Government now considering to use force, allegedly to cow down tribal protests against weir across Narmada

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The Gujarat government, sensing a sharp rise in tribal opposition to the Garudeshwar weir being built across the Narmada river to create a new reservoir 12 kilometres downstream of the Narmada dam, appears all set to clamp down on the protesters. As an early indication, the state administration tried to deploy state reserve police (SRP) jawans, who were brought to village Indravarna, which has become epicentre of protests against the weir. The cops had complete with tents, rifles and other equipment. Brought in contractors’ trucks, the villagers, especially women, protested, forcing the jawans to leave.
In a statement issued on the incident, the Sitten Gam Adivasi Sangathan (SGAS), representing the 70 tribal villages likely to be affected because of the tourism project being implemented next to the Narmada dam, said, “The women of Indravarna and Pipaliya villages, who worked as daily wagers under National Rural Employment Guarantee Scheme (NREGS) sites, left their work and rushed to the spot where the jawans were seeking put up a camp. But facing strong protests, the jawans failed to dislodge their luggage, and were forced to return.”
The SGAS suspects this was the “initial attempt” on the part of the establishment to cow down the protesting villagers, and more may come. “Having failed to stall the protests, the government appears to believe that it can force the vSillagers to withdraw. And for this it can use police force. If it thinks we will withdraw, it is sadly mistaken. We think that the weir is anti-constitutional. Part of the larger tourism project, it is being built without the consent of the tribals’ villages, as required by the law, Panchayats (Extension to Scheduled Areas) (PESA) Act, 1996. Several villages face submergence because of the weir, yet there was no consultation with any of them”, it said.
The statement said, “The villagers had represented against the weir during a meeting with ministers in Gandhinagar on October 15, 2013. Thereafter, they wrote to the district collector in Rajpipla and senior officials of the Sardar Sarovar Narmada Nigam Ltd, which is implementing the weir, first on December 10 and then on December 22. Yet, the government refused to reply to any of the important issues raised by the tribals. Finding the protest swelling, it appears now set to clamp down on us, even as refusing to give answer to any of the contentious issues raised by us.”
The statement reiterated its demands. It said, so far the SGAS has not received “any formal answer from the authorities” on why the weir was being built without the tribals’ consent. “There is no clarity on how much of the 1,000 acres land will remain submerged and for how long. Nor is it clear if the government will pay up as compensation for the loss of crop during submergence”, it said, adding, “There are around 16 villages which have been identified for land acquisition for tourism project. However, villages like Vasantpura, Nana Pipariya, Indravarna and Gabharna are likely to be affected by the weir, but the government has so far made no assessment of any of them.”

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