NBA Press Release
  06 December 2004
Save The Narmada, Save Humanity!

M.P. Government declares Section 144 in Khargone to prevent public hearing by NCW :
Women of 4 Narmada dams hold public hearing sans NCW Chairwoman

Jail Road, Mandleshwar
District Khargone, Madhya Pradesh
Tel: 07283-233162

"When will women's voices be heard ? What does the government have to hide ?"

In a dictatorial and illegal move made in order to prevent the public hearing of the women displaced by four large dams in the Narmada valley by National Commission for Women, the Madhya Pradesh government and the district administration of Khargone declared Section 144 in the district town of Khargone and areas near the Upper Beda dam in the district on the 5th of December 2004 yesterday. As a result of the prohibitory order, Chairwoman NCW Ms. Poornima Advani went back to Delhi and could not attend the hearing. However around 1500 women and 500 men broke the prohibitory orders and held a day long public hearing in front of the District Collector's office at Khargone about the adverse impacts of displacement and cash compensation on women, the anti-women nature of the policy and demanding provision of irrigated agricultural land to the oustees.

The gathered women and the Narmada Bachao Andolan gave a Letter of condemnation to the District officials at the end of the meeting and expressed their anger and anguish at the trivial and completely illegal use of Section 144 in order to prevent them from meeting and speaking before a Statutory body such as the NCW. They said that such a use of a prohibitory order to constrain the fundamental rights of non-violent, poor, displaced Adivasi and Banjara women calls into question the very nature of our democracy. Why were they being restrained from holding a public hearing when the Vishwa Hindu Parishad and Gayatri Parivar held processions in the same day, the former in front of the Collectorate itself ? When will poor and displaced women's voices ever be heard, and what does the government have to hide they said?

The women from 4 dams in the Narmada valley - tribal women from Upper Beda in Khargone district, Dalit women from Harsud displaced by Indira Sagar Project on the Narmada, women from the now stalled Maheshwar Project and adivasi women from the Man dam who had faced brutal evictions without rehabilitation two years ago, had gathered for the public hearing. It was the women fo the Upper Beda dam who had invited the NCW for a public hearing. The people affected by the Upper Beda dam Project affected people in District Khargone of Madhya Pradesh have been fighting under the aegis of the Narmada Bachao Andolan for the last 8 years. This dam,being built on the river Beda ^a tributary of the Narmada, is part of the 30 large dams being built in the Narmada valley. 14 Adivasi and Banjara villages are slated for submergence in this Project.

In 1999, the Madhya Pradesh government passed an Order to constitute a Committee to examine de-centralized water alternatives in lieu of the Upper Veda dam, but subsequently it did not allow the Committee to function, and since the beginning of this year began work on this dam. Despite there being a clear land based rehabilitation policy, neither the landowning or the landless families are being allotted agricultural land. Forcible disbursement of cash compensation has led to pauperization of the family and in most instances, it has been the women who have had to cope with the most adverse impacts. In addition, the rehabilitation policy disentitles or omits to give entitlements to single, deserted, divorced and separated women in the rehabilitation policy .

Immediately after the NBA representatives learnt about the Section 144 order from the NCW Chairwoman well past midnight, they informed the villagers and the women left their homes at night itself by tractors changing their route, in order to come to the public hearing without being stopped by the police. When the police surrounded the Upper Beda area in the morning, where prohibitory orders were also brought into force in order to stop the women from reaching Khargone, the displaced women had already reached the district town.

The women carried out the public hearing despite the Section 144 order, offering themselves for arrest, if the administration tried to stop them. The NBA was in possession of required permissions that had not been controverted till the time of the program.

