Narmada Samachar: 5 March 2001

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Water Scarcity in Gujarat

Plea to allocate Narmada water to Porbander ; Times of India - March 3
Bhavnagar to get Narmada water in March ; Times of India - March 3
VMC gears up to tackle 'dry' summer ; Times of India - March 1
Narmada waters for Rajkot by March 31: Officials ; Times of India - February 28


Contempt notice against Medha Patkar and Arundhati Roy

Contempt notice, a chance to present our view: Medha ; The Hindu - February 28
SC notice to Arundhati Roy, Medha Patkar ; The Hindu - February 27
SC issues notice to Medha, Arundhati ; Indian Express - February 27
SC hauls up Medha, Arundhati ; Times of India - February 27
SC issues notice to Arundhati Roy, Medha Patkar ; The Hindustan Times - February 27
SC issues notices to Medha, Arundhati ; Deccan herald - February 27
SC issues notices to Medha, Arundhati ; Rediff on the Net - February 27


Gujarat Earthquake update

Quake burden will affect development projects ; Times of India - March 2
Rehabilitation, the people's way ; Indian Express - February 27
Quake Diary III: What I thought ; by Dilip D'Souza; Rediff on the Net - February 26


Other News

Construction Delays

Raising of Narmada dam height may be delayed ; Times of India - February 28
The plan to raise the Narmada dam
height by another five metres - up to 95 metres - is
likely to be delayed by at least eight months. 

Unprecedented resource constraint to resettle 2,700
Sardar Sarovar project-affected families (PAFs) from
Madhya Pradesh, particularly the 1,120 PAFs to be
resettled in the home state is proving to be the main
reason for this hindrance.

WCD Update

Ecological Aggression Unfair: UNEP chief; The Hindu - March 4

Koel Karo update

Against the project; Frontline; Volume 18, Issue 05; Mar. 03 - 16, 2001
As in the case of some 'development' projects initiated in other States,
in the case of Koel-Karo the Bihar government did not think it necessary
to consult the people while planning the project or informing them about
its implementation. The people got to know about it only when the land
acquisition process began. It was then that the people of the Koel region
in Gumla district formed the Jan Sangharsh Samiti and those in the Karo
region in Ranchi district formed the Jan Sanyojan Samiti. In 1975-76, th
ese organisations united to form the Koel-Karo Jan Sangathan. The
Sangathan initially cooperated with the government on the issue of the
project but eventually adopted a stand of uncompromising opposition. In
its first communication with the government a fter its formation, the
sangathan had stated that it was willing to welcome the project if the
government was willing to consider it as a people's project and
accordingly make its policies and plans transparent. But the government's
indifferent attitude on such questions made it initiate a kaam roko (stop
work) campaign in 1977-78.


Feature Article: Resistance and repression - Bela Bhatia

Frontline, Volume 18 - Issue 05 - Mar. 03 - 16, 2001


In the Adivasi belt of Jharkhand's Ranchi district, a popular movement
against the setting up of the Koel-Karo hydroelectric project that
will involve the displacement of a large number of people, faces tough
times.

BELA BHATIA 

A FADED green flag flies atop the shaheed smarak (martyr's column) at
Tapkara village in Ranchi district of Jharkhand State. The flag is
changed every year on March 2, one was told, in memory of five persons
killed that day in a police firing at t hat site in 1946 while they
were demonstrating, along with many thousand Munda Adivasis of the
region, for the formation of a separate Jharkhand State.

Ironically, history repeated itself on February 2, in the newly formed
Jharkhand. According to information provided to this writer by
activists of the Koel-Karo Jan Sangathan as well as individual
policemen and information and impressions gathered by thi s writer at
a meeting conducted in the area on February 3, the police opened fire
on an unarmed assembly of around 5,000 Munda Adivasis, including
children, women and men. According to eyewitness accounts, the police
fired more than 150 rounds, killing f ive persons on the spot. Five
others succumbed to their injuries in the following hours, bringing
the toll to 10. As many as 12 of those who sustained bullet injuries
were treated at the Rajendra Medical College and Hospital (RMCH) in
Ranchi. Many other wounded were being treated locally. Eight persons
from six villages were reported missing. The dead have been declared
shaheeds of the Koel-Karo Jan Sangathan and buried next to the shaheed
smarak.  Thus 1946 and 2001 have become one in Tapk ara chowk.

