Excluding to educate? On minimum educational standards in Rajasthan’s Panchayat Elections

Basu Chandola (NLUO)

The Ordinance and its impact

An ordinance, prescribing minimum educational qualifications for contesting for different positions in the Panchayati Raj Institutions, was recently passed in the state of Rajasthan. The ordinance clearly states that to contest the Panchayat Samiti and District Council elections, one must have passed Class X. A Gaun Sarpanch must have passed class VIII generally and class V in scheduled areas.

Supporters of this ordinance argue that by having a minimum qualification, the elected members will be able to understand and implement the schemes more efficiently. Gulab Chand Katariya, Rajasthan’s Panchayati Raj Minister, in an interview with NDTV said that each panchayat gets a crore to spend every year, and the government wants those handling the money to have basic education.[i] Also, many believe that this action of the state will help improving the condition of education in Rajasthan and would help in improving the human development index of the state.

On the other hand, several judicial activists and social workers point out the impracticality of the ordinance. They argue that this ordinance would lead to exclusion of several sections of the society completely and would impact many of the contestants who will not be able to contest the elections solely because of this rule. Among the worst hit, will be women of the state as the female literacy rate in Rajasthan is 52.1%.[ii] Now, because of the new criteria, around half the women of the area are not even eligible to contest the elections. This literacy rate is not uniform throughout the state and thus, there are always possibilities that less than half the women are not eligible from a specified area. Even though there are constitutional mandates to ensure participation of women in the Panchayati Raj Institutions, the participation will now be limited to a layer comprising of the privileged class and would not be observed among the general mass. In the absence of proper representation, the condition of the women of the area will become even worse. This could also lead to an adverse impact on the government schemes and plans taken towards promoting gender equality. The same is true for participation of other minorities and weaker sections of the society in the Panchayati Raj Institutions. The ordinance is discriminatory in nature and thus is a violation of the constitutional right to equality guaranteed under Article 14.

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Prisoner of Conscience: Irom Sharmila

An analysis of Irom Sharmila’s battle against the AF(SP)A, and the use of law criminalizing attempt to commit suicide against her protest

Surbhi Sharma (NLIU, Bhopal)

Introduction

Irom Chanu Sharmila, popularly known as the ‘Iron Lady of Manipur’, began her hunger strike on 2nd November 2000 in protest of the violent atrocities committed by the Assam Rifles against Manipuri civilians. Her mention in recent news is on account of being arrested yet again on January 23rd, one day after being released.  Imphal West Superintendent of Police Jhaljit said that Sharmila was arrested under Section 309 of the Indian Penal Code, 1860 for attempt to commit suicide. “She has been arrested for the same crime but it is a different case. For the last case she was released by the court and we arrested her under a new case,” he said.[1] This drill has been going on ever since Sharmila decided to go on an indefinite fast on November 2000 demanding the repeal of Armed Forces (Special Powers) Act, 1958 (AFSPA). On 19 August 2014, another Manipur court had ordered Sharmila to be released stating that her hunger strike was a “political demand through lawful means”. However, she was similarly re-arrested three days later for allegedly attempting to commit suicide. She was acquitted and remanded to judicial custody for 15 days.

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Democracy in Niyamgiri

SHAGUN JAGGI (NLU-J)

Khambesi, the village of Dongria Kondh tribals, is not easily accessible as it isn’t connected by road or rail networks. It can be reached only by walking through nine kilometers of thick forest and thereafter crossing four streams and a river. But on thirteenth August, several government officials, social workers, research scholars, and journalists headed for Khambesi to witness the proceedings of a Gram Sabha, which was to decide whether the villagers accepted the proposed mining project. Whether the people’s religious sentiments and environmental concerns would take a back seat in favour of economic growth and development, or would such an initiative be rejected. India thus hosted its first Environment referendum.

So what is this furore all about?

