MAC: Mines and Communities

Voice of Indian activists being silenced

Published by MAC on 2011-06-20
Source: The Statesman, NDTV (2011-06-15)

One of India's leading social activists - well known for his opposition to unacceptable mining projects - has been arrested on what appear to be trumped-up charges.

A north Indian religious leader, who led his community in a fight to stop stone mining and crushing, may have been poisoned.

Voice of activists being silenced

By Sujeet Kumar

The Statesman

15 June 2011

Raipur - Chhattisgarh seems to be turning out to be a hostile state for the activists who are either raising their voice against human rights abuses or are protecting local community from environmental pollution or displacement due to industrial projects.

Rights activist Dr Binayak Sen is now fighting a case in Chhattisgarh high court to get rid of the charges levelled against him for his Maoist link, after he was convicted for sedition and awarded lifetime imprisonment by a trial court in December.

Another noted activist Mr Ramesh Agrawal, known for protecting local communities from industrial pollution and displacement due to industrial projects in Chhattisgarh, has also been jailed along with his associate.

The activists of Amnesty International have condemned Agrawal and his associate's arrest. The organisation said in a statement recently that the authorities must immediately release the two activists.

Congress leader and former chief minister Ajit Jogi said that Chhattisgarh has become a very hostile place for activists. According to him the biggest problem here is that the state government is not ready to listen to any voice against it and is doing its best to suppress any kind of reaction against the government.

He said: "At any interior location in the state it can be found that innocent people have been put in jail without trial for supporting Maoists. This is being done under the Chhattisgarh Special Public Security Act which gives special powers to the higher authorities to keep people in custody without trial. Even after this Chhattisgarh chief minister Dr Raman Singh rejected charges against the state that it is hostile to activists.

Mr Singh told The Statesman that every citizen has the right to air his or her opinion in a peaceful manner and Chhattisgarh government respects activists. He also said that the government has nothing to do about the arrest of Ramesh Agrawal and the police acted only when a local industry sent a written complaint.

According to Mr Agrawal's eldest son, Mr Raman Agrawal, police stormed into his house at Raigarh on 28 May morning and took his father away on the basis of a complaint filed by Jindal group, which has a steel plant and is even building a 2,400-MW thermal plant at Tamnar in Raigarh district.

According to sources, the 55-year-old Mr Agrawal was chained to his hospital bed at the Raigarh district hospital.

Mr Raman said: "My father is paying for raising environment-related issues against different companies like the Jindal Group. The company has stepped up campaign against him since last year when the ministry of environment and forest cancelled terms of reference to the Tamnar project on a complaint letter sent by him.''

"It seems that Ramesh Agrawal and Harihar Patel have been targeted for their work to defend the human rights of local communities and thus we are urging the Chhattisgarh government to drop all charges and release them immediately," said Ms Madhu Malhotra, deputy director, Amnesty International.


Swami Nigamananda, fasting to save Ganga, dies

NDTV

14 June 2011

Dehradun: As the Government and social activist Anna Hazare continue their war of words, Swami Nigmananda, who had been fasting for almost four months to protest illegal mining and stone crushing along the Ganga near Haridwar died at the Himalayan hospital in Jollygrant in Dehradun on Monday.

The 34-year-old swami died at the same hospital where Ramdev was being treated until his discharge on Tuesday.

Swami Nigamananda had been on a fast since February 19 this year and was forcibly taken to a local hospital in Haridwar on April 27 when his condition worsened after days of fasting. He was later transferred to the Himalayan hospital in Jollygrant earlier this month after he went into a coma and subsequently died on Monday.

"The saint was fasting for the Ganga since the last many days. He laid down his life for the Ganga. I pay my tribute to Swami Nigamananda," Ramdev told reporters after he was discharged from the hospital.

Swami Nigamananda's followers have asked for a CBI probe into his death alleging that he was poisoned.


Swami Nigamanand's death: Pathology report hints at poisoning

India Today

15 June 2011 

Dehradun - The unholy nexus between the mining mafia and politicians has once again been exposed with the death of Swami Nigamanand amid serious allegations that the fasting holy man was poisoned and the BJP-ruled Uttarakhand government turned a blind eye to it.

The pathological report of Nigamanand's serum sample - a copy of which is in the possession of Mail Today - shows evidence of organophosphate poisoning. The test was performed at Dr Lal's Laboratory in Delhi on May 4. The cholinesterase serum test is usually done to measure exposure to organophosphate insecticides. In the case of Nigamanand, doctors recommended it when his aides reported signs of poisoning.

Nigamanand, fasting since February 19 against illegal quarrying on the Ganga bed, was forcibly shifted by the local administration to the District Hospital, Haridwar, on April 27 (the 68th day of his fast). He was given an injection by an unknown nurse on the afternoon of April 30, according to a police complaint lodged on May 11 by Nigamanand's ashram, the Matri Sadan. The development is suspicious since she took away the used syringe.

When Nigamanand's condition worsened, he was moved to the Doon Hospital and subsequently to the Himalayan Institute Hospital, where he was first diagnosed with "unknown poisoning". He was treated with antidotes after the serum report confirmed the poisoning.

