Saturday, January 10, 2015

Protest letter to Ban Ki-moon visiting Gujarat: Intellectuals, activists seek justice for Narmada dam oustees

By Our Representative
In an open letter to United Nation secretary-general Ban Ki-moon, slated to visit Gujarat to participate in the Vibrant Gujarat Summit on Sunday, followed by his decision to inaugurate a solar power project on the canal of the Sardar Sarovar Project (SSP), senior Indian activists, intellectuals and professionals have conveyed their concern over the “plight” of thousands of families of indigenous origin, farmers, fisher people because of the SSP. The letter said, these people are facing “the threat of ouster” and not being provided with “justice, despite stringent laws for rehabilitation and judicial directions”.
The letter said, “It is unfortunate that you have chosen to inaugurate a solar power project on the canal of the SSP. While solar energy is a necessary and worth-while endeavour, uprooting lives, livelihoods, homes and cultures of some of the poorest people on this planet is not. It is also paradoxical that solar power as alternative and renewable source of energy is being tried and publicised on the canals of the very same project which is in fact a giant hydro power project, neither clean nor sustainable.”
Among those who have signed the letter include top economist Prof Amit Bhaduri, Delhi University; Prashant Bhushan, senior advocate, Supreme Court; well-known environmentalist Vandana Shiva; Kavitha Kuruganti of the Alliance for Sustainable & Holistic Agriculture; Ashish Kothari, environmentalist; Indira Unninayar, advocate, Supreme Court and Delhi High Court; and Medha Patkar of the Narmada Bachao Andolan.
The letter reminded Ki-moon that the World Bank, withdrew from the SSP for the reason that the project was being “pushed through unfair means, violating World Bank’s own agreement, and it now stands withdrawn”. It added, “Indeed, the SSP has become the living example of injustice, human rights violations and destruction of precious natural resources.”
The letter said, “Thousands of families of adivasis, farmers, labourers, fisher-people, potters, artisans and rural workers who are being affected by the dams and canals built under this project still await land-based rehabilitation, house plots at developed rehabilitation site as well as ensured alternative livelihood to landless families, as mandated by the law and successive judgments of the Supreme Court of India.”
The letter said, “You are surely aware that the Article 1 of the United Nation’s Universal Declaration of Human Rights (1948) says that all human beings are born free and equal in dignity and rights. Article 3 asserts that everyone has the right to life, liberty and security of person. Article 17 too says that no one shall be arbitrarily deprived of his (and her) property.”
It further said, “These three universal human rights as well as many others, including rights guaranteed by Indian Constitution and upheld by Indian Courts, have been denied continuously for the people affected by the Sardar Sarovar Project (SSP).” It wondered whether, as secretary-general, he endorses “this destruction and displacement in the name of development.”
Inviting to “the huts and the tenements of adivasis displaced by the SSP”, the UN secretary-general said, “You would be able to see for yourself the violations of both the UN Charter and the Universal Declaration of Human Rights by the SSP.” It added, “Furthermore, the rehabilitation process for the people affected by the SSP is far from complete and it will be nothing but the watery graves if the project is continued to be pushed in the manner it is being done now.”
The letter contended, “Existing rehabilitation processes have been plagued by monumental corruption worth crores of rupees, and a Judicial Commission has been investigating and revealing corruption and blatant embezzlement in almost every aspect of rehabilitation. On the other hand, the environmental compliance is also seriously lacking. A committee set up by the Ministry of Environment & Forests not only verified this, but had also recommended that the SSP should not go ahead unless environmental compliance is effectively complete.”
Pointing out that “these are deliberate violations of international law as well as India’s international and human rights obligations, as also International Labour Organisation (ILO) Convention 107 for protection of rights of theadivasis as indigenous people of India, and commitments by successive governments”, the letter said, “Even the ILO had looked into the matter and directed the Indian Government to comply with its Convention but that has been neglected for years.”
The letter said, “The Supreme Court of India is hearing the issues of denial of rehabilitation and violation of human rights”, asking Ki-moon to use his “influential voice against these violations of basic human rights”. It added, “We would be happy to facilitate discussions, trips, meetings and enquiries into the lives and pains of thousands of people at the Narmada Valley. We would be obliged if you permit a dialogue at the earliest on the same.”

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