In 2003 a Memorandum of Understanding (MoU) was signed between Odisha Mining Corporation (OMC) and Vedanta for mining in the tribal-dominated Niyamgiri forest areas of the state. But the Ministry of Environment and Forest (MOEF) rejected the Stage-II forest clearance for diversion of forest land to establish Lanjigarh Bauxite Mines in Kalahandi and Rayagada Districts of Orissa for mining of bauxite ore. This led OMC, to approach the Court under the Writ of Certiorari to quash the order passed by MOEF. The Supreme Court passed a landmark judgment, applying Forest Rights Act for the first time. The decision stated that it was up to local communities discretion to decide whether the project should proceed through public consultations and votes in each of the surrounding villages. Thereby a directive was issued to the Orissa Government to gauge the opinion of the villagers on the prospect of bauxite mining in their habitat. The government drew up a list of 12 villages “likely to be affected” (which drew a lot of flak from the Ministry of Tribal Affairs, since it limited the number of villagers who would have a say in the matter, when the mining would have affected them as well.)by the proposed mining. However the Niyamgiri tribals living in that area completely rejected the idea of the mining project as it defiled their religion that was embedded in the hill’s pristine ecology. While the Odisha House in New Delhi celebrated the unanimous refusal of the mining project achieved by the tiny Dongria Kondh hamlets in Niyamgiri, in London on the other hand, there were demonstrations at the shareholders assembly of Vedanta Ltd asking this company to quit the Niyamgiri Hill and the Lanjigarh alumina refinery in Odisha.

Tribal Affairs Minister, Kishore Chandra Deo remarked that ” having a MoU with Vedanta itself was wrong because it goes against the letter and spirit of both Article 244(1) and provisions of Schedule V of the Constitution,”Meanwhile, Vedanta has declared the firm was now looking beyond Niyamgiri hills to source raw material for the refinery and was hopeful of securing an alternate mine soon.

It is indeed heartening to see the local Dongria Kondh tribal community, with the backing of the Supreme Court, stand up against a corporate giant and voice their opinion regarding their religious rights over the Niyamgiri hills. The community reveres the Niyamgiri as the abode of their deity Niyam Raja. As a consequence of this overlap of a sacred place with a resource-rich area, the environment is being preserved from a systematic exploitation of its natural resources.

Niyamgiri is fortunate to have the local Gram Sabhas decide its future. However, other similar resource-rich areas have not been so fortunate, as many development projects have been instituted across the country against the wishes of the people. Under the Mahan coal block in Singrauli in Madhya Pradesh, 90 per cent of the allocated coal block is within the Mahan Forest Reserve which is also home to 600 wild animals. Additionally, for the locals, the forest is said to be the abode of the Dih Baba.Similarly, Dhari Devi in Uttarakhand and the Sethusamudram project are some more examples of instances where economic desires of a few have taken forefront overriding the environmental concerns and desires of the masses. Although in India we have multiple development projects on the anvil at any given point of time, there is a complete absence of community participation and their subsequent endorsement of these projects. The end result is that development projects are disconnected from the society and serve the purpose of a select few only. The shareholder survives and the stakeholders are often forgotten. We need to look at the real costs of development. But Economics cannot be the only lens to view development.

In many countries, non-governmental organizations and activist organisations are increasing, playing a vital role in ensuring Government accountability towards the environment. The Environment Support Centre and Conservation Voters of British Columbia in Canada is a not-for-profit society, mainly tracking the ‘environmental performances’ of their elected candidates, working on a progressive policy agenda and supporting ‘environmentally-minded’ candidates for office. This, in turn, causes political parties to accord high priority to environment conservation in their respective manifestos. India could think along the lines of adopting such a model for itself.

Backed by an active judiciary, peoples’ referendum on environmental issues can help change the woeful state of affairs of the environment in India. Assisted by NGOs and activists, the concept of environmental referendum can compel political parties to have a healthy commitment to environment and push the legislature to pass laws that reflect the views of the majority. It will also deliver direct power to the people and, therefore, bypass the otherwise long-winding deliberation process and party politics. However, the challenge would be to balance the need for progress and rational use of a concept such as ‘environmental referendum’ with larger developmental goals.It is only natural that the local community to think of its immediate surroundings and not take into account the broad regional economic development and other allied benefits such as employment and rise in per capita income.

It is ironic to see that all of this happened around the time Indian celebrated its Independence.However it with instances such as these that we realize that it has taken nearly seventy years for the Republic of India to fulfill the promises that it made at the time it gained independence, to the Adivasis. The current exercise at Niyamgiri will set an interesting precedent and be a valuable case study in understanding the balance between religious sentiments, environmental conservation and economic growth.

