Sunday, March 29, 2015

Tribal women, children arrested, as Gujarat "presses ahead" with tourism project off Narmada

A Gujarat government function on November 11, 2014 for
Shreshtra Bhawan off Narmada
By Our Representative
According to latest information from near the Narmada dam in Gujarat, five women, one man and three minors were arrested by the police between 11.00 am and 6.30 pm on Saturday from Kevadia village, situated about 12 kilometres downstream of the controversial dam, currently under construction to its full reservoir level. After being transported to the Tilakwada Thana, 29 km away, they were held without proper food and other facilities.
Taking strong exception to the development, a senior human rights activist from Vadodara, Gujarat's cultural capital, Trupti Shah has said, "The family members were not informed about the arrest, nor the place to which they were taken. The police thereafter forcibly entered into the farm land of the villagers with a JCB Machine, damaging a pipeline used by villagers for irrigation." Shah is with the Paryavaran Suraksha Samiti and leads a women's organization, Sahyar.
In her letter to National Human Rights Commission (NHRC) chairman K G Balakrishnan, Shah says, those who were arrested are Sarojben Sukhrambhai Tadvi, her two sons Roshankumar (10 years) and Jathankumar (7 years), Jyotiben Kanchanbhai Tadvi, Savitaben Rameshbhai Tadvi, Champaben Chandra Kantbhai Tadvi, Jyotshnaben Sanjaybhai Tadvi and her son, Smithkumar (5 years) and Sukrambhai Ukad Tadvi.
Shah has sent copies of the letter to National Commission of Scheduled Tribes chairman Dr Rameshwar Oraon, Gujarat chief secretary DJ Pandian, and Gujarat police chief PC Thakur.
Calling the arrests "illegal" with the intention to "harass women and children" and intimidate the local people, Shah says, "Although the police provided no reason for this brute exercise of force, it was clear to the local villagers that the raison d'ĂȘtre was to crush the people’s democratic opposition to their forcible eviction for the purpose of streamlining the construction of the Shreshtha Bharat Bhavan, a part of the Statue of Unity tourism project."
She says, "The aggrieved belong to the around 70 people of six tribal families who have been living for generations in village Kevadia, which falls within an area protected by the fifth schedule of the Constitution of India. In 1963 this land belonging to six families was acquired for the canal project for the Sardar Sarovar Project (SSP)." Later, she adds, "the actual location of the dam was moved a few kilometres upstream to village vadgam."
"Now", Shah points out, "It appears that the Government of Gujarat has casually changed the purpose of acquisition from a canal to the establishment of the three-star hotel known as Shreshtha Bharat Bhavan, without obtaining the mandatory environmental clearances or following due process of law."
Meanwhile, Shah says, "The government with alliance of a private contractor has also recently erected fencing around the homes and land of these six families. A 24 hour police force guards the land. Villagers are routinely terrorised, harassed and prevented from operating their small shops which are their source of income." The latest arrest, she adds, took place as "the local people were protesting the construction of this illegal Open Air Prison."

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