Electricty board declares NBA commercial establishment, slaps Rs.15000 fine

Support poured in from across the nation demanding the release of the arrested Narmada Bachao Andolan (NBA) activists in Khandwa. A fact-finding team of civil society groups and journalists visited the tribal district but could not meet the arrested activists as the district administration refused to cooperate.

Khandwa collector S. B. Singh refused to meet journalists after repeated attempts. Further, when journalists tried to meet the arrested activists, the Khandwa prison authorities kept delaying the process, ultimately not allowing the meeting.

Thousands of tribals, led NBA leader Medha Patkar, gathered in Khandwa from all parts of the State to continue their dharna protesting against the arrests. They also demanded compensation under the relief and rehabilitation package of the Indira Sagar dam project.

“The compensation is the right of people and has been upheld by the High Court as well,” said Ms. Patkar. “The State Government is not only in contempt of the HC orders but has also initiated a cycle of suppression unnecessarily harassing people,” she said.

Interestingly, in a “counter-petition” served by the administration to Ms. Patkar as a reply to the NBA petition, the administration has accepted that the demonstrators caused no damage to public property and neither did they managed to enter the premises.

Another alleged blatant attempt by the administration to harass the NBA activists came across when the state electricity department suddenly raided the NBA office premises, declared it a commercial establishment and slapped a fine of Rs.15000.

“It is plain harassment and the demonstrators have been booked under false charges by exaggerating and misrepresenting facts,” said NBA counsel Vikas Jain.

In an interesting revelation made by one of the activists at the NBA, the arrests could be politically motivated. In one of her speeches before her arrest, senior activist Chittaroopa Palit, had reportedly pointed out fingers at Manjeet Bhatia alias Rinku, who leads the illegal fishing mafia in the region. Palit had also alleged that Manjeet is operating in tacit partnership with Sadhna Singh, wife of chief minister Shivraj Singh Chauhan.

“Chittaroopa and the others seem to have been targeted and are being harassed by the administration due to these allegations,” said an activist on the condition of anonymity.