 

Removal of ex-CJI as the NHRC chief: Corruption and integrity of the NHRC Top Boss

Kavita Kumar (ILS, Pune)

“One of the major contributors to encouraging corruption is judiciary,” – (Justice Hegde , former Indian Supreme Court Judge)

Taking note of the above statement made by Justice Hegde ,corruption is rampant in the highest House of justice and therefore judiciary needs ‘cleansing’ for the positive growth of the nation and delivery of justice to the people of our country

In recent years, pressure to avoid corruptive practices within the judiciary, has been intensified with the introduction of the Judicial Accountability and Standards Bill 2010 which  lays down enforceable standards for judges. The Bill  requires judges to declare details of their assets and liabilities and more importantly it creates mechanisms to allow any person to complain against judges on grounds of misbehaviour or incapacity. 

In the author’s personal opinion, it may be a little early to predict the lasting impact of this Bill but the move for the same began way back in  (August 2009)  when all the hurdles related to the clearance of the Bill were looked upon in great  detail. The then( Chief Justice of India) Hon’ble Justice K.G Balakrishnan was quoted saying  “Failure to declare or declaring false details can be presumed to be a misconduct on the part of the judge and this can be a ground for removal of the judge”.( Press Trust of India  Chennai, 25th JULY 2009)

 Just 48 hours after the Supreme Court judges unanimously passed a landmark resolution to disclose their assets publicly on the official Supreme Court website, the then  Chief Justice of India K G Balakrishnan expressed his reservations on the matter, fearing that the information associated to the disclosure of assets could be misused. In consonance with what the  Ex CJI K.G Balakrishanan stated, it creates a cloud of suspicion whether it was a deliberate effort to hide personal and potentially embarrassing details in the light of recent allegations of disproportionate wealth being raised against him. On the contentious issue of whether the office of the CJI is within the purview of RTI( Right To information Act , 2005) it was a straightforward `No‘ from him as he believed that  most of the information held in the  office were confidential and  cannot be divulged to the public.

Regarding the issue of whether the appointment of  the ex CJI K.G Balakrishnan as the chief of NHRC was the best possible choice, when his tenure as the Judge of the Apex court was plagued by controversial decisions and a plethora of allegations were being raised against him is a deeply contentious issue.

The list of allegations  that have been levelled against Justice Balakrishan are  endless. It all began in December 2010 when Justice H. L. Gokhale, accused K.G Balakrishnan of misrepresenting facts to conceal the misdeeds of the sacked DMK Telecom minister A. Raja who had  attempted to influence Justice R. Reghupathy of the Madras High Court on behalf of two murder accused known to the DMK minister. Following this, a Senior Advocate  of the Supreme Court of India , Prashant Bhushan had  made a sincere request towards  Justice Balakrishnan asking him to  step down as the Chairperson of the National Human Rights Commission(NHRC) on moral grounds. On the (3rd JANUARY 2011), a  judicial probe was ordered against son-in-law of the Ex CJI,  P.V Srinijan, on the grounds of  amassing  wealth worth  crores of rupees disproportionate to his known source of income. The  State Home Secretary was instructed to start the investigation meanwhile the Advocate General of Kerala asked Justice Balakrishnan’s brother KG Bhaskaran, to resign from the post of Special Government Pleader, on the ground that the latter had undervalued properties registered in his name.

Hon’ble KG Balakrishnan, who  earlier opposed the  disclosure of the judge’s assets, also asked the Income Tax Department not to reveal his I-T returns . A Kochi-based RTI activist had filed a petition in January ( news published on 15th Feb 2011 IBNlive.com) seeking information on Justice Balakrishnan’s tax returns but according to the Ex CJI, “disclosure of  such information did not serve any public interest, and instead amounts to an invasion of privacy”. The IT Department further rejected the appeal filed in by the Ex CJI  in furtherance of which Justice Balakrishnan filed a letter dated  5th FEBRUARY ( year not mentioned) (15th FEBRUARY  2011 new published) stating that disclosure of information sought is exempt from disclosure  under certain circumstances as per mentioned in Section  8(i) of the Right To Information Act 2005 which states.

