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Following R-Day protest off Narmada, tribal women ensure stoppage of "illegal" work on Garudeshwar weir

By Our Representative
Protest against the construction of the Garudeshwar weir across Narmada river, about 12 kilometres downstream of the Narmada dam, took a new turn on the Republic Day when senior activists of the environmental group Paryavaran Suraksha Samiti, Vadodara, and women’s NGO Sahiyar succeeded in convincing the affected villagers about the need to intervene and stop the work which has begun. The result was, following a village-to-village campaign on January 26, on January 27 a team of women from several villages reached Narmada river along the Garudeshwar village and succeeded in ensuring a stop on the ongoing work.
A statement declaring the “great success” achieved on the occasion, issued by the Sitter Gam Adivasi Sangathan (Seventy Adivasi Villages’ Organization), said, “The villagers, mainly women, succeeded in stopping the work was going on, singing songs and raising slogans against the illegal nature of the weir. They asked the contractors to stop work, failing which they would again return to protest on January 31. They told the contractors that they should not be party to the illegal activity of the government. Contractors stopped work.”
The NGOs and mass organizations of the seventy villages argue that the work on Garudeshwar weir has begun without taking into account the prerequisite of environmental hearing of the affected villages. They cite the view of a senior member of the Narmada Control Authority (NCA), the statutory body which provides environmental clearance for the Narmada project, who has expressed strong exception to giving clearance to the Garudeshwar weir without eco-clearance. The weir’s water is to be used for tourism purpose, on one hand, and to provide water to the industries in the Dahej-Bharuch area.
Things began to shape up soon after the Republic Day ceremony, held by the villagers on January 26, where villagers from the nearby villages had gathered at Indravarna. “Elderly women from Nana Pipariya village, Shantaben, Gajraben and Gangaben, unfurled the tricolor and spoke on the occasion. Trupti Shah of Sahiyar spoke about how India achieved independence and how the tribals fought against the British rule, including during the 1859 War of Independence. She also spoke about their active participation in non-violent struggles, on one hand, and in revolutionary movements, on the other”, the statement said.
“Mangrol’s Bhartiben spoke on the importance of January 26. It was suggested that the Constitution of India provides equal rights to all, whether they are women, tribals or Dalits”, the statement said, adding, “Subsequently, several women, including Nana Pipariya’s Kuntaben, Kevadia’s Sharadaben and others took the lead in discussing issues related with land, forests, river and livelihood. They discussed on how to ensure that the work begun by the Sardar Sarovar Narmada Nigam Ltd on the weir is stopped.”
“Following flag hoisting and the meeting, the villagers began leaflet distribution. The police officials, in the meantime, continued their video shooting”, the statement said, adding, “This was particularly surprising, as the police department had no other work to do and the government was spending its precious time, energy and money for a work it is not supposed to do. The government is refusing to answer simple questions. The adivasis are not demanding anything but holding a non-violent struggle for the protection of their constitutional rights, protection of the environmental law by stopping the illegally of the weir’s construction.”

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