International Rivers strongly condemns the arrest of the celebrated Indian activist Medha Patkar and calls for her immediate release, as well as the release of five other hunger strikers arrested.
Patkar has been on an indefinite hunger strike since July 27. She is part of a group participating in a peaceful fast to protest the displacement of tens of thousands of families from their homes and farms in India’s Narmada Valley. The families are threatened by the waters rising behind the Sardar Sarovar Dam.
On the evening of August 7, police entered Chikalda village in Madhya Pradesh and used force to take Patkar and five other activists into custody. The Narmada Bachao Andolan, Patkar’s organization, says that at least 12 people were harmed in the police action.
At least 40,000 families in the Narmada Valley face displacement without compensation or resettlement because of the most recent height increase at the Sardar Sarovar Dam.
“The government should immediately stop filling the dam and open a dialogue with the protesters and the affected people,” said Kate Horner, Executive Director of International Rivers. “With no adequate resettlement in place, these people have nowhere to go. The government should not close the dam gates until they’ve given all these people fair compensation and resettlement.”
What You Can Do
Send a message to the Chief Minister of Madhya Pradesh asking them to open a dialogue with Medha Patkar and the others on fast and hear their demands for complete and just rehabilitation. Also ask the Chief Minister to see that Medha Patkar and the others are released immediately. He should initiate action against the police officers who ordered this.
For latest updates from the ground, visit Narmada Bachao Andolan’s Facebook page.
Construction on the Sardar Sarovar Dam started in the mid-1980s. The World Bank, which originally funded the project, was forced to pull out under public pressure in 1994. Since then, India’s Supreme Court ruled on several occasions that dam construction could only continue after all affected people have been properly compensated and rehabilitated.
The height of the Sardar Sarovar Dam has been raised in several stages, increasing the backwater spread of the reservoir and flooding homes in far-off villages during the monsoon season. The Narmada Bachao Andolan has documented at least 45,000 dam-affected families – approximately 225,000 people – who have yet to be rehabilitated. Many people have been displaced to resettlement sites but have not received new land, water or other entitlements. Others have not even been recognized as being affected because their land rights were never formalized.
On June 17, the Narmada Control Authority announced it would raise the level of water in the dam again and ordered the closure of 30 gates, increasing the amount of land submerged and displacing all families in the flood. The Indian Supreme Court ordered 40,000 families living in the flood zone behind the dam to leave their homes and lands by July 31 – or they would send security forces in to forcibly remove them. This seems to be a contradiction of earlier rulings that dam construction can only proceed after all affected people have been rehabilitated. The government has offered these families no resettlement plan, and no rehabilitation.