Undeterred by a police crackdown and the threat of submergence, protestors in Manibeli have refused to leave. Last year, the rising Narmada waters had come close to submerging the village. This time, Manibeli will be the first village in Maharashtra to be submerged by the monsoons now that the height of the Narmada dam has crossed 16.2 metres. However, the submergence will occur only if authorities keep the sluice gates closed.
Anticipating this, the villagers had organised themselves into suicide squads. Since May 28, the state authorities have turned Manibeli into a virtual fortress. The village has been sealed off to outsiders and at least 33 protestors have been arrested, including B D Sharma, anti-dam activist and former commissioner of scheduled castes and tribes. When the Maharashtra police moved into Manibeli, ostensibly to evict villagers and prevent them from drowning, large-scale harassment was reported.
The village sarpanch and Kesubhai, owner of the first house that will be submerged, were forcibly taken away to choose rehabilitation sites. The sarpanch is still in police custody. Criminal cases, allegedly concocted, have been lodged against the Narmada Bachao Andolan activists.
Human rights observers report hectic police efforts to evict and forcibly rehabilitate the 500 villagers. The report also points out that forcing people out at this stage is illegal as a Gujarat High Court order and the Narmada Water Disputes Tribunal Award stipulate rehabilitation be completed six months before submergence.
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