National Human Rights Commission,
Manav Adhikar Bhawan,
Block-C, GPO Complex,
New Delhi, Delhi 110023
24 August 2015
Subject: Request for immediate intervention in the arrests of NBA leaders, Chittaroopa Palit and Ajay Goswami
We wish to draw your attention to the urgent matter of arrests of Chittaroopa Palit and Ajay Goswami of the Narmada Bachao Andolan (NBA) by the Khargone police on 20th and 21st August 2015, respectively. Chittaroopa was arrested in a pre-planned manner while on her way to Udaypur village, a day before the Jal Satyagraha programme was to be undertaken by the adivasi villagers, protesting against raising of the height of Upper Beda Dam. Chittaroopa was charged on the complaint of the NVDA (Narmada Valley Development Authority) under sections 353 (assault or criminal force to deter public servant from discharge of his duty), 188 (disobedience to order duly promulgated by public servant.) and 151 (knowingly joining or continuing in assembly of five or more persons after it has been commanded to disperse), IPC. On 21st August, 2015 when the villagers commenced their Jal Satyagraha, Ajay Goswami, was arrested.
Since 5th August 2015, the NVDA had closed the dam gates and had begun demolishing houses which came in the way. Since over 200 such houses stood threatened, Chittaroopa and several women activists protested the NVDA’s actions. Subsequently, she filed a petition which was heard on 14th August when an interim order was passed restraining the NVDA from raising the height. However, on 18th August, the NVDA was able to impress upon the Jabalpur High Court that only 4 families resided in the submergence area and the Court vacated the stay. The NVDA did not wish to waste any time and within two days picked her up on charges of disrupting official servants from discharging their duties. By arresting her on trumped up charges, the NVDA prevented her from appealing against the Court’s decision. Significantly, her bail application has been rejected and the next hearing is slated for 30th August 2015. Obviously, the administration wishes is to silence the people’s protest by arresting prominent activists and leaders of the movement in a pre-planned and calculated manner.
Over the years, activists like Chittaroopa Palit and Ajay Goswami, who have tirelessly worked for the rehabilitation of the oustees of Upper Beda Dam project, have become well-respected leaders of the region. Instead of addressing the rehabilitation issue raised by affected people, the decision of the government to arrest Chittaroopa and Ajay is not only condemnable but deeply worrying. It is worrying because the arrests and denial of bail are targeted actions against individual activists and leaders with the hope that it will intimidate them. By charging them in trumped up cases, the government hopes that these activists will spend considerable time and money in litigation. The cynical distrust that the government shows in peoples’ protest is amply borne out by the fact that the administration has been given a free run to threaten and arrest inconvenient individuals.
We urge you to immediately intervene in the matter as it is clear that the local administration is biased against both Chittaroopa Palit and Ajay Goswami for their leadership and involvement in the anti-dam protests. We not only demand their immediate release but also await directions by your Commission in the issue of harassment of these activists and others by the NVDA and local police.
Megha Bahl, Sharmila Purkayastha