NBA Press Release
  24 August 2001
Save The Narmada, Save Humanity!

SC/ST Commission Chairman Dares the Government
Promises to Meet Officials and NBA Representatives soon

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"If the Governments do not cooperate then the Commission will not hesitate to use all its powers, judicial and constitutional, to ensure the rights of the adivasis", declared Shri. Dilip Singh Bhuria, Chairman of the National Commission for Scheduled Castes and Scheduled Tribes on the 21st of August, at a day long public hearing in Nimgavan, (Maharashtra) of the adivasis affected by the Sardar Sarovar Project.

Shri Bhuria also spoke at length about the traditional rights of adivasis over the natural resources in the country. Tribal Self-rule, of which he was one of the main proponents, is slowly getting realized he said.

Shri Bhuria also heard the representatives of canal, colony affected at Kewadia. He promised to do use all his powers to support the cause of adivasis. The Commission will call a meeting of representatives of the concerned State Governments and resettlement authorities besides representatives from the Narmada Bachao Andolan to look into the issues in depth, soon.

Nimgavan is one of the villages in Maharashtra affected at the present height of the dam. The public hearing was held before more than 1000 adivasi representatives from the villages affected by submergence in Gujarat, Maharashtra and Madhya Pradesh. Representatives from Kewadia colony affected villages, canal and Shoolpaneshwar sanctuary affected villages besides adivasis from the resettlement sites in Gujarat and Maharashtra were also present.

Supporters from Kerala, Karnataka, Tamil Nadu, Mumbai, Hyderabad, Pune and other parts of the country were also present. Officials from Maharashtra including the Nandurbar District Collector, SDM and Additional Commissioner and other officers from Gujarat and few officials from Madhya Pradesh attended the public hearing.

During the course of the hearing the adivasis placed the various issues before Shri Bhuria in a very forceful and eloquent manner describing the struggle over the last 16 years and the need for it to go on. The violations of their rights and determination to get justice were emphatically conveyed. Smt.Pinjaribai from Maal (Maharashtra) decried how in the name of development adivasis are being sacrificed even today inspite of special laws for adivasis preventing just that. Shri Bawa Mahariya from village Jalsindhi (M.P.) stated that the Commission and Shri Bhuria should come forward in ensuring not just the rehabilitation of the affected adivasis but help in the struggle to conserve adivasi identity, customs and adivasi society itself. Shri Bhimabhai, representing the adivasis who lost their lands to the Kewadia colony in 1961, Shri Raijibhai from Kambhaikua resettlement site in Gujarat and others, informed the Commission about how the maximum displacement due to this project is in Gujarat yet the Government of Gujarat is ignoring this fact. Shri Bhimabhai expressed deep distress at the callous attitude of the Government in dealing with adivasis.

Smt Medha Patkar while summarizing the presentations made to the Commission detailed the various violations of adivasis' rights from the beginning of the project till today. She stated that the denial of land rights is one of the most blatant violations and makes a mockery of the special position accorded to adivasis in the Constitution. The situation is such that even the basic settlement of land rights is yet to be done in Maharashtra while in Madhya Pradesh and Gujarat the regularization of forest cultivations remains to be done, and due to this these adivasis are being called 'encroachers', on their own lands! Besides this the scarcity of cultivable land is a big hurdle in the resettlement process and today when there still remain 40,000 families in the submergence area their resettlement is impossible.

In conclusion Shri Bhuria condemned the sorry state of affairs of adivasis all over the country today. The law of Tribal Self-rule gives legal powers and rights to the 'Gram Sabha' in which the displacement and alienation of adivasis without prior informed consent is prohibited. This has not happened here or elsewhere and the result is that inspite of being the oldest inhabitants of the country, in possession of most of the natural resources the adivasis today are facing a survival crises in the country today. Taking special note of the denial of land rights in the adivasi villages he promised that he would ensure that the adivasis are legally accorded rights to these traditional land holdings.

Joe Athialy
Clifton D' Rozario