Illegal Arrests and harassment of women and Children in Kevadia Village, Narmada District of Gujarat
Brutal use of force to crush people’s democratic opposition to forcible eviction for the controversial Statute of Unity project
29th March, Vadodara/New Delhi: Shocking incidents of intimidation, harassment and property damage took place yesterday, 28th March 2015 at the Village Kevadia of Narmada District, Gujarat at the behest of the police, officers of Sardar Sarovar Narmada Nigam Limited and the State Authority. Five women, one man and three minors were illegally arrested by the police between the hours of 11.00 a.m. to 6.30 p.m. After being transported to the Tilakwada Thana, around 29 km away, they were held without proper food and other facilities which are spelled out by the D. K. Basu Guidelines of Supreme Court which have been now incorporated into the law. 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.
Although the police provided no reason for this brute exercise of force, despite repeated requests by the women to know based on whose complaint they were being arrested, under which section of the law the police had entered their property, and in connection to which crime, it was clear to the local villagers that the raison d’être was to crush the people’s democratic opposition to their forcible eviction for the purpose of streamlining the proposed “Shreshtha Bharat Bhavan”, a part of the Sardar Sarovar Nigam Ltd.’s Statue of Unity Tourism Project.
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 land belonging to these six families with other such families had been acquired for the canal project for the Sardar Sarovar Project (SSP) – however the actual location of the Dam was thereafter moved a few kilometres upstream to village Vadgam from its original location Navagam. Now 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.
It is known through conversations with the aggrieved and confirmed through official information obtained under the Right to Information Act, 2005 that no compensation has been paid for the acquisition of land in 1963. Since 1963 the local people have remained in possession of the land. Recently, the government has verbally offered the people land for land, which in itself suggests that the concerned authority has not provided the aggrieved people with fair and just compensation.
The government with alliance of a private contractor has also recently erected fencing around the homes and land of these six families. A twenty four hour police force guards the land. Villagers are routinely terrorised, harassed and prevented from operating their small shops which are their source of income. Yesterday, March 28th 2015 the local people were protesting the construction of this illegal ‘Open Air Prison’ and also the constant threats and provocations they are receiving from the police and concerned officers. Further, the people unequivocally maintained the position that they should be provided land for land, including plots for housing, as per the latest government policy prior to any work commences for the proposed tourism project.
Rather than addressing the legitimate concerns of the people, police officers who came from Tilakavada, Kevadia and Rajpipla colluded with the private contractors to intimidate and attempt to illegally evict the people from their ancestral land. The fact that L & T contractors were present during the repression also points to this fact.
The atmosphere of terror created by the State Authority, SSNNL, the police force and the events of 28th March 2015 are a clear cut violation of the human rights of the tribal peoples which are enshrined in the Constitution of India. We demand:
· Order immediate removal of the newly built fencing and withdrawal of police forces from the peoples land and homes.
· An apology should be issued to the arrested peoples of the six families and legal action should be taken against the Government officials who ordered for the fencing, those who deployed the police force and those who ordered for the arrest of the villagers.
· Compensation should be paid to those who incurred property damage and loss due to the illegal actions of the police.
· A special team should be appointed and sent to the area to investigate and prepare a report on the arrest and continued harassment of tribals. Human rights activists should be included in the investigation team.
Trupti Shah, Rohit Prajapati, Krishnakant
Letter to the NHRC on the issue attached.