 “Information which relates to personal information, disclosure of which has no relationship to any public activity or interest or which would cause unwarranted invasion of privacy of the individual are completely exempt from disclosure unless the Central Public Information officer or state Public Information Officer of the appellate authority, as the case may be, is satisfied that the larger public interest justified the disclosure of such information,”.

Different civil society groups had made various complaints against Justice Balakrishnan to the United Nations. On (23rd MAY 2011) an enquiry was to be conducted by the UN against the corruption charges made against  the NHRC Chairman and former Chief Justice of India KG Balakrishnan. Even after the shocking revelation by a fellow judge that former Chief Justice of India KG Balakrishnan could be “approached” for fixing cases, the National Human Rights Commission (NHRC) chief refused to step down, justifying his stance of being right . Instead, Justice  Balakrishnan hit back, accusing Justice Shamshuddin of being ‘approachable’. While the Opposition demanded an investigation, the Centre continued to distance itself from the controversy. A three judge bench of the Supreme Court headed by the Chief Justice of India SH Kapadia asked the Attorney General  G.E Vahanvati  to submit a status report but nothing happened. The Central Bureau of Direct Taxes (CBDT) decided to investigate charges of financial misconduct, which if proven, would  have be sent to the President for the removal of CJI as the Chairperson of the NHRC. The CBDT investigation put a big question mark over Justice Balakrishnan continuing as NHRC chairman. In legal as well as in political circles, the view was that he should quit to at least save the credibility of an important organisation which addressed human rights issues like the NHRC .

On (5th June 2011), A Public Interest Litigation (PIL) was filed by a Delhi based Advocate Manohar Lal Sharma  against Justice  Balakrishnan seeking a judicial inquiry and his removal as the Chairman of National Human Rights Commission(NHRC) over his family’s alleged disproportionate assets and land deals. In support of his demand, Mr.Sharma also quoted former Supreme Court judge, Justice VR Krishna Iyer’s statement to the media, seeking  high level investigation into the alleged amassing of wealth by P.V.Srinijan ,  the son-in-law of KG Balakrishnan.

While old allegations still persisted, newer skeletons kept tumbling out of the closet and the problem for the NHRC Chairperson kept growing with each revelation. More reports of dubious land deals and more details of unaccounted wealth of his family members kept appearing in the press. His second son-in-law Advocate NJ Benny was in the news for the same reason. The state of Kerala ordered an investigation by the State Vigilance Department against P.V Srinijan on charges of possessing disproportionate wealth. The  direction to look into these allegations was issued to Kochi Police Commissioner by the First Class CJM A.M Basheer on a private complaint by the petitioner Francis Pardeeplal who sought an enquiry against the three family members( P.V Srinijjan , M J Benny and K.G Bhaskaran). The directive for the same came days after a vigilance court in Thrissur admitted a petition filed by an NGO seeking a probe into the charges levelled against Balakrishnan’s family members.

While allegations against Justice Balakrishnan and his kin were making news for almost a year, things only took a serious turn when Supreme Court Chief Justice S.H. Kapadia admitted the petition of Mr. Sharma as well as took cognisance of a complaint by a Delhi-based doctor and activist Mohammed Furqaan, who alleged that a corporate family dispute between two brothers which the judge ( Ex CJI)  had adjudicated was influenced by a contact in Dubai. A troubled phase for Justice Balakrishnan was approaching when the Income Tax department   in Kochi found evidence against the family members of Balakrishnan having possession of wealth above their known sources of income.

An NGO, Common Cause, sought the removal of former CJI KG Balakrishnan as the NHRC chairman for his alleged misconduct, and informed the Supreme Court that a key document of the Centre dealing with the probe into the disproportionate assets case against KG Balakrishnan and his kin had gone “missing” from the apex court files and the counsel for the same. Adv Prasant Bhushan expressed his surprise as to how a two page report on the status inquiry disappeared suddenly from the court. The needle of suspicion fell on the Ex CJI. The NGO then moved the apex court in January 2013, stating that the Centre had failed to take any decision on the complaint, despite the apex court’s order, which had on (MAY 10) last year asked the concerned authority to take a decision on the complaint.  If there was to be any truth in the allegations, then it was for the President to make a reference to the Supreme Court, on the advice of Council of Ministers, for inquiry against the former Chief Justice of India.

