NBA Press Note

April 6, 2001

Save The Narmada, Save Humanity!

Jail Road, Mandleshwar
District Khargone, Madhya Pradesh
Tel: 07283-33162

Narmada Bachao Andolan condemns killing of Adivasis, demands CBI enquiry

The Narmada Bachao Andolan expresses deep shock and anguish at the deliberate and cold-blooded firing on and slaughter of 7 innocent tribals including a 8-year old girl by the Madhya Pradesh government and police force in Mehendikheda village of Bagli Tehsil of District Dewas last week. This ruthless act fully exposes the callous attitude of the Digvijay Singh government and demolishes its hypocritical mask of genial democracy .

The NBA strongly condemns the killing of the adivasis in Bagli Tehsil and demands that the Collector and the Superintendent of Police and all officials present at the site of the killings be immediately suspended and an independent enquiry by the CBI should be immediately initiated. Moreover the NBA expresses deep disturbance at the news coming out of the area that over 10,000 adivasis from 16 villages are living in terror in the forests while the administration has contaminated the food grain and water sources of entire villages. The Narmada Bachao Andolan understands that the recent killing of the Adivasis is not an isolated sporadic or spontaneous event. It is obvious that the launching of the 'Operation Clean' by the State government is a sinister conspiracy aimed at breaking adivasi and people's movements. The NBA asks that the state government clarify before the people and the nation what the intent and the background of Operation Clean is. Is it an operation dedicated to new type of ethnic cleansing of Adivasis and other forest dwellers?

The central issue that Adivasis all over Madhya Pradesh have been raising in the last two decades is who will control the forests of Madhya Pradesh: The tribal communities who have sustained these forests over generation and who depend on the bounty of the forests for their livelihoods or the forest department whose main interest in the forests seems to be commerce and corruption? It is ironical that on the one hand, the government is submerging over fifty thousand hectares of prime forest in the Indira Sagar project, Sardar Sarovar project, Bargi dam, Omkareshwar project, all part of the Narmada valley development projects without scarce a murmur, while on the other, in the garb of protecting forest, the government is denying adivasis their traditional rights over forests, and the ensuing conflicts over this issue has resulted in this irresponsible and merciless massacre of and an attack on adivasis in 16 villages of Dewas district.

In the last few decades, in fact, ever since independence, the stranglehold of the administration over the forests, which was the hallmark of the British colonial rule, was sought to be furthered by the State administration with the adivasis systematically being alienated from forests and forest produce. Their traditional rights denied and usurped as the forest bureaucracy in the shape of forest officials continued to rule over the lives of the forest adivasis in the most reprehensible feudal manner levying periodical dues of chicken, liquor, money and even going to the extent of exercising rights of co-habitation with newly married women.

Since the 1980's, many independent peoples' organizations and organisations of tribals rose in response to this and challenged the crushing indignity being forced on the people. As a result, in the areas where the people's organizations worked these feudal modes were dispensed off and the Adivasis were able to regain their self respect. It was also in these areas that there was a thaw in the hitherto alienated relationship of the adivasi with the forest. For example, thousands of acres of forest have been regenerated by the tribals of Alirajpur in district Jhabua working under the aegis of Khedut Mazdoor Chetna Sanghat with their own effort by the creation of social protection structures.

In the mid 90's, even as the forces of globalisation began tightening its hold over the lands, waters and forests of Third World countries including those used by indigenous communities, the Madhya Pradesh government conceived the World Bank Forestry project of 800 crores. The first phase of the project saw enormous repression including the killing of 4 people and the maiming of 8 forest dwellers in the forests of Madhya Pradesh and large-scale alienation of thousands of acres of traditionally cultivated 'newad' lands from tribals who had held these lands for decades but to which they held no formal title because of problems of land settlement and lack of conversion of forest villages in to revenue lands. Further in the last five years, indiscriminate and cruel displacement of adivasis took place in the name of sanctuaries and national parks and the eviction of adivasis from proposed and existing sanctuaries to prevent 'human intervention' on one hand, while on the other government itself indiscriminately promoted the proliferation of tourism and tourist lodges in these forest areas.

In the last few years the mass tribal organizations including Kisan Adivasi Sanghatan, Shramik Adivasi Sanghatan, Adivasi Mukti Sanghatan, Adivasi Morcha Sanghatan, Khedut Mazdoor Chetna Sangh, Narmada Bachao Andolan and others launched a joint struggle against the World Bank forestry project. Subsequently the WB was forced to cancel the second tranche of the loan. It is learnt from reliable sources that the Madhya Project government is conferring with the WB and other funding agencies in order to renew the same WB project in a new avatar. It is also learnt that the WB has agreed with a few cosmetic changes to the Forestry Project the main condition being the creation of a new forest policy. The MP government has shamelessly accepted the Worl Bank dictate by setting out a new forest policy without any public debate whatsoever , and with the full knowledge of the fact that the forest issue is the most contentious issue in the State.

The anti-tribal character of the administration stands exposed by the fact that on one hand, the State administration and police are indiscriminately firing on and killing innocent adivasis in Dewas in the name of protection of forests, while on the other, hundreds of adivasis affected by the Man project in district Dhar were beaten up, arrested and kept in jail for over a week last fortnight while the construction of the Project is being carried on by the administration with the full knowledge that the ensuing submergence will uproot over 5000 tribals this monsoon itself who are yet to be rehabilitated.

It is clear that attacking peaceful, open and democratic movements in such vulgar fashion cannot be justified and will have long term implications for the state of Madhya Pradesh. The NBA believes any magisterial enquiry into the firing is intended only to whitewash the issue. It demands that a CBI enquiry should be immediately initiated and the Superintendent of Police, Collector DFO and other officials present on spot should be immediately suspended as well as charged with culpable homicide.The Narmada Bachao Andolan demands that under no circumstances can external intervention such as WB-aided forestry projects dictate forest policies.

Chittaroopa Palit
Kailash Awasia
Luharia Shankaria
Alok Agarwal
Vania Bhawra
Clifton D'Rozario