April 6, 2006

India activist stable after hunger strike arrest

NEW DELHI (Reuters) - India's best known environmentalist
was in stable condition on Thursday after police arrested her
eight days into her hunger strike to demand rehabilitation of
thousands of villagers displaced by a dam.

Medha Patkar, 52, who has drawn national concern by keeping
up her protest despite failing health, was arrested around
midnight on Wednesday near parliament and taken to a hospital
amid scuffles between police and anti-dam protesters.

"Her vital signs like her pulse and BP (blood pressure) are
fine and she is conscious. Her condition is stable," said a
spokesman for the All India Institute of Medical Sciences where
Patkar is being kept in intensive care under police guard.

She has been put on a saline drip, anti-dam activists said.

Authorities started work last month to raise the height of
the Sardar Sarovar, the biggest dam in the multi-billion dollar
Narmada Valley development project in western India.

But this sparked a hunger strike last week by Patkar, who
has led a two-decades-old campaign to protect thousands of
villagers whose homes and fields have been submerged or will be
threatened by rising waters.

Her protest has gathered support from writers, former prime
ministers, other environmental groups and student activists who
have flocked to the heart of New Delhi where Narmada activists
are protesting in front of scores of TV news crews.

Worried by the rising support and Patkar's health, Prime
Minister Manmohan Singh's government asked her to give up her
fast and vowed proper rehabilitation of villagers displaced by
the mega dam project.

To calm tempers, three federal ministers would reach Madhya
Pradesh state later on Thursday and visit a dam site to
supervise rehabilitation efforts.

But anger among activists is rising after police forcibly
took Patkar to hospital and detained some activists.

"The police dragged us away like dogs, like we were
terrorists. They hit us and abused us," a visibly-upset woman
activist, who did not give her name, told reporters.