INDIA: Release NBA activists now, stop drowning people without rehabilitation

The Asian Human Rights Commission strongly condemns yesterday’s late evening attack on Narmada Bachao Andolan’s peaceful sit-in and fast by the Madhya Pradesh state police. The police forcibly arrested Ms. Medha Patkar and 11 others and have detained them. The activists were protesting against Madhya Pradesh government’s decision to submerge the area violating the Supreme Court of India’s order of not to evict persons without complete rehabilitation of the project-affected families. The police also reportedly baton-charged the people who protested against the detention and forcible arrest of the activists.

Eyewitnesses report that the police officers had fixed nails on their batons causing serious injuries to many people. Male police officers have reportedly misbehaved with women protesters and have sexually molested them.

The detention and baton charge is a serious violation of the rights of the people on many counts. To begin with, the officials of the Narmada Valley Development Authority (NVDA) themselves admit that around 6500 families are still staying put in the catchment area of the dam in Barwani and Dhar districts. Filling the catchment area in such a scenario amounts to drowning them all alive with their belongings without first adequately rehabilitating and compensating the families through an open and just process.

Further, various committees comprising of eminent citizens like former judges, civil servants human rights defenders and journalists have all found serious discrepancies between claims of the government on rehabilitation and the facts on the ground. The latest of such committees was comprised of Mr. S. C. Behar, former Chief Secretary to Government of Madhya Pradesh, Mr. Arun Gurtoo, former Director General of Police, Madhya Pradesh, Mr. L. S. Hardenia, Senior Journalist and Mr. Chandrakant Naidu, former Regional Editor, Hindustan Times, Indian Express and former Executive Editor, Free Press Journal. This committee too reported that the families are adequately compensates, rehabilitated or resettled as of August 6 2017.

The committee also found that in many villages in the Tehsil (a revenue sub division) of Dharampuri, an area identified for resettlement is a large stretch of unlevelled slushy land unfit for construction and will require filling of land to sustain the construction of houses. The compensation paid, however is grossly inadequate to meet such a construction cost. The committee found that the government has fixed a lump sum three-month compensation package at Rs. 80,000 irrespective of the size of lands submerged.

The NVDA has decided to wind-up the Grievance Redressal Authority (GRA) created by the Supreme Court. GRA is the only platform the project-affected families could approach and has acted far more efficiently till date in redressing grievances than the NVDA which has attempted to evict people at all costs. Shutting down GRA is akin to denying the last available window to the project affected families.

Evidently, the attack on the protests and detention of activists is not only brutal, but it is also their right to organise and protest. The AHRC strongly condemns the attack and demands immediate release of the activists. The AHRC also demands impartial inquiry into the allegations of use of batons fixed with nails to assault the peaceful and democratic protestors and the manhandling of women by male cops and prosecution of those find guilty. The AHRC urges the authorities to implement the resettlement and rehabilitation policy as repeatedly ordered by the Supreme Court of India.