In a bizarre incident in Madhya Pradesh's Nisarpur village of Kukshi block in Dhar district, Kanhaiya Prajapati, one of the thousands of poor farmers displaced by the high-profile Narmada dam in Gujarat, was “picked up” early in the morning 5:00 am last week by the local police for allegedly signing up a fake registry for “receiving” cash instead of land as part of the resettlement and rehabilitation (R&R) package of the state government.
Villagers say, Prajapati is not the only one to be picked up for his “involvement”. Not just men, tens of womenfolk in the absence of their husbands, were taken to the police station for their a crime which they say they never committed.
“The cops entered into the individual houses in the wee hours, and carried out their operation abusing the women, and nobody knows where they have been taken”, says a villager.
Social activists of the Narmada Bachao Andolan (NBA), which has been campaigning against fake registries – a scam which it says is worth thousands of crores – say, these are not the only ones who are being picked up and harassed. Hundreds of them have been arrested across several villages.
“Many of these oustees who are being arrested have been given cash only on paper. There are cases where the cash has been counted as having been paid against the debt they had taken from the moneylender. In a large number of cases, thumb impression was taken from the oustees from old, illiterate tribal, dalit and women”, alleged NBA.
Apart from the displaced persons, those who are being arrested in large numbers include those who had allegedly sold land to be given to the Narmada dam oustees. “All of them are being arrested under Sections 423, 34, 120B, 468, and 421”, says NBA in a statement.
It adds, “The alleged land sellers do not even know that they had sold their land. It's all on paper. The papers prepared for selling the land was prepared by dubious agents in alliance with government officials. This is happening across villages of Badwani, Manavar, Kukshi and Alirajpur blocks, situated along the Narmada river on the immediate upstream of the dam.”
According to NBA's estimates, in all 152 fake land sellers, who do not even know if they had sold their land, have been arrested. “This includes old women, too”, says the NBA, adding, “The arrests are happening in a highly secretive manner. The authorities are refusing to even part with the list of those who are being arrested.”
The arrests follow the Madhya Pradesh government's decision to crackdown on fake registries, about which the Justice Jha Commission's 2000-page report makes a major exposure. In all, the report has found1,589 cases of fake registries of providing cash instead of five acres of land, for which it squarely blames government officials and agents.
The Jha Commission report has not just criticized the state government for providing cash (Rs 5.5 lakh in two installments) instead of land to the Narmada dam oustees; it also highlights a largescale scam in setting up 88 resettlement sites, including land acquisition for these, providing one-time cash instead of livelihood to the resettlers, and building infrastructure on the sites.
Significantly, the Jha Commission report's revelation comes amidst the Madhya Pradesh government continuing to claim that there are just 686 registries, says NBA, adding, “Following the Supreme Court order dated August 5, 2016, asking the state government to act against fake registries, the state government agreed to move against those named by it, including 200 patwaris, 33 government officials and 15 agents.”
However, NBA alleges, instead of acting against them, the state government is “acting against poor tribal, dalit and other backward class Narmada dam oustees.”