Once the festival of revelry, frolicking and occasionally even free love, the Holi now causes tension in many parts of the civil society because of the changed attitude and growing intolerance among the people. But in the tribal society of Jhabua in Madhya Pradesh, this is still the festival of merry-making which the people, particularly the youth of both sexes, enjoy with abandon for a whole week.
Love and romance play an important role in the lives of the tribals – not only in Jhabua. For them the most heinous crime is cheating. There was once a case in the Bastar region where a tribal had in the middle of the night went to the hut of a fellow tribal and hacked his head with an axe for cheating the former to the tune of two rupees and fifty paise. The next morning the killer had carried the severed head to the Dantewada police station and innocently told the police that the other fellow had cheated him and so he hacked his head.
When it comes to love and romance, the tribals are quite considerate. There was a case at Dhankaar village in Harda district. The 17-year-old daughter of Nandram Korbu had eloped with Kailash Mali, about 28, of the same village. They returned to the village a few days later.
This infuriated the elders of the village. A meeting of the panchayat was convened. The panchayat, as per the local tribal tradition, made the boy sit on a charpoy (bed made with cords of twisted grass) while the girl sat under it. The water poured on the head of the boy filtered through the twisted cords and the girl bathed with it. Later the boy, his face blackened, was garlanded with a string of shoes and taken round the village. Their punishment over, the two were readmitted to the community.
Mention a ban on sand mining in Madhya Pradesh and Chief Minister Shivraj Singh Chouhan gets into panic. When Union Minister of Water Resources Uma Bharti expressed her hope that Chouhan would put a ban on sand mining in the Narmada river in the course of his Narmada Yatra as it has been destroying the river, Chouhan promptly retorted that no effort would be spared to stop ‘unauthorised’ sand mining on the banks of the Narmada river but the ‘legal mining will continue’. It is in the garb of legal mining that illegal mining is flourishing in the State.
After Chouhan had launched Narmada Seva Yatra at Amarkantak, the source of the river in southern part of the State, on December 11, Uma Bharti had congratulated him and expressed the hope that he would put a ban on sand mining in the Narmada and then only the conservation of the river would be complete. Chouhan has named this campaign ‘Namaami Devi Narmade’. It was launched after performing Pooja (worship) of Narmada River. Those present included Acharyas, Mahamandaleshwars, Sadhu-Mahatmas, and members of his cabinet.
Described by Chouhan’s Public Relations Department as the world’s biggest public campaign to conserve the river and environment, the Yatra will cover 3334 kilometres on both sides of the river in 144 days. Hundred-odd persons, mostly the ruling party activists, and a sprinkling of saffron clad sadhus are marching along the river. Chouhan joins them at fixed points every few days for a while to deliver his speech on the importance of Narmada for the development of the State. His speeches mostly focus on the spiritual connection of Narmada with the people of the State and the necessity of rejuvenation and conservation of the river. The Yatra will culminate at Amarkantak itself on May 11, 2017.
In one of his speeches he said: Maa Narmada is in difficulty today. The flow of the river has reduced because of deforestation. Maa Narmada has given us water, electricity, crops, fruits and vegetables, etc, but we have polluted it and have given invitation to various diseases putting the life (of people) to danger. There is need to restrain ourselves and repent for our sins. Our sins can now be washed away by plantation, bio-farming, sanitation and environment conservation. The plan envisages plantation of fruit bearing trees on the banks of the river.
More than 200 sewerage drains flow into the river at various plants. Chouhan promised to stop that source of pollution of the river. His government has not, however, spelled out a concrete plan for that. Enough to say that all those present at the launch of the Yatra were either politicians or eminent godmen. No environmental experts were invited barring one – Ramon Magsaysay Award winner Rajendra Singh who is occasionally invited to the State to deliver a speech and his role ends there as far as the State is concerned.
Conservation of Narmada River was first conceived by Babulal Gaur. As Chief Minister in 2004-5, Gaur had toured the entire Narmada area. Later in 2009 as Minister of Urban Development in the Chouhan government, he had prepared a report on ‘Narmada Sanrakshan Karya Yojana’ (Narmada conservation project). It aimed at covering all villages, Nagar Panchayats, Municipalities and Municipal Corporations situated on the banks of the river and also containing effluents flowing into the river.
The project envisaged setting up a conservation room in every municipal council to monitor and control pollution. It was decided to shift all crematoria to at least one km away from the river bank, check immersion of human and animal corpses, and build treatment plants at liquor factories situated on the bank. Besides, it was planned to make plantations on large scale on the river banks and construct lodging boarding places for the pilgrims.
However, the project report was shelved as Gaur’s portfolio was changed. It is not clear why Chouhan developed sudden love for Narmada River at this stage. Two developments could have contributed to his decision. One is the repeated allegations made inside the Assembly and outside about the involvement of his close relations in the illegal sand mining which is destroying the Narmada River. Former Leader of Opposition Ajay Singh, for instance, said that the sand mafia was fearless as Chief Minister Chouhan was himself involved with the Sangh leaders keeping mum. He alleged that the illegal sand mining was going openly in Hoshangabad, Budhni (Chouhan’s Assembly constituency) and the entire Narmada River ‘under the Government patronage’. Relatives of Chouhan were openly doing illegal mining, making the Narmada River hollow, he added. Police/mining officers trying to check illegal mining had been thrashed and even killed.
