Stop promoting illegal land grab
Say no to State violence against democratic protests
Release protesters and activists in Sonbhadra, Uttar Pradesh
A joint statement by Forest and Adivasi Movements of India
July 16, 2022
Today, Indian state is behaving like an autocratic tyrant that will allow no room for democratic dissent. Any attempt at raising objections and questions about what government calls development and growth is met with unprecedented aggression on the part of state: those who object or do not fall in line are being branded as anti-nationals, foreign agents, anti-development and so on.
A situation of all-pervading state terror is being unleashed so that people become afraid of expressing any kind of dissent. Emanating from the highly centralized, anti-democratic as well as coercive government at the centre, this mantra of unbridled and thoughtless corporate land grab in the name of economic growth is being picked up by the states, even those which claim to oppose the centre’s land acquisition policy and other pro-reform measures. State violence has become the order of the day: peaceful democratic protests have to face consistent police persecution, security personnel are killing innocent forest dwellers, adivasis and workers with impunity, activists are being randomly picked up from their offices and homes and thrown into jail, apparently for no reason.
The latest instance of state violence against activists and democratic people’s protests comes from Uttar Pradesh, where the Samajvadi Party government currently in power continue flexing its muscles to repress a democratic and non-violent movement by oustees of the Kanhar Dam project in the Sonbhadra district of Uttar Pradesh, against illegal land acquisition and forest clearance. Police fired on peaceful adivasi and dalit protestors, which included large numbers of women and children, on the morning of Ambedkar Jayanti (14 April). Many women were injured. Four days later, on 18 April, there was a second instance of police firing in which once again several people were seriously injured and some of the key activists of the movement arrested. These activists are still languishing in Sonbhadra jail since April 14, 2015.
The National Green Tribunal judgment of 7 May 2022 clearly indicates that the construction of the Kanhar dam is illegal and has in effect proved that the demands of the dalit adivasi people protesting from 23 December 2021 were correct. That the project has no appropriate Forest clearance and that the claims of the Uttar Pradesh government are incorrect has also been accepted by the court. The court has also accepted that the project cannot continue without obtaining these Clearances. Sonbhadra district administration’s submission that an insignificant percentage of adivasi population would be affected by this dam has also been proven to be wrong by the court which has categorically said that the project will cause displacement to a large population, the majority of whom are tribal and is likely to evict nearly 7,500 families from 25 villages and that it would be necessary to arrange for their rehabilitation. The NGT has in this judgment expressed serious concern on environmental issues and has pointed out that Kanhar river is a major tributary of Son river which is a major tributary of Ganga and due to construction of several dams and water diversion structures on Son including Rihand Dam and Bansagar dam, the river Son is facing great threats in terms of its riverine characteristics - loss of fish species and invasion of exotic fishes in the river, with adverse affects on the river flow, velocity, depth, substratum, pools, ecology and fish habitats of the area.
No consent of the Gram Sabhas of the affected villages have been taken under the Forest Righst Act, 2006.
In a bid to terrorize the activists further and continuing with its repressive tactics, Uttar Pradesh police raided the office of All India Union of Forest Working People (AIUPFW) in Robertsganj, Sonbhadra, on 30 June morning, and after grossly abusing and insulting the activists present in the office, arrested Roma and Sokalo, the two prominent women leaders of the anti Kanhar Dam Movement. Since then, they have been produced in the local Court, where they have been denied bail.
On behalf of various social movement groups, civil society activists and citizens in India and also elsewhere in the world, we demand:
- Immediate halt to the harassment of activists and local people: we demand an immediate and independent enquiry into the massive irregularities in Kanhar dam project as well as incidents of police excesses and stop the illegal land acquisition process. The enquiry should specifically cover the wrongful arrests, false and fabricated cases slapped against the activists, and police brutality. The right to peaceful protest is part of the fundamental right guaranteed by the Constitution of India and no government can take away or infringe upon this sacred right.
- Unconditional and immediate release of all villagers and activists, including Roma and Sukolo, arrested in connection with the agitation against Kanhar Dam
- Immediate punitive action against the police personnel involved in the firing incidents and the 30 June raid on AIUFWP office at Robertsganj.
The Uttar Pradesh government and its district administration at Sonbhadra, instead of initiating dialogue with the affected people, have taken recourse to violently suppressing peoples’ voice. Constitutional and democratic rights which are the core of our political and social fabric have been wantonly violated at the behest of local land mafia who are eyeing a loot of hundreds of crores of project money, and supporting the administration in going ahead with the illegal construction of the dam.
We hold the Samajvadi Party Government of UP politically and administratively responsible for whatever atrocities have taken place in Sonbhadra. We express our solidarity to the people of Kanhar who are facing the brunt of state aggression for standing up for people’s rights, and against wrongful procedures and illegalities in the name of development.
All India Forum of Forest Movements(AIFFM)
Campaign for Survival and Dignity(CSD)
All India Front of Forest-Rights Struggles(AIFFRS)
Praveen Mote & Devjit Nandi
for AIFFM Secretariat