On 24th February 2013 the Centre turned down the NGO’s plea for a Presidential Reference for removal of National Human Rights Commission Chairperson K G Balakrishnan, over allegations of misconduct during his tenure as Chief Justice and judge of the Supreme Court. The government felt that the Presidential Reference against him cannot be recommended for his “alleged instances of misbehaviour” during his stint at the Apex court as his conduct does not appear to be relevant ground for making a Presidential Reference to the Supreme Court under  under 5(2) of the Protection of Human Rights Act 1993.

All the accusations that were being raised against the EX CJI K.G Balakrishan as the Head of the National Human Rights Commission got further strengthened with over  15 complaints in total being filed against him from across the country. There is an Honest  feeling among all concerned that the investigations should be speeded up so that the truth can be made public before forming opinions about an issue which is of paramount importance in the Legal Field . Meanwhile, everyone agrees that it will be in the national interest for Justice Balakrishnan to at least take a break from the NHRC till such time that the probe against him clears his name. A letter written by Deputy Secretary P. K. Ahuja states, “The functions of NHRC include to inquire, intervene and review the violations of human rights and to study and spread human rights literacy among various sections of society. These functions of the Commission cannot be said to be an elongation of the judicial functions which Justice  Balakrishnan discharged in the Supreme Court as Chief Justice of India. So, considering all the views and opinions of the legal luminaries like Hon’ble Justice J.S Verma , Rachinder  Sachar ,  ( former CJI Delhi Court), Senior advocate Prasanth Bhushan , former RTI activist Shailesh Gandhi and political leaders like Ravi Prasasd it would be desirable that the  Hon’ble Ex CJI K.G Balakrishnan resign on voluntary basis to maintain the sanctity of  such a high position till all the investigations are duly complied with.

While KG Balakrishnan has managed to pull along so far with allegations of corruption following his every step, all these  contentions have some veracity, owing to the number of complaints filed and evidence adduced by the competent authorities. Allowing  Justice KG Balakrishnan to continue as the Chairperson of the highest human rights commission of the country lowers the image of such an organization and that such a person was elevated to the position of the CJI makes one feel less sure of the judiciary. It is very easy to tarnish the image of the Judiciary by elevating persons with dubious integrity as a Supreme Court Judge but very difficult to restore the good image of the Judiciary that one loses in the process.

 

Meanwhile in Bastar, a Rapist is a national hero…

Source: kracktivist.wordpress.com

Source: kracktivist.wordpress.com

By: Guneet Kaur Ahuja, HNLU

Barely a fortnight has passed since the protests after the Delhi rape case have cooled down. The Verma Committee is out with its report. The trial of the Delhi rape convicts has started in a fast-track court (and in all probability the whole country is praying for death for the rapists, although most would have preferred castration but thank God that option is not there in our laws currently). The country cried for speedier justice for rape victims the whole of Dec-Jan, with the Supreme Court Chief Justice inaugurating the fast track court and saying he feels the pain of the after rape protestors. Soni Sori’s case came before the Supreme Court on January 8 in a bench that included our Hon. Chief Justice Altamas Kabir. While she was to be shifted from Raipur Jail to Jagdalpur Jail, her bail application will only be heard in March because the counsel was too busy before that. There goes our fast-track justice for rape victims. Here is a woman who has accused the police authorities of sexually torturing her but she has been forced to be under those very police authorities for almost about one and a half year now.  Noone burns candles for her. She is a tribal woman who doesn’t watch movies in a south Delhi cinema. For Delhi’s protesting middle class, Soni Sori doesn’t exist. For the Media (except for Tehlka), she doesn’t count if the middle class is not interested in her story. It took hours of refreshing the homepages of most of the media houses before I finally got an update on her case on January 8 and that too from senior social activist Himanshu Kumar’s facebook feed. For those who are hearing Soni Sori’s name for the first time can read her story here.[1] While protests were going on from a small section of civil society against the President’s medal that was awarded to the policeman SP Ankit Garg who allegedly raped her and inserted stones inside her vagina, our new president decided to award another policeman from Chhattisgarh with President’s Medal. This policeman IGP Kalluri has been implicated in the rape of Ledha Bai.[2] It seems if you are police officer from Chhattisgrah, then rape is a benchmark for meritorious service. Kalluri is also accused of fake encounters including that of Ledha Bai’s husband and the attacks on Jean Dreze and Swami Agnivesh. He created quite a stir two years back when he called international humanitarian relief organisations like ICRC and Doctors Sans Frontiers naxals in a press statement. That was quite a meritorious service to the state for which he was awarded a President’s medal this republic day. I often wonder what is it that we celebrate on 26th January? The birth of a constitution through which we promised ourselves a sovereign, socialist, secular and democratic republic? Res publica: the realisation of justice, liberty, dignity and equality to citizens. Are we ready to celebrate this Republic?

