Save The Narmada, Save Humanity! NBA Press Release                                                                                 August 28, 2000

Thousands converge at Rajpipla despite police terror; Sanctuary affected questioned the autorities

About 3000 Adivasis (tribals) affected by sanctuary, canals, colony and from resettlements sites in Gujarat took out a rally against the displacement and dispossession due to the Shoolpaneshwar Sanctuary, which is very much a part of the controversial Sardar Sarovar Project (SSP), on Monday (August 28) defying the heavy deployment of police and the terror. They have demanded the protection and restoration of the right to life and resources.

The rally went through the streets of Rajpipla, a district headquarter of newly created Narmada district, raising the slogans. It concluded at the Collectorate and at the time of this release, discussions between the Collector and representative of various affected population is in progress.

The proposed Shoolpaneshwar Sanctuary has been a part of the controversial SSP. The Sanctuary area consists of the 104 adivasi villages comprising of 31,000 families. They are to be "voluntarily displaced" within next ten or so years. Even if they are not displaced, they would lose their rights on the forest and forest produce. The Gujarat government is not ready to recognise them and grant rights on them as the oustees of the SSP. Thus, they are in line with other such potentially project affected people who are affected by the canals, colony, compensatory afforestation, catchment area treatment, downstream impacts and secondary displacement. It makes the Gujarat as the worst sufferer by the displacement from the SSP. The government has been refusing the categories other than the reservoir affected ones. If the former are taken into account, the number of the affected persons may go well upto a million.

In a meeting after the rally, people demanded the right over the resources and land - the two pertinent demands of the adivasis in this belt from Gujarat to Madhya Pradesh. They were supported in their struggle by the oustees of Maharashtra, Gujarat, and Madhya Pradesh. Main activists like Prabhubhai Tadvi, Beliben, Baijikaka, Kamsingh Vasave, Somasingh Vasave and Medha Patkar participated in the rally and asked the governments to take note of the growing discontent among the adivasis due to the prevalent and conventional development projects and policies. The oustees were supported by various supporters from various states. They included senior activist, Lata P.M., Mumbai, Rohit Prajapati of People's Union for Civil Liberties, Baroda Moses Mazgaonkar and Swati Desai of Pariyavaran Suraksha Samiti, Rajpipla, Gujarat, Premdas, Karnataka, Ajay Kumar, Kerala, Philip Mathew, Tamilnadu, Janki, Delhi, Ravi-Aravinda, Mumbai and others.

During the meeting the village representatives said that they appreciate the need for forest conservation and while the govt. has helped the timber lobby to clear-fell the forest, it is the tribal community which helped protecting the forest. Addressing the rally, Phulsingh Vasave said "we are living in this forest for the past many generations and because of this sanctuary now we are called encroachers. For 'development' always land from tribals are snatched."

Collector and senior bureaucrats couldn't answer the questions of the people. The District Collector was reminded by Medha Patkar that "it is your duty to protect the people in your district; you can't leave them alone."

During his speech, Rohit Prajapati said "it is because the people are raising genuine issues and the government doesn't have answers that they resort to undemocratic means."

Moreover, the so called 'resettled' oustees from the resettlement sites in Gujarat exposed the tall claims of the Gujarat government regarding the resettlement. People came despite the police telling them to desist. Over 100 of them were kept detained by the police at Kevedia police station for over 3 hours before they were allowed to proceed.

The Rajpipla rally comes close on the heels of the recent knee-jerk reaction by the Gujarat government to the "Saga of Narmada" programme at the Satyagraha places in Maharashtra and Madhya Pradesh. The Gujarat government, then, had deployed hundreds of police in Baroda district and sealed all the roads leading towards the Satyagraha places. It also stopped over 500 people coming from M.P. and detained 32 prominent people at Baroda, including noted human rights activist Justice ( Retd.) Rajendera Sachar.

Sanjay Sangvai;     Joe Athialy