Amrit Gudia, a retired military man, was returning from the jungle
with a load of firewood in the afternoon of February 1 when he saw a
police jeep break the barricade outside Derang village and drag it to
a distance, and then policemen lift it into the jeep. This barricade,
which looks like the bamboo checkpost on a highway, was first erected
in 1984 by the Koel-Karo Jan Sangathan to prevent the National
Hydroelectric Power Corporation (NHPC) and government officials from
going to Lohajimi, a village b eyond Derang, where a dam was to be
built on the Karo river. In 1995, when the government announced its
decision to restart the project and a 'janata curfew' was imposed by
the Sangathan, more such barricades were installed on the road leading
up to the dam site. A round-the-clock vigil was kept near the
barricades to prevent officials and the police from entering the area
without permission. These barricades therefore were no ordinary
checkposts but a symbol of people's resistance to the project.

A furious Amrit Gudia now dropped his load, ran up to the mud road and
obstructed the progress of the police party. Why had they broken the
barricade, he asked. They should have at least consulted the people.

His protests were met with abuse. He was beaten with lathis and hit
with the butts of guns by four or five policemen. The police later
claimed that he was drunk. This action of the police was viewed by the
people as provocative. Pointing at a path on the side of the
barricade, Soma Munda, president of the Sangathan, asked: "While going
the police jeep used this path. Why then did they not return the same
way but break the barricade? Neither the road nor the land on which
the barricade was put up is gove rnment land; it is raiyati land
belonging to two individuals, the late Marcel Barjo and the late
Nathniyal Topno."

The Sangathan decided to call an assembly the following day. People
started coming in by 8-30 a.m. from the surrounding villages, and by
3-30 p.m. there were around 5,000 people sitting outside the Tapkara
police outpost.

The movement has been non-violent during its nearly three-decade-long
struggle; this tradition was respected during the dharna too. Nobody
was armed; there were neither the traditional bows and arrows nor
lathis. "We would not have our children come with us if we wanted to
be violent," said Biswasi Gudia of Derang village.

The assembled people waited for the Deputy Superintendent of Police
(DSP) of Khunti sub-division, F.K.N. Kujur. The DSP and an official of
magistrate's rank (who has the power to order a firing), arrived at 11
a.m. R.N. Singh, the daroga (police-i n-charge) of Tapkara outpost
(under Torpa police station), and Akshay Kumar Ram, the daroga of the
adjacent Rania police station, were present. Altogether there were
around 40 policemen at the Tapkara outpost that day. While the people
waited, the ir leaders presented the demands of the Sangathan. First
and foremost, they demanded an explanation from the police authorities
for breaking the barricade. Linked with this were three principal
demands: that the officials who had ordered the beating of A mrit
Gudia be suspended; that he be given a monetary compensation of
Rs.50,000; and that the police reinstall the barricade.

The DSP said he could not meet their demands since he had no power to
order suspension. So the people refused to move. In order to resolve
the stalemate, the intervention of the local MLA, Koche Munda, was
sought. He was brought on a motorcycle from Tor pa. The MLA, belonging
to the Bharatiya Janata Party, was stated to have confirmed the
sangathan's demands to be just. The officials then decided to send a
wireless message to the Superintendent of Police (Rural). Soma Munda,
Paulus Gudia and other acti vists of the Sangathan then came out of
the outpost, as did the MLA.

By this time the people had been sitting peacefully for six or seven
hours. According to eyewitness accounts, even as the Sangathan leaders
started briefing the people about the situation, the two darogas came
running out of the police station sho uting, "aadesh mila...aadesh
mila (got the order... got the order)" and began a lathi-charge. The
women and children, who were sitting up front, were the first to be
hit. Almost simultaneously firing in the air began. This was not done
in full vie w of the public but from inside the outpost. Countless
holes in the roof of the outpost bear testimony to this fact. Firing
at the assembly followed immediately afterwards.  Some people who ran
towards the back of the outpost smelled teargas.

There was now utter chaos. People started throwing stones at the
firing policemen even as they ran to protect themselves. Some, like
Lucas Gudia of Gondra village forgot that theirs was an unequal combat
and stones were hardly a match for bullets.  Lucas is reported to have
gone right upto the window of the police station in order to aim
better. He was shot at and died on the spot. As young Adivasi
activist-writer, Sunil Minz, points out, the history of Adivasi
struggles of Jharkhand show that whenever A divasis get killed in
similar incidents rarely do they get killed from shots fired from
behind. An Adivasi faces and fights authority, even if armed. This
fact was reiterated by other Sangathan members: "If we wanted to use
violence, no policeman would h ave gone back alive. Their firearms
would not have stopped us. We were in our thousands."

