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INDIA: Vicious and brute force by the state against villagers and media in Khardrapani

September 12, 2012

ASIAN HUMAN RIGHTS COMMISSION – URGENT APPEALS PROGRAMME

Urgent Appeal Case: AHRC-UAC-171-2012



12 September 2012
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INDIA: Vicious and brute force by the state against villagers and media in Khardrapani

ISSUES: Illegal arrest; freedom of opinion and expression; right to livelihood
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Dear friends,

The Asian Human Rights Commission (AHRC) has received information from the Narmada Bachao Andolan (NBA) that the Madhya Pradesh state administration has illegally arrested and detained activists associated with the NBA and villagers who were protesting against the increase of water level in the controversial Indira Sagar Dam in Khardrapani village of Harda district in Madhya Pradesh. Just as it was concerning the protest by the villagers in Omkareshwar Dam, the villagers have been staying in neck-deep water for the past 15 days demanding the state to decrease the water level in the Indira Sagar Dam asking the state to first compensate the villagers for the land and livelihood they have lost before raising the water level in the dam to its envisaged capacity limit of 261 meters.

It is reported that gaining spirit from the partial success concerning the Omkareshwar Dam, the villagers from Ghogalgaon in Khandwa district tried joining their compatriot at Khardrapani village. However by then the Harda district administration, under instructions from the state administration, had deployed a huge contingent of police force in and around Khardrapani village. The police had closed all roads leading to the protest site and had prevented the media from reporting the news. Today, the police moved in with force and took into custody the villagers. Before the action the police had disconnected the communication links of the media so that the news could not be broadcast.

The state action, on one hand refusing to pay compensation and adequately rehabilitate the villagers and on the other preventing them from peacefully protesting against the state's wilful neglect coupled with the state's brute use of force even against the media is a matter of extreme concern. One of the state cabinet ministers, Mr. Kailash Vijayvargiya, the day before yesterday had said that the people must know that the state is all powerful and that a bunch of villagers cannot be expected to bring the state to the negotiation table on disputes with the state. The statement is mean and disrespectful to the very notion of democracy, a concept by which Mr. Vijayvargiya and the government he is part of was voted to power. The statement also illuminates the despicable and dictatorial mindset of persons running the state, in this case, a cabinet minister who entertains complete disrespect to his own people, for whom he is in office at the expense of this very same people and their money they pay to the state as tax.

Allegations that in fact Mr. Vijayvargiya is one of the masterminds who is selling the natural resources of the state to private interests at the expense of the nation gains weight under these circumstances. Additionally, the state's legal and moral responsibility to compensate those who have lost their land and livelihood must be held paramount, which is legally beyond negation by a rouge minister who wishes to make private gains by selling national resources to private entities.

A blog page created by the AHRC on the NBA's protest against the Omkareshwar and Indira Sagar Dam is available at http://jalsatyagrah.blogspot.hk/

CASE NARRATIVE:

The Indira Sagar Dam is the largest hydroelectric project of the controversial Narmada Valley Project. Many question the human, social and ecological impact of the project, to the extent that earlier funders have withdrawn support to the project even before its completion. The callous nature of implementation of the project is evidenced from the absolute lack of exact data available with the government, state and central, as to the impact of the project upon the people and their habitats, against which the local villagers are protesting today. The latest of two protests, one against the increase of water level in Omkareshwar Dam and the present, against the increase of water level in the Indira Sagar Dam are two examples how the state has completely ignored people's concerns where the projects are implemented and how the state lacks adequate data even to process complaints and claims by the villagers who have lost their land and livelihood to the project.

The protest by the villagers in Khardrapani village of Harda district in Madhya Pradesh has been going on for the past 15 days. Similar to the protest by villagers against the Omkareshwar project, villagers have been standing in neck-deep water demanding the state administration to satisfactorily compensate the villagers for the land and livelihood lost for the project and further to demand the state implement the Supreme Court's directives as to providing first settling the compensation claims by the villagers before water levels are increased.

Fearing similar pressure, as it was in the case of the Omkareshwar project, the state government had issued a prohibitory order under Section 144 of the Criminal Procedure Code, 1973 in Harda on 11 September. Ironically, the reason stated for the prohibitory order is "health risk" to the villagers should they continue remain in water. Fearing arrest, the protesters moved further into the reservoir of the dam in some cases as far as 200 meters into the water, risking their lives from drowning. The state government directed the district administration to send a huge contingent of police force to Khardrapani village where the protest against Indira Sagar Dam was going on. By evening, the police had blocked all roads to the village and further stopped the media from reporting the events.