Fortunately, Justice Verma Committee for the first time has recognized sexual crimes by our armed forces and uniformed men and has asked for their trial under ordinary criminal laws. This fight for woman’s equality and freedom will be very narrow if we don’t stand up today for Soni Sori, Ledha Bai and others like her. International Law obligates states to respect, protect and guarantee human rights. India as a signatory to CEDAW, ICCPR and UDHR has failed in all these three duties when it comes to its indigenous populations. But while the state has failed them, its time we don’t fail them too. Stand Up for Soni Sori and Ledha Bai. Write a letter to the President of India to take back Ankit Garg’s and Kalluri’s medals. Spread the word. Their story deserves to be heard too.


Bride Trafficking in India: 21st Century Slavery

Aanchal Kapoor (GNLU)

Premila lived in a rural area of Bihar. Her parents lived in extreme poverty. Desperate to escape their plight she was sold to a man in Punjab. There was no marriage ceremony and her body was used and abused by her ‘husband’ and his other male relatives. She was then sold to a prostitution ring in New Delhi.[1]

Bride trafficking is a recently developed form of trafficking. In an era where women are given the right to choose a suitable groom for themselves, there are those unfortunate ones who are forced into the practice of selling into marriage against their wishes. This is also known as ‘marriage of convenience’. The traffickers in this case pretend to be marriage brokers/ intermediaries for families in distant areas. Violence is used to convince women to leave their homes. These women are from rural villages. They get lured by false promises from traffickers. The traffickers then sell the women to those who are willing to pay for brides. To keep them from escaping during the transaction to transportation and being sold, women are often drugged. It is a common scenario that one woman will be sold multiple times as a bride to different men. Their roles could vary from sexual slavery to performing hard labour all day and suffering physical and verbal abuse.

The Haryana province has a great gender difference and is hence known as the destination for bride trafficking.   It is an area where female children are considered a financial burden and cases of female infanticide and foeticide are common practices which lead the imbalance in the sex ratio. This leads to men not being able to find wives. So, the men folk are now buying, sharing and selling and re-selling wives. Women are not treated as human beings but are now a commodity. The society here believes that its cheaper to buy a bride than to raise a daughter.

The supply of this so called commodity comes from the areas of Bihar, Assam and West Bengal. According to a report, the price of the bride, if bought from the sellers, may cost between Rs. 4,000 to 30,000. The parents of the women are normally paid an average of Rs. 500 to 1,000.

Since, women are being seen as a commodity, men are looking at new ways of procuring them. The concept of bride trafficking is yet another version of domestic sex- trafficking. Women in this whole scenario are not being given their real status.

Bride trafficking can be the primary purpose of trafficking or it could be a by-product. The brides can be used for a combination of purposes. They could be enticed with false promises of a good job or an attractive lifestyle. Those who are at maximum risk are the dalits and the tribals. This is because the traffickers target the most vulnerable i.e. the poor, the marginalized and the displaced. This phenomenon is being ignored by the law agencies. Day in and day out the enforcement agencies fail to curb this crime, fail to save a girl, a daughter, a sister from being sold to people who see women not as a wife but a commodity of their satisfaction.


