Medha Patkar and 21 activists were arrested yesterday night by police in Chinaware in Madhya Pradesh as part of a police clampdown on protests against the water diversion project of Pench Power Plant in the district. Her arrest follows the arrest of all other activists of the Kisan Sangharsh Samiti (KSS), which was leading the movement against the project in the last two days.
She was staying at the house of activist advocate Aaradhana Bhargava who was earlier leading the KSS when she was picked up forcibly at 10.30 pm yesterday, according to her associate Madhuresh Kumar.
She had arrived there yesterday morning to lead the protests by KSS against evictions required for two power plants coming up there. Patkar's arrest follows the arrest of bhargava on November 3 and two other KSS activists Rajkumari Sanodia and Braj Kishore Chaurasia.
Situation in the area has been tense with heavy police deployment the whole days farmers, labourers and adivasis there have been protesting what they called was illegal commencement of work on the Pench water diversion project.
Patkar who heads an alliance of mass based organisations called National Alliance for People's Movements had travelled from Indore to Chindwara to take over command of the protests as those leading it have been arrested. Bhargava was leading the Samiti's protests along with Dr Sunilam.
Dr Sunilam has been sentenced to life imprisonment recently in a case of farmers clash and police firing where 24 farmers were killed.
Patkar was stopped and checked at virtually every station by the police and also surrounded by 50 policemen at the Chindwada station, where the Tehsildar and other officials tried to restrain her from proceeding further, insisting that she must go to the Circuit House. She was told that Section 144 was imposed in Chindwara and the entry of people in three tehsils of Chindwara, Amar Wads and Chourai has been prohibited from October 30.
Activists say she was denied a copy of the order. It was pointed out that Forest Minister Sartaj Singh had held a public programme on November 3 where he distributed tendu leave bonus to gatherers and on the same day BJP Kisan Morcha also held a convention in chourai. police had gheraoed the house of Aaradhana Bhargava during the day.
Earlier in the day Patkar and other activists representing project affected families of the Pench Project and Adani Power Project had sat in a satyagraha protesting against police preventing people from meeting them.
NAPM said villagers have been protesting at Vamanwada, 3 kms away from Machagora and have been on a peaceful sit in. More than a thousand policemen are surrounding the dharna site. They said the agitation will continue till forceful and illegal eviction and acquisition of land is stopped.
Agitations against these two project Pench Water Diversion Project (PWDP) and Adani Pench Power Project (APPP), Chindwara has been ongoing in a peaceful manner since 2004. PWDP involves construction of a 51 meter dam on Pench river, submerging 5,600 hectares of land of 31 villages. The project planned in 80s got a one-page clearance from Department of Environment in 1984 (MoEF was not there then) for irrigation purposes. The clearance is no longer valid and requires a fresh clearance under Environment Protection Act 1986 and also under EIA notifications, NAPM said.
Acquisition process was started back then, some farmers were given throw away compensation but acquisition process was never completed since the work didn't start. Till today farmers continue to cultivate and grow 2-3 crops in a year from the fertile land, NAPM said.
After the agitation, the compensation was increased to nearly a lakh rupee an acre but 90 percent of the farmers have refused to accept it and are not willing to part their land. In 2011, May Dr Sunilam and Aradhana Bhargava were attacked by assailants which they survived.
PWDP today is to be constructed for supplying water to the APPP, diverting water meant for the farmers. Last year KSS along with NAPM met Environment Minister, Jayanti Natarajan , who informed the delegation that no clearance has been granted to the PWDP and under the law they are supposed to have prior Environment Clearance. The PWDP is going to threaten the forests of Pench National Park and Tiger Project too. So, in all senses it makes no sense to be constructing this but even then MoEF has not taken any action, NAPM said.
Kamal Nath, MP and Union Minister from Chindwara has been personally involved in ensuring that the project goes on and been supporting the APPP as well, napm alleged.
They pointed out that while Dr Sunilam was arrested and given a life sentence in a case of police firing where farmers were killed in January 1998 no police officer was punished.
Not a single FIR has been filed in the case. It is a clear case of conspiracy and collusion between bjp and congress in the interest of Adani, NAPM said today.