PHEROZE L. VINCENT, The Hindu
Hardly a fortnight after the Madhya Pradesh government scuttled the Jal Satyagraha against submergence by dams, it has again come down hard on activists in Sidhi protesting against diversion of forest land for a cement factory.
On the intervening night of September 30 and October 1, 22 protesters in Sidhi district were arrested for attempting to burn effigies of the district administration and Jaypee Cement. They were sent to prison for a fortnight after refusing to sign bonds that they would not protest.
A local NGO, Toko-Roko-Thoko Krantikari Morcha (TRTKM) found out through an RTI response that 525 acres in the Kaimor Hills were allotted to Jaypee Cement for quarrying. The area is close to the Sanjay Gandhi Tiger Reserve and it is in this range that the White Tiger was discovered in 1950.
“We did not know that the forest will be cleared as there was no public hearing or any environment report shown to us. We started meeting local revenue and forest officials from August 16, but they said everything is legal,” Rishabh Kumar, a protester, told The Hindu .
On August 20, women symbolically tied rakhis to trees in the forest. After a strong protest, the villagers said they were assured by Additional Collector Anil Khare and Divisional Forest Officer R.B. Sharma on September 20 that work would be stalled until Jaypee and the government held an awareness camp in Pipraon village.
“On September 26, bulldozers started clearing up the forest to show it was a wasteland. It was futile to picket as there were too many police personnel. Three villagers — Rajesh Pandey, Harishankar Tiwari and Devendra Tiwari — sat on an indefinite fast on top of the hill while the rest started sloganeering,” TRTKM secretary Sachin Chouhan said.
On September 30, when the villagers attempted to burn effigies at the foothill, they were arrested and taken to Pipraon police station. Superintendent of Police Navneet Bhasin evaded questions and later stopped taking calls from this newspaper.
Siege to police station
Around 1,500 villagers laid a siege to the police station in the evening. Police pacified them saying they would be released once the SP and Collector reach.
“Around 11, the lights went out. Already around 500 police personnel gathered and started a lathi charge. Everyone began to flee and in the melee they took away our friends to the district jail,” said Mr. Chouhan.
Collector Swati Meena refused to give any clarification. “It is a law and order matter and I will not talk to you on the phone. You can write what you want,” she told this reporter.
Sources in the administration said there were orders to prevent the agitation from intensifying. “Collector Madam is strict. She was transferred here in June from the Commercial Taxes department. Development and industry is her priority,” an officer said on condition of anonymity.
Opposition leader Ajay Singh, MLA of Churhat under which Pipraon falls, told The Hindu that the Congress would support the movement. “Why will the district administration talk to the villagers when the Chief Minister [Shivraj Chouhan] is in the pocket of the Jaypee Group? The BJP is neck-deep in illegal mining,” he claimed.
The indefinite fast continues even as the bulldozers clear the hills. No senior official or politician has met the protesters yet.
They were protesting in Sidhi against diversion of forest land to cement factory