Today, the police moved in and arrested the villagers from the water. It is also reported that the police before they started 'fishing' protesters from the water had disconnected the connectivity of the media that was present at the sight.

The state action, on one hand refusing to pay compensation and adequately rehabilitate the villagers and on the other preventing them from peacefully protesting against the state's wilful neglect coupled with the state's brute use of force even against the media is a matter of extreme concern. One of the state cabinet ministers, Mr. Kailash Vijayvargiya, the day before yesterday had said that the people must know that the state is all powerful and that a bunch of villagers cannot be expected to bring the state to the negotiation table on disputes with the state. The statement is mean and disrespectful to the very notion of democracy, a concept by which Mr. Vijayvargiya and the government he is part of was voted to power. The statement also illuminates the despicable and dictatorial mindset of persons running the state, in this case, a cabinet minister who entertains complete disrespect to his own people, for whom he is in office at the expense of this very same people and their money they pay to the state as tax.

Allegations that in fact Mr. Vijayvargiya is one of the masterminds who is selling the natural resources of the state to private interests at the expense of the nation gains weight under these circumstances. Additionally, the state's legal and moral responsibility to compensate those who have lost their land and livelihood must be held paramount, which is legally beyond negation by a rouge minister who wishes to make private gains by selling national resources to private entities.

The fallacy of development is exposed from the fact that more than 5o percent of the electricity generated from these projects are sold to private entities, whereas more than 70 percent of the people depend on kerosene. The protest by the villagers is not to stop the running of an already commissioned hydroelectric project, but demanding their government to compensate the lands and livelihood they have lost to the project. It is shame that the government is pushing the very same people that elected them to power to resort to drastic life threatening forms of protest, so that their grievances are heard.

The arrest of the villagers is a knee jerk reaction by the state, fearing in fact the power of the villagers, that has proven capable of bringing the might of the state to a negotiation point, country to what Mr. Vijayvargiya claims. Equally despicable is the action by the state against the media, preventing them from reporting the event.

SUGGESTED ACTION:
In the light of these facts, the AHRC urges you to intervene in the case calling upon the Government of Madhya Pradesh to stop immediately the increase in water level in the Indira Sagar Dam and to take all necessary actions with the assistance of organisations like the NBA to adequately rehabilitate those who have lost their land and livelihood to the project. It is also highly desirable that the government take all possible measures to release immediately the villagers and NBA activists who have been arrested today. It is also required that the government ensure a proper, acceptable and open audit of the villages that are adversely affected by the Indira Sagar project and similar other projects.

The AHRC is also writing separate letters to the UN Independent Expert on the issue of human rights obligations relating to the enjoyment of a safe, clean, healthy and sustainable environment calling for further intervention in this case.

To support this appeal, please click here: 


SAMPLE LETTER:

Dear __________,

INDIA: Please take immediate action to sustainably rehabilitate the evictees of Indira Sagar Hydro Electric Project in Madhya Pradesh and release those who have been illegally arrested

Name of the victim: Villagers affected by the Indira Sagar Hydro Electric Project in Madhya Pradesh, India
Name of the perpetrators: Government of Madhya Pradesh
Date and time of the incident: Since 26 August 2012
Place of incident: Within the project affected region of Indira Sagar Dam, Madhya Pradesh, India

I am writing to express concern regarding the case of protest held by villagers affected by the Indira Sagar Hydro Electric Project, which is part of the Narmada Valley Project.

The facts of the case reported to me are as follows:

Just as it was concerning the protest by the villagers in Omkareshwar Dam, the villagers have been staying in neck-deep water for the past 15 days demanding the state to decrease the water level in the Indira Sagar Dam asking the state to first compensate the villagers for the land and livelihood they have lost before raising the water level in the dam to its envisaged capacity limit of 261 meters.

It is reported that gaining spirit from the partial success concerning the Omkareshwar Dam, the villagers from Ghogalgaon in Khandwa district tried joining their compatriot at Khardrapani village. However by then the Harda district administration, under instructions from the state administration, had deployed a huge contingent of police force in and around Khardrapani village. The police had closed all roads leading to the protest site and had prevented the media from reporting the news. Today, the police moved in with force and took into custody the villagers. Before the action the police had disconnected the communication links of the media so that the news could not be broadcast.