In the stampede that followed, Kumulen Gudia of Koynara village, who
was five months pregnant, fell and was stamped over by running
feet. She was carried later by other women until Dumkel village, 2.5
km away. She was then put on a cycle and wheeled the remaining 3 km of
uneven terrain to her own village. She was unconscious for two days.

Samuel Topno of Gondra village was tortured by the police in his
injured state.  Admitted to the neuro-surgery ward of the RMCH, he
said: "As soon as the firing started, I started running towards the
back of the police station. Four policemen chased me an d fired. A
bullet hit me on my left foot and I fell. Three boys tried to help me
but fled when the policemen came after us. They put me on a sack and
carried me to the police camp. Initially they thought I was dead and
left me. But when they realised tha t I was alive, they started
considering how to kill me. 'If we use bare hands, or fire from close
range we could be in trouble,' I heard one of them say. They brought a
log of wood and placed it on my neck. Two policemen then stood on
either end of the l og. When I still did not die, they just kicked me
on the head with their boots."

Another person who had a similar experience is Francis Gudia, also of
Gondra village. After being shot in the top right part of his chest,
he tried to drag himself away from the site of firing. "Some of my
companions were helping me when the police came. They were threatening
us and using abusive language. They took me to the police camp where
they dumped me next to the dead, kicked me with their boots, then left
me."

Samuel Topno, Francis Gudia and two others were sent by the police to
RMCH a few hours after the firing. No attempt was made, however to
dress their wounds, which continued to bleed. One of the injured died
on way to the hospital. Most of the others who had sustained serious
bullet injuries were treated locally that night. Vijay Gudia, general
secretary of the Sangathan, pointed out the difficulties they had in
trying to reach the injured to Ranchi that night itself. In the
general atmosphere of terror that prevailed, nobody with private
transport was willing to go. Nine of the seriously injured were taken
by Sangathan members in the early morning bus to Ranchi.

School-going children had also joined the dharna on their way back
from school. Of the five who died on the spot, three were in secondary
school. Some other children were wounded, such as a Class IV pupil
from Derang village, who was injured in both legs . According to
reliable sources, a woman was also hit, though she has not yet been
located. In the days immediately following the firing, Sangathan
activists were going from village to village in order to determine how
many were killed, how many were inj ured and how many were missing.

On the evening of February 2, after the firing, the police broke into
a house where Silai Gudia, a youth from Lohajimi village, had taken
refuge. Sticking the butt of a gun on his chest, the policemen accused
him of brick-batting. Beating him, they took him to the Tapkara
outpost. The police broke the doors of the houses of four non-Adivasis
who were living close to the police outpost and arrested them. These
four had been living in Tapkara for years and were engaged in masonry,
carpentry and brick-maki ng locally. They were taken to the outpost
and locked up. That evening they were made to load all the stuff from
the out-post into vehicles. The police vacated the outpost around 1
a.m. with all their belongings as well as the bodies.The arrested were
ta ken to Torpa police station and locked inside the inspector's room
for the night. The following morning, they were made to unload the
stuff from the vehicles. Naresh Gupta, one of the arrested, said: "We
were made to work like labourers. We were not give n any bed or
blankets even though the night was cold; nor did we get anything to
eat or drink until our release the following day at 4 p.m."

A burnt police jeep stands outside the Tapkara outpost. A motorcycle
in a similar state stands nearby. The outpost itself is almost
completely destroyed. Its three rooms are scarred. The asbestos
sheeting of the roof has been shelled, the doors and the w indow
frames have been pulled out, there is debris and ash everywhere,
pieces of brick lie scattered outside. Amid the ruins and remains one
can just about make out Satyameva Jayatae (truth will be victorious)
written on the front wall of the outp ost.

People claim that the police burnt the vehicles and wrought the
destruction themselves as part of a strategy to enable them to claim
that the public had turned violent and the police firing was therefore
justified. Pointing at the missing tyres of the ch arred jeep, traders
who live opposite the outpost said that the police had first taken the
tyres off before setting the vehicle on fire. The motorcycle was then
cast into the flames; a private vehicle, it had been seized by the
police a few days earlier.

Not far from the outpost is a huge banyan tree. Its leaves are burnt,
like the charred remains of three upturned jeeps lying under
it. According to local sources, these three jeeps were set on fire by
the civilians of Tapkara after the firing began. Some newspapers
carried photographs of the burnt body of a policeman found some
distance from the outpost. R.N. Singh as well as two dozen policemen
were also reported to have sustained injuries in the brick-batting.