The complaint claimed that Himalaya Stone Crusher Pvt. Ltd. owner Gyanesh Kumar Agarwal connived with the doctors to kill Nigamanand, who was agitating against quarrying by his company. The Matri Sadan was also engaged in a legal battle with Agarwal and the state government against quarrying and pollution in the Kumbh Mela notified area in and around Haridwar.

The stone crushing mafia is close to the party ruling the state. Agarwal, according to the Sadan's members, is close to the Sangh Parivar and also enjoys the BJP government's patronage. He was the chief guest in July last year at the annual Guru Dakshina programme of the RSS' Haridwar branch. His father has been an RSS office bearer in the Haldwani area.

While Nigamanand slipped into deep coma following the alleged poisoning, the high court of Uttarakhand at Nainital gave an order in his favour on May 26, ordering for the closure of the Himalaya Stone Crusher and saying that the crusher was "causing inherent damage not only to the eco-fragile zone, which is environmentally very sensitive, but is also being run to the utter violation of the licence conditions".

"The death of Nigamanand under mysterious circumstances has shocked us and points to the deep-rooted nexus existing between the mining mafia and the government," Hemant Dhyani of Ganga Ahvaan said. "Even the doctors have colluded with the administration," he added.

Nigamanand and other sadhus of the Sadan were deeply disturbed by the growing menace of quarrying in the Kumbh Mela area. The Himalaya Stone Crusher was mining and crushing boulders on the Ganga's banks on the outskirts of Harid-war. "Under this pretext, the crusher owners started digging up the floor and banks of the Ganga and caused deleterious effects," the high court observed.

Due to the consistent digging and mining, the river bed got lower and the water table in the surrounding villages slipped. This illegal mining also caused air pollution and soil erosion in a large area along the river.

Even as the Matri Sadan is adamant on its demand for a CBI probe into Nigamanand's death and a ban on mining on the banks of Ganga, the state government has been pushed on the defensive. The state government had ordered a CB-CID investigation into the death, but now it is willing to go for a high level probe.

The Congress also launched a fresh attack on the state government following the swami's death. Governor Margret Alva has also taken note of the incident and suggested ordering an independent probe into the "suspicious death".

Uttarakhand tourism minister Madan Kausik said, "If the Matri Sadan or Swami Nigamanand's family members want to go for a higher level of inquiry, the state government is ready for it." He added, "Nigamanand was given nose-feeding after obtaining a written permission from the Matri Sadan."

Inputs by Raju Gusain in Dehradun


Greenpeace action to free activists Ramesh Agarwal and Dr. Harihar Patel

22 June 2011

Stand up against coal and they put you in jail! Activist Ramesh Agrawal and Dr. Harihar Patel were arrested and Mr. Agrawal was even inhumanly chained to his hospital bed for exposing an environmental violation in Chattisgarh.[1]

Click here to ask CM Raman Singh to free activists Ramesh Agrawal and Dr. Harihar Patel

Mr. Agrawal and Dr. Patel exposed irregularities in the environmental clearance process for a coal fired thermal power plant being built by the Jindal group in Raigarh.[2] In return, they have been arrested on false charges. Their first two appeals for bail have been denied. A third bail plea will be heard at the Chattisgarh high court this week.

This is a struggle to save our environment from permanent damage. We need to act fast to help free Mr. Agrawal and Dr. Patel.The Chattisgarh Chief Minister, Raman Singh needs to know that people across the country support brave activists like Ramesh Agrawal and Harihar Patel.

You should sign this fax asking Chattisgarh CM to free the brave activists and investigate those responsible for the false charges against them.

http://www.greenpeace.in/take-action/support-brave-activists-fax-raman-singh.php

The fax says 'Mr. Chief Minister, respect public opinion - release the activists and investigate those responsible for the false charges against them.'

Your signature will be faxed to the CM's office. People across the country and even outside it have been demanding their release. Lots and lots of faxes flooding the CM's office will help add more strength to this demand. It will help put pressure on the authorities to take action.

Even as Mr Agrawal and Dr. Patel languish in prison our government is looking at ways to fast track private coal mining projects in dense forest areas. A Group of Ministers entrusted with the task of choosing between the last remaining forests of central and eastern India and coal,[3] will meet next month to discuss this.

There are renewable energy [4] and energy efficiency measures can help meet our needs. Instead of looking at the alternatives the government is trying to gag those who are trying to stand up against coal, to save our environment and forests. Speak up now! Ask CM Raman Singh to free activists Ramesh Agrawal and Dr Harihar Patel.

Thanks a billion!

Preethi Herman,
Climate and Energy Campaigner,
Greenpeace India.

Sources:

1. RTI activist arrested, chained to hospital bed, CNN-IBN, June 2, 2011
http://ibnlive.in.com/news/rti-activist-arrested-chained-to-hospital-bed/156273-3.html

2. Arrest of an activist raises uncomfortable questions, Times of India, June 4, 3 2011
http://articles.timesofindia.indiatimes.com/2011-06-04/india/29620090_1_sessions-court-chhattisgarh-patel

3. Coal GoM to fast-track 8 projects, big firms to gain, Business Standard, June 10, 2011
http://www.business-standard.com/india/news/coal-gom-to-fast-track-8-projects-big-firms-to-gain/438596/

4. Renewable energy can power the world, says landmark IPCC study, Guardian, May 9, 2011
http://www.guardian.co.uk/environment/2011/may/09/ipcc-renewable-energy-power-world

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