Over 1,400 Activists, Advocates Across 23 States Demand Withdrawal of FIR Against Patkar
Bhopal: The lodging of an FIR against Narmada Bachao Andolan leader Medha Patkar in Madhya Pradesh’s Barwani district, alleging ‘misuse of funds’ for ‘anti-national’ activities, has triggered outrage across civil society.
Demanding immediate withdrawal of the FIR lodged against Patkar, and 11 other NNNA trustees, over 1,400 activists, academics, and advocates across 23 states signed up for an online petition filed by the National Alliance of People’s Movements (NAPM). In addition, in Barwani, locals carried out a rally on July 14 opposing the action and handed over a memorandum to Barwani police with a warning to withdraw the FIR in the next two days or face stiff penalties opposition.
On the complaint of Pritamraj Badole, an alleged member of the RSS’s student wing - Akhil Bharatiya Vidyarthi Parishad (ABVP), Barwani police on June 9, 2022, lodged an FIR under section 420 of the Indian Penal Code against Patkar and 11 trustees of Narmada Nav Nirman Abhiyan (NNNA) on allegation of misusing funds collected for managing educational facilities for tribal students and diverting CRS funds to provide food to the needy during COVID-19 lockdown. The complainant has alleged that Patkar and others diverted funds for their “political and anti-national agenda”.
Badole, as per his public profile on Koo social media, is an activist of the Akhil Bharatiya Vidyarthi Parishad (ABVP), the student wing of the ruling BJP in Khargone, MP. In the FIR, Badole has alleged that Narmada Navnirman Abhiyan (NNNA), a trust registered in Mumbai, received Rs 13.52 crore from various sources in the past 14 years for running residential, and educational facilities for tribal students of the Narmada Valley in Madhya Pradesh and Maharashtra. He claims these were misused, and there are only shanties in the name of Narmada Jeevanshala.
According to NNNA officials, as many as seven Narmada Jeevanshalas are functional -- six in Maharashtra’s Nandurbar and one in Madhya Pradesh - and over 900 kids live there.
Tribal and dalits outfits like Jagrit Adivasi Dalit Sanghatan, as well as former chief minister of Madhya Pradesh Digvijay Singh, also condemned the FIR lodged against Patkar.
Hours after the news of the FIR flashed by the media, Digvijay Singh tweeted, “I condemn the lodging of fake FIR against the social activist Medha Patkar. The selfless work of Medha among the tribals and locals of Narmada Valley is exemplary.”
In the past four days, expressing outrage over the FIR, solidarity has been pouring in from many people’s movements, farmers’ and workers’ organisations, trade unions, national networks, campaigns and alliances across the country. Protests are also being held in different states.
The signatories to the petition include activists, academics, lawyers, retired officials, independent media persons, filmmakers, trade unions, and political leaders. They acknowledged the work of NNNA as a welfare Trust that has only strived to support the educational, health and related activities in the dam-affected rural and Adivasi regions of the Narmada valley in Madhya Pradesh and Maharashtra. All trustees are public-spirited persons, and many are oustees themselves.
In the online petition, the dignitaries said that Narmada Bachao Andolan had organised displacement-affected communities in the past 37 years, struggling to assert people’s constitutional rights, despite a history of state repression and vilification.
“It is no surprise that the so-called ‘complainant’ is affiliated to the ABVP, the student wing of the RSS,” reads the official communique released by NAPM on July 14.
Making sharp allegations on the ruling party, they alleged that the current BJP government in centre and state are again raking up false allegations to persecute the people’s movement and activists. The signatories felt that the FIR against Medha Patkar and NNNA trustees is part of a continuing spree of persecution against rights defenders, civil liberties activists, fact-checkers, students etc. who have been speaking truth to power, exposing the anti-people nature of this Government and questioning the injustice being meted out to marginalised sections of our society.
In the online petition, they demanded immediate withdrawal of FIR against Medha Patkar and all trustees of NNNA, no coercive action be undertaken by investigative and law enforcement agencies and upholding of the constitutional rights to organise and right to liberty of all activists who are facing state repression for their public-spirited work.
The online petition reads, “It is indeed atrocious that a public-spirited Trust like NNNA (regd. in Mumbai) which has been working for over two decades in the interest of the displacement-affected adivasi and rural communities in the Narmada valley in Maharashtra and Madhya Pradesh, especially children, is having to face such bizarre allegations from vested interests.”
It continued, “Medha Patkar has always supported and strengthened people’s struggles across the country, over three decades. It is a matter of utter shame that the Government chooses to criminalise well-meaning people working for the oppressed sections instead of enabling their efforts. There is no doubt that these false cases, allegations and media trials are part of a continuing spree of persecution against rights defenders, civil liberties activists, fact-checkers, students etc. who have been speaking truth to power, exposing the anti-people nature of this Government and questioning the injustice being meted out to marginalised sections of our society.”
It may be noted that a few months back, a similar false allegation was levelled against Medha Patkar and NNNA by one Sanjeev Jha, a resident of Ghaziabad. Although sections of the media reported that an FIR was filed by the Enforcement Directorate (ED), no notice has been issued so far. Nonetheless, NNNA, through a clarification dated April 6, 2022, already countered those allegations pertaining to 17-year-old financial transactions.
Similarly, in 2007, the Supreme Court dismissed a petition filed by one VK Saxena, sitting LG of Delhi, calling it a ‘private interest litigation’, imposing costs on him for the same and stating that the work of Medha Patkar was in the interest of rehabilitation of the dam oustees.
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