Several explanations have been offered regarding the incident. The
official version is that the police had received some information
regarding the presence of Maoist Coordination Committee (MCC)
activists in the area and that the patrolling was part of t he ongoing
anti-naxalite operation in the State. However, it is possible that the
MCC's name was used as a pretext. Interestingly though police patrols
in the area had ceased since the imposition of the 'janata curfew' in
1995, the DSP had gone to patrol the area as recently as December 22,
2000. Some people wonder whether this patrolling had anything to do
with the incident on February 2.

Who ordered the firing? Was it ordered by the Superintendent of Police
(Rural), whom the police officials at the outpost were trying to
contact, or the magistrate who was present? Or was the decision to
fire taken on the spot without official sanction?  W hoever ordered
the firing and whether or not it had official sanction, post facto,
the police claim that the situation as it developed justified the
firing. Official action following the firing seems to be based on this
assumption. The Divisional Commissioner and the Deputy Inspector
General of Police were reported t o have visited the Tapkara outpost
that night, but they made no attempt to contact the people. The police
officials involved in the firing have not been suspended. When asked
why this was so, the Senior superintendent of Police, Neeraj Sinha,
said that p rima facie there was no justification for immediate
suspensions: official action would follow only after a high-level
inquiry. Meanwhile, Chief Minister Babulal Marandi continued with his
election campaign in Ramgarh as per schedule.

Members of the Sangathan feel that the police repression is aimed to
weaken the people's resistance against the Koel-Karo project and to
pave the way for the NHPC again. "When in the height of the struggle
no incident occurred, why now? Lashon ko gira kar Koel-Karo nahi
bandhaiga. Jab gaonvalai raji hongai tabhi" (Koel-Karo will not get
built by laying down dead bodies... but only with people's agreement),
said Santosh Horo.

The Sangathan has demanded a judicial inquiry into the incident,
identification of and punishment to police officers and other
personnel responsible for the killings; payment of Rs.5 lakhs to the
families of those killed and Rs.2 lakhs to those seriously injured as
compensation; appointment of only Adivasi police officers to police
stations in Adivasi-majority areas of Jharkhand, and the cancellation
of the Koel-Karo project. When a cheque for Rs.2 lakhs was offered to
the relatives of each of the decea sed, it was refused. On February 8,
a sankalp divas (vow day) was organised, when thousands of people
vowed that they would not allow the construction of the Koel-Karo
dam. They also resolved to keep the movement non-violent as it had
been in the preceding decades.

The police firing is a clear violation of the democratic rights of the
people of Koel-Karo. That people should expect the police to be
accountable for their actions is an important part of democracy in
practice. Breaking the barricade was no small incide nt. "Hamare gaon
mai hamara raj" (our rule in our land) may be a slogan yet to be
realised in other parts of the country, but in the heart of the Munda
"country" (as S.C. Roy described the Mundas and their land in the
early years of the 20th centu ry) it has been practised for long. The
social and political system of Mundas is far more advanced than that
of mainstream Indian society. Decision-making, for example, is based
on consensus. There may be heads like Mundas and Parha rajas, but they
do no t expect others to be subservient to them, nor would the others
allow that. Each Munda Adivasi, like members of other Adivasi
communities in Jharkhand, expect to be part of the decision-making
process. That people belonging to such a society and culture should
have assembled in large numbers to defend their rights and to demand
an explanation for behaviour they do not understand is not
surprising. Citizens are told time and again that they should not take
the law into their own hands, but what happens w hen the police do the
same?

This is not the first time that the State government has used gun
power to silence people's power. Indeed, police firing has become part
of the 'dialogue' that the state has with the people when they have
tried to practise democracy. Between 1981 and 198 6, in Singhbhum
alone, there were 17 police firings. This is what the police did in
Chandil in 1978 and in Icha in 1982, where too the people were
protesting against the ongoing construction of big dams on the
Subarnarekha and Kharkai (part of the Subarn arekha multi-purpose
project). In both Chandil and Icha the firing had an adverse impact on
the incipient movements, which took some time to reorganise.  The
people of Koel-Karo are alert to their fate and determined that what
happened to Subarnarekha and Kharkai should not happen to Koel.

Bela Bhatia is a researcher based at the Centre for the Study of Developing
Societies, New Delhi.