The indefinite fast continues

Activist Shashi Shekhar (Source: Water-Vagabond)
Activist Shashi Shekhar (Source: Water-Vagabond)

Noted activist Shashi Shekhar has been on an indefinite fast since December 10th, protesting the construction of embankments on the Jheem Jamura river. These rivers are a part of the Adhwara Samuh rivers in North Bihar, which originate from the foothills of Nepal. Here, about 28-30 rivers criss cross, merge and flow across the landscape for nearly 8 months in a year, and dry up during the summer.

Lakhandehi river has been shifting from its natural course towards the east for the last 10 years due to siltation. A 77 km stretch of the river's original course has no water flowing in it and farmers here face water scarcity, while the land that lies along the new path deals with incessant floods.

A simple solution asserts Shashi is to divert the river to its original course. This is possible by joining the present Lakshman Ganga stream, slightly ahead of Choti Bharsar, with the stream at Dularpur Ghat, Runnisaidpur Katra. This would ensure that water flowed in the river once again but the government is on an embankment building spree instead.

Shashi alleges that these embankments are both unnecessary and illegal and that they are only being built to profit certain companies. He is certain that it will eventually convert rich fertile farms to barren land. His 'Sangharsh Yatra' has been protesting all of this.

His demands were simple. He wanted a high level committee consisting of environmentalists, economists, locals, government and other concerned officals under the aegis of a judge from the High Court, to analyse the feasibility of embankment constructions on the river. On December 18th, 2013, Shekhar broke his fast when the district officials assured him that they would look into his demands but nothing had changed until December 28th. 

The official order to stop embankment construction on Jheem Jhamura river has still not been heeded. The construction continues unabated in Supaina at Sonbarsa block on Jheem Jamura, and Haribela under Bathnaha block. Contractors continue to illegally extract earth from government and farm land for construction purposes, due to political clout, says Shashi.

Even though this is a 'no flood zone', embankments have already been built on the Baghmati river, states Shashi. There, a single stream is transformed into 3 streams, thanks to these embankments. According to him there has been a Rs. 200 crore scam, a 'mitti' loot, where criminals intimidate farmers, and dig upto 10 feet of mud from their fertile land, without paying out the right amount of compensation.

The Sub Divisional Officer Mahender Kumar's assurance to begin restoring the Lakhandai river with immediate effect has not materialised. Work was to have begun on December 18th and be completed in 30 days. Every village through which the river flows was supposed to be desilted under the MNREGA scheme but this has not happened. Shashi's attempts to phone or speak to the officials have met a dead end.

The memorandum submitted earlier on December 10th had also demanded adequate compensation to farmers, and an investigation into the Rs. 200 crore scam and the false allegations against protestors. 

Shashi feels betrayed by this inaction but is not disheartened by the loss of his 9 days of protest. He and his team held a meeting on December 28th at Madhiya Shiv Mandir to discuss the next course of action. This meeting was closely monitored by the district authorities.

He is all set to intensify his stir through street plays and peaceful demonstrations. On December 31st, he renewed his protest on ground zero, on the river front where the embankments are still being built, through which he hopes to garner even more public support. 

If the authorities still dilly dally, he will follow in Gandhijis footsteps and begin a 'savinay avagya andolan', a non cooperation movement of passive resistance and then fall back to what he knows best - an indefinite hunger strike.