NBA Press Release
  28 May 2004
Save The Narmada, Save Humanity!

Huge public rally of Beda dam oustees at Khargone;
124 protestors released unconditionally after six days of confinement

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

Several hundred men and women affected by the Upper Beda dam in Khargone district of Madhya Pradesh, and belonging mainly to the adivasi Bhil and Bhilala, as well as Banjara communities held an impressive public rally at the headquarters of their district administration – Khargone, today. The affected people protested against the state repression on and the confinement of 124 oustees in Khargone jail since the last six days, and demanded that the jailed protestors should be unconditionally released, and all work on the Upper Beda dam and the acquisition of their lands should be stopped until they were settled with irrigated agricultural land in the command area of the dam.

The rally traversed all the main roads of Khargone and demonstrated at the Collector’s office, handing over a Memoradum for the Chief Minister with a list of immediate demads and asking for a meeting on the problems of and alternatives to the Narmada valley Projects. After the rally, the Beda dam oustees who had been in jail for the last 6 days were unconditionally released. The Narmada Bachao Andolan and the people of the Beda area fighting for their lands, waters and forests announced today that the state government must show them suitable and adequate agricultural land in the command area in a week or else they would intensify their struggle by sitting on indefinite dharna at Khargone from the 5th of June - World Environment Day.

Speaking at the rally in the main city, after the memorandum for the Chief Minister was handed over to the Collector, village leaders of the Beda dam area people expressed their resolve to stake their lives but not to oppose the dam at any cost, unless the question of their livelihoods was resolved first.

The people of the Maheshwar dam area were also present in large numbers to express their solidarity to the struggle. The public meeting was addressed by many village leaders from Shripad Dharmadhikari of Manthan Adhyayan Kendra,Badwani, Kamlujiji from Sardar Sarovar, Urmila and Radheshyam Patidar from Maheshwar. Lula bhai from Dalit Adivasi Sangathan and Jan Sangharsh Morcha expressed support from all progressive mass organisations of Madhya Pradesh and said that this struggle would be taken to all parts of the state.

In the meantime towards the end of the rally, those released from the jail joined the rally amidst scenes of rapture. The released people were greeted with great joy and jubilation by the assembled crowd. Banabai gave an inspired speech in which she said that the police action had only firmed up the people’s resolve to fight, and that they would win, come what may.

Alok Agarwal, senior activist of the Narmada Bachao Andolan said that announced that the people’s determination and solidarity from an extended support base had won for them only the first phase of the struggle. But the real battle lay ahead. The Ministry of Social Justice and the NABARD bank had both responded to the people’s demands and written to the state government seeking serious clarifications on the matter of rehabilitation. Plans were being worked out to institute a public investigation by a team of individuals of high credibility to examine whether the clearances and sanctions for the dam were obtained on the basis of fudged land figures and non-factual documents. If it was found to be so, the sanction would have to be cancelled. The NBA announced that if the state government did not show irrigated agricultural land in the command area to the people within a week, the next phase of struggle in the shape of an indefinite dharna would begin from the 5th of June, World Environment Day at Khargone.

It may be noted that nearly 1100 ha. of land in 14 villages of this area will be submerged in the Upper Beda dam, one of the 30 large dams in the Narmada valley. The affected people have fought valiantly since 1997, over the last 8 years to stop this dam and its impending destruction. In 1999, after a protracted fast, the state government even passed an order to explore and implement alternatives in lieu of the dam and instituted a committee for this purpose. However, it soon reneged on the order. In late 2003 the NABARD (National Bank for Agriculture and Rural Development) sanctioned a loan for the Rs. 87 crores dam.

Since early 2004, the government started bringing machinery into the dam site. In response the people rallied stating that they must be given irrigated agricultural land in the command area, before the dam is built or else the government must distribute this centralized investment and give Rs. 1 crore to each of the 72 villages in the command so that they could develop their own water alternatives. The government responded by saying that the only alternative they could offer the affected people was cash and began land acquisition. At the end of February, the people compelled the administration to push the machinery out of the dam-site and began a program of barricades or “nakebandi”. On the 23rd of May, the administration and police force surrounded, beat up, chased away, dragged and arrested the people sitting on peaceful protest near the dam site, including feisty 65 year old adivasi woman leader Banabai, as well as long time fighters from the Maheshwar dam area - Mangat Verma and Radheshyam Verma. The arrested people also fasted in jail for three full days, discontinuing it only after a collective decision.

Suresh Patidar
Paro Gehlot