Scrap the Lower Suktel Dam project immediately
We, the undersigned, are anguished and appalled by the brutality and excesses of Orissa Police on peaceful demonstrators and concerned citizens near Magurbeda village of Balangir District in Orissa on 29 April 2013. At least 40 persons received severe injuries in this unprovoked lathi-charge and police brutality. We strongly condemn such police action and demand that responsible policemen be brought to book immediately!
Shockingly, during this standoff police dramatically turned into a confrontation, women were pulled by their hair, thrown on ground with policemen deliberately trampled over their feet and private parts as if they were trying to get confessions out of hardened criminals – all this under the supervision of the Sub-Divisional Police Officer and the Sub-Collector of Balangir, the latter with magisterial power.
It is absolutely unacceptable that state police in tacit approval of the state government engage in such brutality on peaceful protesters. The Odisha government needs to explain to its people as why Lower Sukhtel area has virtually become a war-zone, when people are democratically pressing for their demands.
Notably, Amitabh Patra, a journalist-filmmaker, who was shooting the confrontation, was purposefully targeted and rounded up by about a dozen policemen who beat him and kicked him ceaselessly on his head and face. Policemen seized his two cameras and broke both even as he lay unconscious for several hours. We would want an explanation from the government as what authority the Odisha Police has got to stop filmmakers from shooting such stand-offs? Under which rule of law, the Odisha Police has the power to strike at a journalist or a filmmaker with such brutality with intention to damage his head, when he was only a witness to what was going on? More shockingly, under pressure from the police and administration, the doctor at the government district hospital was refusing to admit Amitabh despite visible head injuries until a few local activists and journalists made a noise and forced him to do so!
At least 16 persons (including 9 women) were arrested from the site including Lenin Kumar, writer and editor of Odia literary journal – Nisan – and Amitabh Patra himself. We also strongly condemn the unilateral fatwa of Balangir Bar Council not to take up any cases in favour of any ‘outsiders’, as Lenin Kumar and Amitabh Patra are not from Balangir! Only after much deliberation, a lawyer friend from Titlagarh came forward to move the bail. Confrontation between police and a determined people has almost become routine since 8 April 2013 in the area; and on several occasions, the peaceful protestors are lathi-charged, foul-mouthed, and physically abused. In these last four weeks, more than 100 persons have endured massive blows of lathi and beatings in hands of an armed state. About two weeks back, 80 protesters were arrested and later released on bail. The demonstrators have been peacefully opposing the Lower Sukhtel project over concerns of loss of livelihoods and displacement for over 10 years. The project will submerge more than 56 villages, pushing the displaced and affected to precarious futures.
The project was seemingly abandoned by the state for a long time since originally conceived in 1979 following the rout of BALCO from the Gandhamardan Mountains (for bauxite mining). Water from Lower Suktel will be purportedly diverted to the mining company. The project has been variously criticized by several research and human rights groups since its inception. Most notably an authoritative study by Anita Agnihotri for UNDP (2008), only stops short of quashing the project calling it ‘prima facie unjustifiable in terms of anticipated benefits’ and in suggesting that ‘it will be worthwhile to explore an alternative to this costly undertaking’ and the government has viciously responded by refusing to make both the DPR (Detailed Public Report) as well as the Environmental Assessment Report public.
The present haste to start work on the project need to be seen in conjunction with the applications by a number of mining companies to mine the mountain. This renewed interest also needs to be located in the electoral dynamics of the state, which is going to face elections in 2014.
The trampling of peoples’ right to peaceful protests cannot be tolerated in a democratic polity! The Odisha government must answer some compelling questions. What calls for such mindless police brutality when people were peacefully raising slogans and organizing? Why concerned citizens and activists are repeatedly targeted, as is in Magurbeda at the moment?
The state government needs to remember always that people have constitutional right to protest and register their grievances. No state government, not even the Indian state can abrogate that right! It’s time that state governments, and police, are made accountable for their unjustifiable actions!!
- Immediate and unconditional withdrawal of cases lodged against the people arrested on 29 April 2013
- The state must ensure proper treatments to all those who were injured in police brutalities on 29 April 2013
- The Superintendent of Police and the sub-Collector, Balangir, and all those police personnel who were engaged in the act must be put on trial immediately.
- Police force must be withdrawn immediately from the lower Suktel area.
- The Odisha government and the state police must apologize to those injured and / or arrested on 29 April 2013.
- Trumped-up cases against all those part of the Lower Suktel resistance since 2005 must be withdrawn immediately.
- Land acquisition on the Lower Suktel Project site must be stopped immediately.
- The government must immediately set up an independent judicial inquiry into the more-than-100-crore-rupee scam involving land-acquisition and compensation for the Lower Suktel Project, which even the CAG has pointed out. The inquiry must also look into all illegal land dealings done in the area by urban vested interests – with full knowledge and direct compliances of the district administration – in the submergence area even after land-acquisition notifications were made.
- The Lower Suktel Project must be scrapped immediately, and the suggestion by the Lower Suktel Budi Anchal Sangram Samiti to construct series of small barrages in lieu of a big dam be considered in all sincerity
PUCL, Delhi; WSS; Socialist Front; Krantikari Yuvak Sangh; Inquilabi Mazdoor Kendra; People’s Democratic Front of India; Left Collective; Jan Morcha; New Socialist Initiative (NSI); National Alliance for People’s Movements (NAPM ); Indian Social Action Forum (INSAF); Students For Resistance; Gandhi Peace Foundation; POSCO Pratirodh Sabha; SANHATI; and many more individual, students of Delhi, and social organizations; All India Forum of Forest Movements (AIFFM);Jharkhand Jangal Bachao Andolan (JJBA);North Bengal Forum of Forest People and Forest Movement
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