The state action, on one hand refusing to pay compensation and adequately rehabilitate the villagers and on the other preventing them from peacefully protesting against the state's willful neglect coupled with the state's brute use of force even against the media is a matter of extreme concern.

The protest by the villagers in Khardrapani village of Harda district in Madhya Pradesh has been going on for the past 15 days. Similar to the protest by villagers against the Omkareshwar project, villagers have been standing in neck-deep water demanding the state administration to satisfactorily compensate the villagers for the land and livelihood lost for the project and further to demand the state implement the Supreme Court's directives as to providing first settling the compensation claims by the villagers before water levels are increased.

Fearing similar pressure, as it was in the case of the Omkareshwar project, the state government had issued a prohibitory order under Section 144 of the Criminal Procedure Code, 1973 in Harda on 11 September. Ironically, the reason stated for the prohibitory order is "health risk" to the villagers should they continue remain in water. Fearing arrest, the protesters moved further into the reservoir of the dam in some cases as far as 200 meters into the water, risking their lives from drowning. The state government directed the district administration to send a huge contingent of police force to Khardrapani village where the protest against Indira Sagar Dam was going on. By evening, the police had blocked all roads to the village and further stopped the media from reporting the events.

Today, the police moved in and arrested the villagers from the water. It is also reported that the police before they started 'fishing' protesters from the water had disconnected the connectivity of the media that was present at the sight.

The state action, on one hand refusing to pay compensation and adequately rehabilitate the villagers and on the other preventing them from peacefully protesting against the state's willful neglect coupled with the state's brute use of force even against the media is a matter of extreme concern. One of the state cabinet ministers, Mr. Kailash Vijayvargiya, the day before yesterday had said that the people must know that the state is all powerful and that a bunch of villagers cannot be expected to bring the state to the negotiation table on disputes with the state. The statement is mean and disrespectful to the very notion of democracy, a concept by which Mr. Vijayvargiya and the government he is part of was voted to power. The statement also illuminates the despicable and dictatorial mindset of persons running the state, in this case, a cabinet minister who entertains complete disrespect to his own people, for whom he is in office at the expense of this very same people and their money they pay to the state as tax.

Allegations that in fact Mr. Vijayvargiya is one of the masterminds who is selling the natural resources of the state to private interests at the expense of the nation gains weight under these circumstances. Additionally, the state's legal and moral responsibility to compensate those who have lost their land and livelihood must be held paramount, which is legally beyond negation by a rouge minister who wishes to make private gains by selling national resources to private entities.

The fallacy of development is exposed from the fact that more than 5o percent of the electricity generated from these projects are sold to private entities, whereas more than 70 percent of the people depend on kerosene. The protest by the villagers is not to stop the running of an already commissioned hydroelectric project, but demanding their government to compensate the lands and livelihood they have lost to the project. It is shame that the government is pushing the very same people that elected them to power to resort to drastic life threatening forms of protest, so that their grievances are heard.

The arrest of the villagers is a knee jerk reaction by the state, fearing in fact the power of the villagers, that has proven capable of bringing the might of the state to a negotiation point, country to what Mr. Vijayvargiya claims. Equally despicable is the action by the state against the media, preventing them from reporting the event.

Please therefore take actions to ensure that:
1. The state government will immediately stop increasing the water level at the Indira Sagar Dam;
2. Release immediately the villagers and activists associated with the NBA;
3. The government will immediately undertake and audit of the evicted villagers;
4. That the government will take without any further delay, all steps required to adequately rehabilitate the villagers who have lost their land to the project, on the basis of land allotted as compensation per land lost;
5. The state government will provide all medical assistance to the villagers who need such assistance after staying in water for the past 10 days.

Yours sincerely,

_____________

PLEASE SEND YOUR LETTERS TO:

1. Dr. Manmohan Singh
Prime Minster
Government of India
Room No. 148 B, South Ablock, New Delhi
INDIA
Fax: + 91 11 230116857; 23015603
Email : manmohan@sansad.nic.in

2. Mr. Shivraj Singh Chouhan
Chief Minister of Madhya Pradesh
Government of Madhya Pradesh
Bhopal, Madhya Pradesh
INDIA
Fax: + 91 755 2441781; 2540501
Email : cm@mp.nic.in

3. Dr. Sudam Khade (IAS)
District Collector - Harda (MP)
Government of Madhya Pradesh
New District Collectorate - Harda
Madhya Pradesh
INDIA
Fax: + 91 7577 225011
Email : dmharda@mp.gov.in