Banabai of Village Udaipur of Upper Beda dam expressed shock at the state government^s role in keeping the NCW out of Khargone and in using Section 144 in so illegal and trivial a manner. Banabai also said that the women were deeply disappointed that the Chairperson, NCW chose to listen to the administration. She said that after all, the women were coming to complain about the violations of the rehabilitation policy being done by the state government, and their failure to provide agricultural land to the displaced placing the entire family, but mostly the women at risk. In the circumstances, the state government would want that such a hearing not take place, and it would be the duty of the Statutory body to ensure that they hear the displaced women. She said that the women called upon the NCW Chairwoman to investigate the illegal use of the Section 144 and the obstructions put up by the State government, and would resume the hearing at the earliest date.

Banabai said that the state government was acquiring the land of the affected people without offering them agricultural land. Yet it was clear that the cash compensation to be offered at the end of the acquisition process would only be misused by the men in liquor, motorcycles, etc as the amounts were insufficient to purchase or replace their lands. This is why the women were demanding that the state government implement the rehabilitation policy of providing irrigated land in the command area to the displaced people, with a minimum of 2 hectares of land to each family.

Chittaroopa Palit, activist with the NBA said that it was shocking that the state government was so desperate to hide its misdoings that it misused Section 144 to prevent the NCW from coming to the area and hearing the affected women. She said that the misuse of the Section 144 against weaponless, poor adivasi women displayed the desperation of the government and was an act of war against them. In the process the government stands exposed, more effectively than in any public hearing.

Dhapubai of Harsud said that the state of women in Harsud was pitiable with no employment, scarce drinking water, and no toilet facilities. She said that the people of Harsud had been driven out of their town at the end of June 2004, in the middle of monsoons, forced to break their homes with their own hands. Plot papers were given to them after being driven out or a few days before. Grants due to them were given in July and August, if they were given at all. Dhapubai said the people of Harsud and especially the women were now uniting under the banner of the Narmada Bachao Andolan and would now fight for justice and their rights.

Ramkuwarbai of Man dam area said that the women and children of her village had been evicted from their homes in July 2002 in the most brutal manner possible, but they still continue to fight for their rights, and for their lands and livelihoods. Ramkuwar pointed out how the rehabilitation policy itself was biased against women, and how the definition of "family" included widowed mothers and sisters but not widowed fathers or brothers. Thus every man was treated as a separate family for the purpose of entitlements but deserted, divorced, separated widowed and other single women all of whom had to work for their living, were treated as dependents, and were thus denied their legal entitlements due to each family. She said that the women demanded that the rehabilitation policy treat women and men on an equal basis.

Karwibai of the Maheshwar dam area said that the women of their area had led the struggle, compelled the foreign companies and Indian financial institutions to withdraw from this Project and had stopped the destructive high cost Maheshwar Project since the last three years. Even the dam properties had been seized from the private promoters - the S.Kumars and attached since the end of 2002.

In fact, the NCW hearing being organized by the Narmada Bachao Andolan was decided weeks ago and an intimation was sent by the NCW office to the State government by the end of November 2004, a copy of which was faxed to the District Collector of Khargone and the Narmada Bachao Andolan. On the evening prior to the hearing, the District Woman and Child Department officials were also present at the state rest house to welcome the NCW Chairwoman. The permission letter to hold a public meeting and to use a mike system was given to the activists of the Narmada Bachao Andolan by the District administration. However in a desperate act, around midnight of the 4th of December, the Commissioner Indore woke up the Chairwoman National Commission for Women who was staying overnight at the Resthouse at Indore to inform her that her trip to Khargone the next morning was not possible because Section 144 had been declared in Khargone. As per the Chairwoman NCW, the copy of the order stated that Section 144 was declared because of "certain suspicious activities of the NBA". The NBA has called on the state government to make public its report on the "suspicious activities" of the NBA. The NBA has also initiated preparations for legal action against this illegal step of the administration. Yesterday, it gave a written application to the District Collectorate, Khargone asking for a copy of the 144 order and police reports and all other papers on which the Section 144 was based.

Relibai - Upper Veda Dam
Bondribai - Maan Dam
Chittaroopa Palit - NBA
Sundarbai - Maheshwar Dam