PUDR condemns the ongoing attacks by the state police and land mafia against the protesters who have been agitating against the construction of the Kanhar Dam project in Sonbhadra district for the past seven months. The arrest of Roma Malik, Sukalo (30th June), Gambheera Prasad (21st April), Pankaj, Laxman and Ashrafi Yadav (14th April) of the All India Union of Forest Working People (AIUFWP) is the latest demonstration of such terror tactics. Most Recently, Roma and Sukalo were picked up from their office in Roberstsgunj on 30th June 2015 on charges of inciting dalits and advisasis against the building of the dam. While neither have been named in the FIR, Roma has been implicated in two past incidents of April, even when it was known that she wasn’t even present in Kanhar at that time. Since 25 July 2015, hundreds of dalits and adivasis have started an indefinite dharna in Robertsgunj Tehsil in protest of these arbitrary arrests and have demanded the unconditional release of all the activists who are prison currently.
These arrests are part of the larger strategy initiated by the land mafia in connivance with the state police to fob off protest against the construction of the Dam which commenced last December. The initial attack by a tehsildar on a local youth on 23rd December led to clashes between the villagers and police and set the tone of future attacks. On 6th February 2015, there was an organized attack by 200 hooligans belonging to the land mafia on the houses of Shobha Bharati and several other women affiliated with the Kaimur Kshetra Mahila Mazdoor Kisan Sangharsh Samiti. This retaliatory attack was meant to intimidate Shobha from filing a rape complaint against a local goon with close linkages to the Samajwadi party and the land mafia. The police refused to file the complaint and, instead, arrested several women leaders who were released after hundreds of women sat on a dharna. Subsequently, on Ambedkar Jayanti, the PAC opened fire and lathi-charged people sitting on protest near the dam site. Aklu Chero was shot in the chest, and 8 persons were grievously injured and admitted to the district hospital in Robertsganj, which is ill equipped to provide treatment. Besides intimidation, cases were foisted against 16 named and 500 unnamed people. Four days later, on 18 April, there was a second round of police firing in which, once again, several people were seriously injured and some of the key activists of the movement arrested. Till now they have not been released.
Initially conceived in 1976, the Kanhar Dam project has been mired in controversies.Information accessed under an RTI shows that the project which was resumed in December 2014 without the valid 'Environment Clearance' and 'Forest Clearance'. The project is a threat not only to the environment and ecology but also to the lives of thousands of adivasi and dalit families who have demanded protection of their forests and proper implementation of rehabilitation and resettlement policies. To protect the right to fair compensation and transparency under the Land Acquisition, Resettlement and Rehabilitation Act, 2013, a retrospective clause stated that if the acquired land has not (been) used or (were) not in possession for five years, the process of acquisition would have to start afresh. In all this, the role of the National Green Tribunal has been most dubious as it made a note of the gross violations committed by the state government but then took a confounding stand with its judgment when it pronounced that stopping work on the dam would serve neither the interest of the environment or the ecology nor would it serve public purpose.
The protest against the Kanhar dam project by the villagers from the Sonebhadra district highlights how “public purpose” is defined against the rights of the displaced. The growing list of draconian laws (which includes amendments to the land acquisition legislation) augmented with police brutality, false cases, subservient bodies like the NGT (which aims to appease corporates) are the forces which the state is using to repress peaceful protests. Having come in the wake of a number of protests against land acquisition across the country, as well as growing movements for the rights of small farmers, tribals, and forest dwellers, who are being forced to evict their land, the recent arrests and police tactics of intimidation of the tribals and farmers, are another manifestation of the repressive measures being taken by the state to crush the people’s movement and take away the right to peaceful protests.
- Release of those arrested on 30th June 2015 as well as those arrested on 18th April.
- Lodging of FIR against police for grievously injuring people during police firing.
- Lodging of FIR into rape complaint by Shobha Bharati and arrest of accused.
- Arrest of those who vandalized Shobha Bharti’s house.
- Withdrawal of all false and fabricated charges foisted on villagers.
- Independent investigations be initiated into the political links of the land mafia.
- Compensation to those whose property was destroyed by police.
- Proper medical treatment be given to those injured.
- No further construction of the Kanhar Dam.
Megha Bahl and Sharmila Purkayastha