April 7, 2013,
Note received from Sudha Bharadwaj
In the past year there had been several agitations by farmers of various villages in the Nandini-Ahiwara area of district Durg, affected by the under-construction JK Laxmi Cement Plant, against serious illegalities committed by the company including the fact that an irrigation canal and traditional easements had been obstructed, that farmers had been defrauded of their lands and were paid paltry compensation, and that the public hearing for environmental clearance had been held quietly in an obscure tehsil head quarters unknown to the affected villagers. Most of these movements petered out due to the adamant attitude of the administration and the company.
However the farmers of Malpuri village had, since 14th February 2013, been picketing lakhs worth of heavy machinery and materials stocked by the company in the open next to the company compound. Hundreds of villagers – women and men – had been taking turns day and night and were eating and sleeping on the site of the agitation. Their demand was of permanent jobs to the villagers and those whose lands had been lost to the plant. Only recently, on 25th March 2013, on an invitation of these villagers, some of the workers and peasants associated with Chhattisgarh Mukti Morcha (Mazdoor Karyakarta Committee) had travelled 35 km to participate in their observation of Shaheed Bhagat Singh’s martyrdom day. At that time we were surprised to note that no attention whatsoever was being given to this more than a month-long and obviously determined agitation and no efforts had been made either by the administration or the company to resolve the issues.
On 1st April 2013 a serious accident transpired in the JK Laxmi Cement Plant. Three newly employed and inexperienced contractual employees were made to work in a deep pit in which they slipped and two were seriously injured. The contractors and management’s people in a state of panic simply got the pit filled in, burying the third dead worker – a dalit youth Tarun Banjare, and absconded. It was only when the picketing villagers came to the spot and raised a hue and cry that the local administration dug out the body of the dead worker.
The company and police claim that, two days later, on 4th April 2013 the agitating villagers entered the factory premises in hundreds and set fire to vehicles and materials. Crores of losses have been claimed. However, what exactly transpired requires to be properly and independently investigated. Immediately following the incident of arson, the entire area was cordoned off by heavy deployment of police and a large number of fire brigades from the Bhilai Steel Plant were immediately pressed into service to control the fire.
After the incident, in the intervening night of 4th and 5th April, the police had brutally rounded up and arrested almost all the males in village Malpuri Khurd, as well as 3 women who had been leading the month long agitation. It was the spirited demonstration of the women of the village, who came with babies in arms and squatted the whole of the next day before the Police Station Nandini, that led to 50 of the 97 villagers originally rounded up being released.
The young dalit leader of the more than month long picketing agitation – Virendra Kurre, an ex employee of the Bhilai Steel Plant who was terminated for union activities, was picked up at about 3 am on the night of the incident. He has been produced before a Magistrate and remanded to police custody for 8 days. As per the reports of journalists he appears to have been severely beaten.
The clout of the cement companies in Chhattisgarh is not a new thing, and in this particular area apart from the JK Laxmi Cement Plant, a base for the Indian Air Force is also being planned. Hence it is not surprising that the police and administration have decided to ruthlessly suppress the villagers’ agitation.
A team of the Sanyukt Trade Union Manch – a joint front of various trade unions including the CMM, TUCI and AICCTU – which had also investigated the accident of 1st April – is trying to help the villagers get proper legal aid.
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