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Ahead of the stone-laying ceremony of Statue of Unity, activists, villagers "detained" off Narmada dam

By Our Representative
In the wee hours, the powerful Gujarat government administration cracked down on activists and villagers around the Narmada dam who are protesting against the state government’s refusal to give any assurance to 70-odd villages that their land would not be acquired for the sake of the tourism project in the downstream of the dam. The crackdown took place ahead of Gujarat chief minister Narendra Modi’s stone-laying ceremony of the Statue of Unity, envisaged by him as the tallest statue in the world, about three times higher than New York’s Statue of Liberty. The stone laying ceremony is marked with the birthday of Sardar Patel, in whose memory the statue has been proposed.
Calling the crackdown as an attack on “right to freedom of expression”, environmental body Paryavaran Suraksha Samiti, Vadodara, one of the NGOs organizing the villagers’ protest, said in a statement that “activists and villagers detained and put under house arrest in wee hours of October 31”, because the Gujarat government did not want the “tribals and activists do not speak up when the chief minister was around.” If they spoke, they would be sent jail at Kevadia, the officials while detaining activists told them. It has lodged a formal protest to Justice KG Balakrishnan, chairman, National Human Rights Commission (NHRC) about the attitude of the state government curb activists' right to protest.
“The crackdown began on October 30, 2013, when four activists, Rohit Prajapati, Trupti Shah, Amrish Brahmbhatta, Sudhir Biniwale, were put under house arrest by the Rajpipla police even before they reached venue. They were followed by police vehicles right form Devalia Chokadi when they were travelling from Vadodara to Rajpipla. When they reached Rajpila, there were guards standing outside the town to stop the activists, as if they were criminals. No policemen talked with them as to why they were doing so, or what were the charges against them”, the statement said.
Shortly thereafter, the statement said, activists and villagers from several villages began being detained from their homes by the police, again without pressing any formal charges. “At midnight our activist Lakhan Musafir, Dhirendra Soneji, Dipen Desai, Rameshbhai Tadvi from Indravarna village, Shaileshbai Tadvi form Vagadia village, Vikrambhai Tadvi and two others form Kevadia and other villagers were detained illegally to create atmosphere of terror inside villages to prevent planned well-announced peaceful hunger strike in villages”, the statement said.
The statement further said, till 6 a.m. on October 31, “at least 10 activists from five villages were detained and taken to various police stations… We fear further more police action shortly. This statement is to communicate that we activist and villagers had only announced symbolic protest in our own houses by staging day long hunger strike. Note, we were not to assemble at any public place or sit on dharna at any public place”. The protest included beating of steel utensils in 70 villages to protest “wasteful” use of about Rs 2,500 crore for the Statue of Unity and the tourism project by acquiring land near the Narmada dam.
The statement added, “The sit -n protest in our own home was aimed at protecting our land, forest, livelihood and river. Only because Gujarat chief minister Narendra Modi is schedule to preside the programme for his plans for what he called the world’s highest statue, Statue of Unity, we had been denied the fundamental right to express our rights even in our own home. The statue of unity comes at what cost whose cost?”

NAPM condemns detention: 

Meanwhile, the National Alliance of People's Movements (NAPM) has condemned the detention of activists and villagers wanting to protest against the tourism project and the Sardar Statue, which they allege are being promoted to take away their land. NAPM has said, "The CM, by not permitting a peaceful fast by the representatives of adivasi villages, along with senior activists, Rohit Prajapati, Lakhan Musafir, Trupti Shah and others, with the local leaders, the government has, no doubt, expressed its cowardice even in the face of a peaceful protest."
The NAPM, which is the apex body of tens of human rights and environmental NGOs, has said, "The Statue is part of the overall plan to deprive the 70 adivasi villages of their constitutional status as adivasi villages in violation of the Panchayat (Extension of Scheduled Areas) Act obviously to be followed by grabbing of their land and natural resources and diversion of the same for unjustifiable ‘tourism’ purposes. It is absolutely condemnable that the government has arrested activists and villages who have been raising these genuine concerns."

Gujarat activists protest:

As many as 28 activists from Gujarat came together to protest against the “illegal” detention of Paryavaran Suraksha Samiti (PSS) members and villagers who were seeking to protest against the proposed tourism project and the Sardar Statue. “This is one of the clearest admissions by the chief minister and his team fear people’s voices and the entire administration bending over backwards to ‘protect’ the CM. The CM has always operated under fear and thus has clamped down hard on activists and rights defenders. This is one more instance of the CM not wanting to hear the people’s voices from his own state and not allowing them to be heard by the rest of the world”, a statement issued by them said.
It added, “Gujarat is today reeling under a state of “undeclared Emergency”, working much like the Congress dispensation in 1975. Summary detentions without charges, or on trumped up charges, routine denials of permissions for public demonstrations and protests, selected targeting of human rights and civil rights activists, name-calling and myth-making are the order of the day – and all these can be substantiated with evidence by us, unlike the CM who cannot substantiate a single charge that he makes against those he dislikes.”
The activists wants the CM to answer following questions:
1. Why was the police following the activists from Vadodara?
2. Why were Rohit Prajapati, Trupti Shah, Amrish Bhrambhatta and Sudhir Biniwale not allowed to get out of the RSSS campus and prohibited from proceeding to Kevadia?
3. Why are no charges framed against them?
4. Why were people from the villages in the Kevadia area rounded up on 30th evening?
5. What are the charges against them?
The statement was signed by Prasad Chacko, Mahesh Pandya, Persis Ginwalla, Hiren Gandhi, Prakash N. Shah, Sagar Rabari Fr. Cedric Prakash, Lalji Desai and others.

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