4. Chairperson
National Human Rights Commission of India
Faridkot House, Copernicus Marg
New Delhi 110 001
INDIA
Fax: +91 11 2334 0016
Email: chairnhrc@nic.in

Thank you

Urgent Appeals Programme
Asian Human Rights Commission (ua@ahrc.asia)

Document Type :
Urgent Appeal Case
Document ID :
AHRC-UAC-171-2012
Countries :
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Extended Introduction: Urgent Appeals, theory and practice

A need for dialogue

Many people across Asia are frustrated by the widespread lack of respect for human rights in their countries.  Some may be unhappy about the limitations on the freedom of expression or restrictions on privacy, while some are affected by police brutality and military killings.  Many others are frustrated with the absence of rights on labour issues, the environment, gender and the like. 

Yet the expression of this frustration tends to stay firmly in the private sphere.  People complain among friends and family and within their social circles, but often on a low profile basis. This kind of public discourse is not usually an effective measure of the situation in a country because it is so hard to monitor. 

Though the media may cover the issues in a broad manner they rarely broadcast the private fears and anxieties of the average person.  And along with censorship – a common blight in Asia – there is also often a conscious attempt in the media to reflect a positive or at least sober mood at home, where expressions of domestic malcontent are discouraged as unfashionably unpatriotic. Talking about issues like torture is rarely encouraged in the public realm.

There may also be unwritten, possibly unconscious social taboos that stop the public reflection of private grievances.  Where authoritarian control is tight, sophisticated strategies are put into play by equally sophisticated media practices to keep complaints out of the public space, sometimes very subtly.  In other places an inner consensus is influenced by the privileged section of a society, which can control social expression of those less fortunate.  Moral and ethical qualms can also be an obstacle.

In this way, causes for complaint go unaddressed, un-discussed and unresolved and oppression in its many forms, self perpetuates.  For any action to arise out of private frustration, people need ways to get these issues into the public sphere.

Changing society

In the past bridging this gap was a formidable task; it relied on channels of public expression that required money and were therefore controlled by investors.  Printing presses were expensive, which blocked the gate to expression to anyone without money.  Except in times of revolution the media in Asia has tended to serve the well-off and sideline or misrepresent the poor.

Still, thanks to the IT revolution it is now possible to communicate with large audiences at little cost.  In this situation there is a real avenue for taking issues from private to public, regardless of the class or caste of the individual.

Practical action

The AHRC Urgent Appeals system was created to give a voice to those affected by human rights violations, and by doing so, to create a network of support and open avenues for action.  If X’s freedom of expression is denied, if Y is tortured by someone in power or if Z finds his or her labour rights abused, the incident can be swiftly and effectively broadcast and dealt with. The resulting solidarity can lead to action, resolution and change. And as more people understand their rights and follow suit, as the human rights consciousness grows, change happens faster. The Internet has become one of the human rights community’s most powerful tools.   

At the core of the Urgent Appeals Program is the recording of human rights violations at a grass roots level with objectivity, sympathy and competence. Our information is firstly gathered on the ground, close to the victim of the violation, and is then broadcast by a team of advocates, who can apply decades of experience in the field and a working knowledge of the international human rights arena. The flow of information – due to domestic restrictions – often goes from the source and out to the international community via our program, which then builds a pressure for action that steadily makes its way back to the source through his or her own government.   However these cases in bulk create a narrative – and this is most important aspect of our program. As noted by Sri Lankan human rights lawyer and director of the Asian Human Rights Commission, Basil Fernando:

"The urgent appeal introduces narrative as the driving force for social change. This idea was well expressed in the film Amistad, regarding the issue of slavery. The old man in the film, former president and lawyer, states that to resolve this historical problem it is very essential to know the narrative of the people. It was on this basis that a court case is conducted later. The AHRC establishes the narrative of human rights violations through the urgent appeals. If the narrative is right, the organisation will be doing all right."

Patterns start to emerge as violations are documented across the continent, allowing us to take a more authoritative, systemic response, and to pinpoint the systems within each country that are breaking down. This way we are able to discover and explain why and how violations take place, and how they can most effectively be addressed. On this path, larger audiences have opened up to us and become involved: international NGOs and think tanks, national human rights commissions and United Nations bodies.  The program and its coordinators have become a well-used tool for the international media and for human rights education programs. All this helps pave the way for radical reforms to improve, protect and to promote human rights in the region.