40 Narmada Adivasi Oustees in Jail since 4 Days,Call Alirajpur DM,SP for their Unconditional Release

An appeal by National Alliance of People’s Movement (NAPM)

Alirajpur, Madhya Pradesh, 8th January: Hundreds of adivasis and farmers, representing a large number of oustees affected by the Sardar Sarovar and Jobat Dam Projects in the Alirajpur District of Madhya Pradesh, stormed the office of the Collector, Mr. N.P. Deheria yesterday and engaged in a day-long protest, demanding the immediate and unconditional release of about 40 adivasis, including 6 women, who were arrested on 5th January in a completely illegal manner from the site of the Zameen Haq Satyagraha at Jobat.

File Photo: NBA activists protesting at Jantar Mantar (Courtesy: Mukul Dube)
File Photo: NBA activists protesting at Jantar Mantar (Courtesy: Mukul Dube)

The protestors were stopped at the gates of the Collectorate by a large contingent of armed police brought in from Alirajpur, Badwani, Dhar and Thandla, while the women, men, elderly and youth, tried to barge inside for a dialogue with the Collector. The women, who had come along with little children demanded that their family members must be immediately released otherwise, they would sit on an indefinite protest at the Collectorate.

The Collector, came down thrice and heard the issues raised by the oustees from behind the gates, but could not given concrete and correct answers. After many hours of intense action and heated discussions with the Collector, SP, Addl SP and the Rehabilitation Officer, NVDA, it was assured that the process of offering land to the Jobat-dam oustees would begin within 3 days and process of showing land to the SSP oustees would begin within 10 days.

Shouting down the false information provided to the Collector by the NVDA officers that ‘the oustees don’t want land, that all have been paid compensation, that many are non-affected and that oustees are being provoked, the oustees stated that illegal submergence in the hilly villages of  Sardar Sarovar began since 1994 and submergence in Jobat began since 2003. However, till date, cultivable, irrigable, suitable and un-encroached land has not been provided to the affected families. The only land offered to the SSP-affected adivasis was bad, uncultivable, encroached land, which is in utter violation of law and orders of the Supreme Court.

It may be noted that the Collector of Alirajpur, deployed a large contingent of police force on 5th January, 2014 and illegally took into custody 40 Satyagrahis, including women, 75 year old and 2 children, who were camping at the Government Agricultural Farm, Jobat. It is well-known that hundreds of oustees have been on an indefinite Satyagraha, since the past 2.5 years and have been cultivating the land, not just as a protest, but also to feed their families, who have already faced illegal submergence since many years.

The Jobat Satyagraha is one of the longest non-violent, occupation struggles in recent history and has been resorted to by the oustees after umpteen attempts of petitioning, court cases and mass action by the adivasis. The oustees have been cultivating the land and have also reaped three harvests on this land. Infact recently the Collector also permitted the oustees to have a temporary power connection for irrigating the crop. However, since two weeks notices were being issued to the oustees to vacate the land, else they would be forcibly evicted. Our replies to these notices and appeal for a concrete dialogue were not responded to by the authorities and a brutal eviction drive ensued. It may be noted that the arrests are completely motivated and arbitrary, since the fact that the oustees have not yet been rehabilitated and the fact that all the officials, including the police have complete knowledge of the occupation since 2.5 years is well-known.

In fact, Dr. Afroz Ahmed, Director, Rehabilitation, Narmada Control Authority, indore and Kantilal Bhuria, Former Tribal Affairs Minister, Govt. of India also visited the Satyagraha and engaged in dialogue with the oustees. Dr. Afroz Ahmed also assured to raise the matter with the Rehabilitation Sub-Group, Delhi, after which a direction was issued by the Sub Group in its meeting on 12th September, 2013 to the Govt. of M.P. to offer Government farm lands in rehabilitation.

The arrests have been made seemingly under Section 151 Cr.P.C. i.e. ‘causing disturbance to peace in the area’, while the oustees were in the farm land and there was absolutely nothing they did to disturb peace in the locality. Secondly, an FIR registered against 100-150 ‘unknown people’ 2.5 years ago when the Satyagraha started, but no arrests were made, is now being used against these oustees in a wrongful and vindictive manner ! It may also be noted that in a similar case of illegal arrest and lathicharge at the Badwani Zameen Hak Satyagraha in June, 2007, the High Court, Jabalpur directed the Govt. of M.P. to pay Rs. 10,000 each to the arrested Satyagrahis and half payment has already been made, after the Supreme Court’s intervention and the case is still pending.

While in Sardar Sarovar, many hilly adivasis have not accepted any cash compensation, most of the Jobat Dam advasi oustees being illiterate, their signatures were taken on affidavits and were paid very meagre cash compensation, many years ago and their lands / houses were illegally submerged without being provided alternative cultivable land. In the presence of full media, the Rehabilitation Officer of the Narmada Valley Development Authority accepted that the applications of hundreds of oustees demanding land for land and for return of compensation, as per the Supreme Court’s orders in 2011 have not been attended to for more than one and a half year.

A day before, the oustees also marched to the office of the Superintendent of Police, Mr. Akhilesh Jha and questioned the arbitrary manner of arrests.  He was convinced that the contentious issue is lack of rehabilitation and that the police has no role to play. The oustees also submitted a complaint under the SC and ST (Prevention of Atrocities) Act, 1989 demanding legal action against all the concerned officers for arresting the adivasis, evicting them for the land, causing destruction of the standing crop at the Satyagraha and submergence of their lands and homes, without lawful rehabilitation. The protestors issued an ultimatum to Government of Madhya Pradesh, through the Collector, Alirajpur to unconditionally release all the jailed oustees and begin the process of land-based rehabilitation, within 3 days, otherwise an intense struggle would follow.

Please do call the Collector and SP, Alirajpur to immediately release all the oustees unconditionally and begin the process of rehabilitation.

Mr. N.P. Dehariya -Collector, Alirajpur – Ph – 09425188061

Mr. Akhilesh Jha, Superintendent of Police – Ph – 9753936277