[1] Premila’s Story, http://www.dfn.org.uk/trafficking/bride-trafficking/premilas-story.html

Recommended: Al Jazeera’s section on 21st century slavery and video on bridal slaves

Related: Our earlier post on human trafficking across the Indo-Nepal border titled ‘Juice Bar Trafficking: Bihar’s Children sold to Kathmandu’

Jal Satyagrah in Madhya Pradesh: Big Dams versus Rural India

Radhika Agarwal (NALSAR)

It was only after 363 Bishnois lost their lives in the famous revolutionary Chipko movement that people started taking their love for the Khejri trees (regarded as Gods of the desert) seriously. Similarly, it took the Government of Madhya Pradesh 17 days to finally give in to the demands of the villagers who stood neck deep in water in the Khandwa district of the state of Madhya Pradesh. It is ironical that while it is the Government that has been entrusted with the duty of protecting the environment and ensuring the welfare of the people of the State, it is doing everything in its power to harm the environment and to deteriorate the well-being of the citizens. The Government has often placed environmental rights and human rights secondary to industrial development and economic progress. This is evident from the fact that numerous development projects for nuclear power enhancement, hydro-electric power enhancement etcetera have been undertaken by the Government.

While embarking on the ambitious Omkareshwar Dam project on River Narmada, it completely disregarded the rights of the villagers residing nearby. The villagers stood neck-deep in water for days on end, without receiving any medical aid. They refused to give up their Jal Satyagraha. It was after seeing the undeterred spirit of the Jal Satyagrahis of Khandwa, that the Chief Minister of Madhya Pradesh, Mr. Shivraj Singh Chouhan decided to reduce the height of the dam to 189 metres and to give land to the people who were displaced from the nearby villages as part of the project. The reluctance of the Government in listening to the demands of the people is thus evident. Taking inspiration from this Jal satyagraha, another Jal satyagraha has been carried out against the construction of the Indira Sagar dam in Harda District in Madhya Pradesh. Shockingly, the Government instead of providing any kind of relief to the satyagrahis cut off power supply and water supply to the villages in the district in order to “teach a lesson” to these devotees of nature. The Government had undertaken such a step in the hope that lack of basic amenities would make the people give up their Jal Satyagraha.

The Supreme Court has read right to shelter under right to life given in Article 21 of the Indian Constitution.[1] By constructing huge dams for generation of colossal units of hydroelectric power, the State is putting at stake the lives and the livelihood of millions of people who have lived in the river valleys for ages. As a result of the construction, the surrounding villages will be inundated with water! Although there are laws that provide for the rehabilitation and resettlement of people displaced as a result of such construction activities, such laws exist only on paper! Moreover, the compensation given to the displaced people is often inadequate.[2] People have no say in such matters. For them, it is a crushing reality to wake up one day and to be told that they have to vacate their homes. How then are the rights of such people protected? Isn’t this a blatant violation of the right to life?

The Madhya Pradesh Satyagraha is not the first of its kind. In the past, similar satyagrahas have been taken such as the famous Narmada Bachao Andolan. This involved a nation-wide protest including hunger strike against the construction of the Sardar Sarovar Dam on river Narmada. The Court in this case allowed the Sardar Sarovar Dam to be constructed, but subjected the construction to certain conditions, emphasizing resettlement of the people with the help of the Grievance Redressal Authorities. However, the people are still dissatisfied with the Court’s decision and continue to vehemently oppose this project. Although these protests to protect the precious elements of nature have done a lot to bring awareness about the need to protect the rights of the people, unfortunately, little has been done by the Government to actually alleviate the violation of these human rights.

The question with which I would like to conclude is: How many more Chipko movements and Jal Satyagarahas will the people have to undertake before the Government finally opens its eyes and is sensitive to the plight of the rural population of the country?!


[1] Shantistar Builders v. Narayan Khimalal Totame (1990) 1 SCC 520: AIR 1990 SC 630; Chameli Singh v. State of U.P.[(1996) 2 SCC 549 ; Ahmedabad Municipal Nagarpalika v. Nawabkhan Gulabkhan, in (1997) 11 SCC 121

[2] TheAsian Human Rights Commission (AHRC) has received a report from the Narmada Bachao Andolan (NBA) that a large group of villagers who have been evicted from their land without compensation for the construction of the Omkareshwar Dam

 available at http://www.humanrights.asia/news/urgent-appeals/AHRC-UAC-162-2012 (last visited October 7, 2012)