Another allegation is that Chouhan has quietly surrendered the State’s rights over Narmada water to Gujarat. The 1979 Narmada Water Dispute Tribunal Award had estimated 28 million acre foot (maf) water in the river. Out of that, Madhya Pradesh was allotted 18.25 maf, Gujarat 9 maf, Rajasthan 0.5 maf and Maharashtra 0.25 maf. Not satisfied with the water allotted to it, Gujarat had been eyeing a larger share and making preparations in haste while Madhya Pradesh lags much behind and is not in a position to make full use of the water allotted to it by 2024. Soon after becoming Prime Minister, Narendra Modi gave clearance for raising the height of Sardar Sarovar Dam and then Gujarat Chief Minister Anandiben Patel even performed the ‘bhoomi-poojan’ for raising the height of the Dam – so quietly and quickly that Madhya Pradesh was left with no time even to lodge its protest.
According to Congress leader and former minister Raja Pateria, the Chouhan government had recently made a drastic change in the Narmada project without taking the people’s representatives and the people into confidence. The original project on Narmada River had envisaged construction of several dams including Raghavpur, Basania, Rosra, Sitareva, Upper Budner, Ataria, Sher Shakkar, Machhareva, Doodhi, Morand and Ganjal but the State government has now decided not to go ahead with their construction. According to Pateria, the Government’s quietly taken decision will mean that some 6.5 lakh acres of agricultural land will be deprived of irrigation water.
Announcement of demonetisation of Rs 1000 and Rs 500 currency notes by Prime Minister Narendra Modi in the night of November 8 came as a big relief to Madhya Pradesh Chief Minister Shivraj Singh Chouhan who had been literally embroiled in the suspected SIMI terrorists’ ‘escape’ from Bhopal Central Jail and ‘encounter’ a couple of hours later in the morning of October 31. With media breathing down his neck, Chouhan was literally at his wits’ end while reacting to the escape-cum-encounter incident, talking incoherently and incessantly changing his stand. The demonetisation announcement took the media attention away and he received the breather to plan out the strategy to bury the escape-cum-encounter scandal as he had earlier done many other scandals – such as Vyapam scam, Shehla Masood murder case, Petlawad illegal explosives blast which had killed nearly 100 persons, and the two Ratangarh temple stampede incidents which had also killed over 100 persons.
The Bhopal Central Jail is designed with high security features and those accused of terrorism or other brutal crimes are shifted here from other jails in the State. The jail had around 30 SIMI activists – some convicted and some under trial. Eight of them ‘escaped’ from the jail in the early hours of October 31 and were gunned down in what the police claims an encounter some ten kilometres away from the jail a few hours later. Seven of them were under-trials and one was a convict. Bhopal Zone IG police Yogesh Chaudhary announced: ‘when we located them, they fired on us and all eight of them were killed in the encounter’. Anti-Terrorist Squad (ATS) chief Sanjeev Shami, however, claimed that all eight SIMI suspects were unarmed. Sanjeev Shami had led the firing squad in the ‘encounter’. The activists were identified as Amzad, Zakir Hussain Sadiq, Mohammad Salik, Mujeeb Shaikh, Mehboob Guddu, Mohammad Khalid Ahmed, Aqeel and Majid. They were said to have killed jail warder Ramashankar Yadav before escaping.
It appears that some ‘agency’ in the State planned the escape-cum-encounter incident and the Chief Minister was faced with a fait accompli. In any case, the whole operation was clumsily planned and the Chief Minister, the State’s Home Minister and various police officers were hard put to explain the operation. First, it was claimed that the eight SIMI activists had made a rope of bed sheets to climb the wall of the jail and climb down on the other side. This theory did not last long. It is a nearly 35-ft high steep wall without any nails to hook the rope or bedsheet. For a similar reason, the other theory also fell flat that they rode each other’s shoulder pyramid-wise to climb up and climb down the wall. Besides, there are watch towers atop jail roof and the entire jail campus is covered by several layers of security. All the eight escapees were wearing new clothes and new shoes as later was visible in the pictures and videos of the scene of ‘encounter’.
While ATS chief Sanjeev Shami was telling media persons that the escapees were unarmed, State’s Home Minister Bhupendra Singh was claiming that firearms were recovered from the bodies of the eight ‘terrorists’. Chief Minister Chouhan announced a reward of Rs 5 lakh for information about each of the eight escapees. He said he had talked to Union Home Minister Rajnath Singh and the whole incident would be investigated by National Investigation Agency (NIA). After the news of ‘encounter’ became viral, he congratulated the police for prompt action and announced cash awards for the police personnel who had participated in the ‘encounter’ and the award of Rs 40 lakh to the villagers who had ‘informed’ the police about their whereabouts.
There was a demand by opposition leaders for a judicial inquiry into the whole operation. Asked repeatedly by media persons, the Chief Minister stoutly denied that there was any need for a judicial inquiry. Even an investigation by NIA was no more required; only a CID inquiry would be held. Meanwhile, a petition was moved before the MP High Court raising questions on the police claim of an encounter with SIMI activists. As the High Court bench was about to issue notices to the State and others, Chouhan hurriedly announced a judicial inquiry into the whole gamut of escape and encounter by a retired High Court judge. The State counsel in Jabalpur informed the bench promptly. Accordingly, the division bench comprising Acting Chief Justice Rajendra Menon and Justice Subhash Kakade said: ‘Finally, keeping in view various aspects of the matter, a commission of inquiry under the Commission of Inquiries Act, 1952 has been constituted with a retired Judge of this court, Justice S K Pande, as the officer to conduct the inquiry vide notification dated November 7, 2016’.