#Chhattisgarh – Brief report of events in the JK Laxmi Cement Factory : accident, arson and arrests


Official seal of Chhattisgarh

Official seal of Chhattisgarh (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

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April 7, 2013,

Note received from Sudha Bharadwaj

In the past year there had been several agitations by farmers of various villages in the Nandini-Ahiwara area of district Durg, affected by the under-construction JK Laxmi Cement Plant, against serious illegalities committed by the company including the fact that an irrigation canal and traditional easements had been obstructed, that farmers had been defrauded of their lands and were paid paltry compensation, and that the public hearing for environmental clearance had been held quietly in an obscure tehsil head quarters unknown to the affected villagers. Most of these movements petered out due to the adamant attitude of the administration and the company.

However the farmers of Malpuri village had, since 14th February 2013, been picketing lakhs worth of heavy machinery and materials stocked by the company in the open next to the company compound. Hundreds of villagers – women and men – had been taking turns day and night and were eating and sleeping on the site of the agitation. Their demand was of permanent jobs to the villagers and those whose lands had been lost to the plant. Only recently, on 25th March 2013, on an invitation of these villagers, some of the workers and peasants associated with Chhattisgarh Mukti Morcha (Mazdoor Karyakarta Committee) had travelled 35 km to participate in their observation of Shaheed Bhagat Singh’s martyrdom day. At that time we were surprised to note that no attention whatsoever was being given to this more than a month-long and obviously determined agitation and no efforts had been made either by the administration or the company to resolve the issues.

On 1st April 2013 a serious accident transpired in the JK Laxmi Cement Plant. Three newly employed and inexperienced contractual employees were made to work in a deep pit in which they slipped and two were seriously injured. The contractors and management’s people in a state of panic simply got the pit filled in, burying the third dead worker – a dalit youth Tarun Banjare, and absconded. It was only when the picketing villagers came to the spot and raised a hue and cry that the local administration dug out the body of the dead worker.

The company and police claim that, two days later, on 4th April 2013 the agitating villagers entered the factory premises in hundreds and set fire to vehicles and materials. Crores of losses have been claimed. However, what exactly transpired requires to be properly and independently investigated. Immediately following the incident of arson, the entire area was cordoned off by heavy deployment of police and a large number of fire brigades from the Bhilai Steel Plant were immediately pressed into service to control the fire.

After the incident, in the intervening night of 4th and 5th April, the police had brutally rounded up and arrested almost all the males in village Malpuri Khurd, as well as 3 women who had been leading the month long agitation. It was the spirited demonstration of the women of the village, who came with babies in arms and squatted the whole of the next day before the Police Station Nandini, that led to 50 of the 97 villagers originally rounded up being released.

The young dalit leader of the more than month long picketing agitation – Virendra Kurre, an ex employee of the Bhilai Steel Plant who was terminated for union activities, was picked up at about 3 am on the night of the incident. He has been produced before a Magistrate and remanded to police custody for 8 days. As per the reports of journalists he appears to have been severely beaten.

The clout of the cement companies in Chhattisgarh is not a new thing, and in this particular area apart from the JK Laxmi Cement Plant, a base for the Indian Air Force is also being planned. Hence it is not surprising that the police and administration have decided to ruthlessly suppress the villagers’ agitation.

A team of the Sanyukt Trade Union Manch – a joint front of various trade unions including the CMM, TUCI and AICCTU – which had also investigated the accident of 1st April – is trying to help the villagers get proper legal aid.

 

Indian and International Organisations Condemn The Unjust Arrest of Activist Dayamani Barla


We, the undersigned organisations, strongly condemn the unjust incarceration of journalist and human rights activist Dayamani Barla, and demand that the false cases against her be dropped and that she be released immediately. Barla was granted bail by a local court in Ranchi on October 18th, in a case related to a protest held on 25th April, 2006, demanding job cards for rural laborers under the Rural Employment Guarantee Act. However, on the day that she was supposed to be released, jail authorities announced that she had been re-arrested on a second warrant, for “obstructing government work” [1]. We learnt that on October 29th, Barla was denied bail and remains imprisoned.

We believe the reason for this incarceration is to intimidate Dayamani Barla, who is one of the leaders of the peaceful and resolute struggle of villagers against the acquisition of fertile land at Nagri, a village situated at few kilometers from the state capital, where the government wants to build IIM, IIT and National Law School campuses. As per some estimates, at least 500 tribal families will be displaced and their livelihoods will be destroyed if the land is acquired for said institutions [2], In January, the state bulldozed farms just when the winter crops, mostly potatoes and pulses, were to be harvested. Following that, the police filed FIRs against 12 villagers [3]. We find the Government of Jharkhand‘s indifferent and unjust response to this peaceful struggle appalling- some of the protesters have even expressed support for the institutions to be built, just not at the cost of the main source of villagers’ livelihood [4].

Dayamani Barla is one of the leading anti-displacement activists fighting illegal land-grab by by corporations and the government alike in various parts of Jharkhand and other parts of India.  Known as the “Iron Lady of Jharkhand,” she is one of the national conveners of the National Alliance of People’s Movements (NAPM), along with Medha Patkar and others and an Executive Committee Member of the India Social Action Forum (INSAF). She is also one of the leading voices of the Adivasi community.

[1]www.thehindu.com/news/states/other-states/activists-step-up-demand-for-dayamani-barlas-release/article4038183.ece
[2] www.countercurrents.org/alam191012.htm
[3] www.tehelka.com/story_main52.asp?filename=Ne020612Nargi.asp
[4] http://intercontinentalcry.org/nagri-peoples-fight-for-identity-and-existence/

Sincerely,

Association for India’s Development
Chhattisgarh Mukti Morcha (Mazdoor Karyakarta Committee)

Fabricated.in
India Friends Association
Indian Social Action Forum
International Alliance for the Defense of Human Rights in India
Manthan Samayiki
Mazdoor Kisan Shakti Sangathan

Mining Zone People Solidarity Group

Moving Republic, Bangalore
Our Developing World
People’s Solidarity Concerns, Bangalore
PUCL, Chhattisgarh
ViBGYOR Film Collective, Thrissur

 

 

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