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Press Release                                                 March 08 2000


MP Government Arrests Peaceful Demostrators at Maheshwar
NBA Condemns Undemocratic Stand of MP Government

Over 350 people affected by the Mahehswar project, who have sitting on a peaceful dharna (demonstration) outside the gates of the dam site since 24th Feb. 2000 were dragged, beaten and arrested today by the Madhya Pradesh police. The NBA condemns this attempt by the MP Government to suppress the fundamental right of the people to protest peacefully, guaranteed by the Art. 19 of the Indian Constitution. This arrest of people sitting on peaceful protests is nothing short of the murder of democracy.

It may be recalled that the people affected by the Maheshwar hydropower project, organised under the banner of NBA have been sitting on an indefinite dharna (sit-in) in front of the main gate of the dam site. They have been demanding that the clearances given to the project by the Central Electricity Authority and the Ministry of Environment should be revoked on the basis of the findings of the field visit report by the Ministry of Environment team which has found serious violations of the conditions under which the clearance has been given. The M.P. State government should abandon the Maheshwar project and take up the implementation of the alternatives proposed in the report of the Task Force set up by the Government itself.

Last night, the District administration announced that Section 144 of the Indian Penal Code (a provision which effectively prohibits the holding of meetings and means that protestors and activists can be arrested for holding a gathering of four or more persons) would be extended up to a distance of 5 km from the dam site. The oustees were on the dharna in a private field outside the dam site. Before arresting the people, the Additional Collector told the people, giving reason for the arrest that the satyagraha (demonstration) by the affected people was disturbing the school children in their studies! Whereas the demonstration was going on in the middle of wheat fields and there is no school or college for a distance of 3 km from there. In this manner, the administration has resorted to spreading lies and trying to defame the NBA while denying its fundamental rights.

32 women who have been arrested have been lodged in the jail at Khargone and 58 men in the jail at Badwani. Over 250 others were picked up and then released as the administration wants to play down the number of arrested persons. These 250 are sitting in protest in front of the police station in Mandeleshwar, the tehsil HQ. One of the main activists, Chittaroopa Palit, who is among the 32 women arrested has refused to take any food or water and started an indefinite fast without water in protest against the actions of the administration.

The State administration which tried to portray itself as a champion of freedom of speech by asking the "Water" film team to continue its shooting in Madhya Pradesh (at Maheshwar!) is suppressing the rights of the people of the very same area! It may be noted also that the National Commission on Women was to hold a public hearing at the site on the 15th of March. These arrests may be because the administration wants to prevent this public hearing and does not want to answer the people who are raising the issue that the power from this project will be costing over Rs. 7-10 per unit.

The NBA has declared that its peaceful protests will continue and the fight against this destructive project which will destroy the lives and culture of the oustees as also drive the state to bankruptcy will be intensified.

Alok Agarwaal