick McCully
Copies to: Prime Minister of India: A B Vajpayee, Fax: +91-11-3019817, 3016857
President of India: Dr. K. R. Narayanan, Fax: +91-11-3017290, 3014570
Indian and International Press