Committee asks for immediate removal of sedition charges

SC judge-headed fact finding body says that peaceful protesters cannot be labelled ‘anti-nationals’

S Ramaswamy Tehelka

A fact finding team headed by former Supreme Court judge Justice AP Shah had demanded immediate withdrawal of all cases against the Anti-Koodankulam Nuclear Power Plant group volunteers as they had protested in a peaceful way. In a democracy, peaceful protests are allowed and the cases should be withdrawn immediately, the report of the committee released here said.

The volunteers were charged with sedition and anti-national activities, which are unheard of against peaceful protesters anywhere in the world. Geeta Ramaseshan, a member of committee, who released the report said, “It is unjustified to describe peaceful protesters as anti-nationals.”

MP Devasahayam, former chief secretary of Chandigarh Administration and also a member of the committee, said the nuclear plant would deplete all fresh water sources. All norms on fresh water sources prescribed by International Atomic Agency had been given a go by, he said adding that the agency had clearly stated that any such plant should have two fresh water resources within the plant itself, but this was not adhered to.

Nityanand Jayaraman, a member of the Solidarity Group at Koodankulam, said the report would be forwarded to the prime minister, Tamil Nadu chief minister and human rights commissions both at the Centre and at state level for proper action. The future course of action would be decided in due course.

The report is silent on the closure of the unit, which is supposed to be commissioned within a week with trial production to be started. The commissioning of the first unit of the 1000 MW atomic plant, which has come up with Russian aid, scheduled for December 2011, had been delayed due to the protests.

Tamil Nadu Chief Minister Jayalalithaa appointed a committee, headed by Dr MR Srinivasan to look into the allegations of lack of safety measures at the plant and had asked the Centre to stop work till the committee submitted its report. The report said that the plant was safe. This had delayed the commissioning of the plant, adding to the woes of the power starved Tamils.

Reacting to the report, Jayaraman said it had vindicated those who stand up for human rights. “The National Human Rights Commission (NHRC) should have taken suo moto action on the violations of human rights from the start of the agitation. It is unfortunate that it had not done so. Our next course will be to pursue the demand with the NHRC and the state human rights commission to ensure that the democratic rights of the people of the area are restored immediately.

Jayaraman said that in a democracy, protests against the government’s decisions are common and registering cases of sedition and anti-nationalism, which are non-bailable offences, could not tolerated in a democracy.

Ramaswamy is a freelance journalist based in Chennai.