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A seven year old girl, Lata Vasave, from Domkhedi village in the Narmada valley lost her life on Wednesday (July 7), after being trapped in the silt deposits on the banks of river. The thick silt cover has been depositing near the villages due to the pondage in the controversial Sardar Sarovar Project (SSP), even when the people in the villages have not moved out.

The accidental death of the tribal girl, a student of 'Jeevan Shala' at Nimgavhan, run by the Narmada Bachao Andolan, has plunged the entire Satyagraha camp in gloom and the people mourned the death. Lata had gone to the river for fetching water, got trapped in the thick deposits of silt on the banks and bed of Khad river, a tributary of Narmada. The silt deposit is more than 10 feet high. It was impossible for her to scramble back. By the time the Satyagraha camp at a distance came to know of this, the girl had drowned in the river. The people at the Satyagraha site have lodged a case against the authorities at the police camp near Domkhedi (Maharashtra).

This is not the first time that the silt has taken the toll of the human or cattle life. For last six years, since the first submergence has taken place in July 1993, the thick layer of silt had been deposited on the banks of the villages of Akkalkua and Akrani tehsils in Maharashtra and Alirajpore tehsil of M.P. Time and again, cattle were trapped in the thick silt while approaching the river for water and died. It has been impossible for village people to go to the river bank for water or for bathing or fishing. The NBA has been appealing to the state government to look into this problem and safeguard the lives of the people; but in vain. The basic issue raised was that of how submergence and its after effects, like silting can be imposed when the people have been living in the villages and have not moved out.

This incident took place on the 19th day of Satyagraha in the Narmada valley against the submergence and displacement, at Jalsindhi (M.P.) and Domkhedi (Mahrashtra). Since July 4, nine activists are on fast against the injustice. As the news arrived, the villagers and activists were grieved and at the same time agitated against the kind of suspicious haste that the governments have been making in building the dam without looking at the human cost. "Lata is a victim of the unmindful, profit driven system which pushed the dam ahead . The dam has already made the life of the people in the valley miserable. Lata's death is a pointer to this fact. Let the people all over India take note of this first tribal victim of the Sardar Sarovar dam and shake the stupor of the dam builders", said Dr. Sugan Baranth, Philip Matthew and Medha Patkar from the site of the Satyagraha.

Meanwhile the fast by the nine activists is continuing on fifth day. From July 4, the Satyagrahis launched fast at Domkhedi and Jalsindhi and vowed to fight to finish against the injustice and onslaught on the people's rights.

Sanjay Sangvai