Ramesh pays the price

Ramesh Agrawal is not a hardcore criminal but is paying the price of bringing a company's wrong doings to light. Ramesh along with Harihar Patel was arrested on May 28, 2011 as a result of a case filed by Jindal Steel and Power Limited (JSPL). 

The company, led by Member of Parliament Naveen Jindal, alleges that the activists misbehaved with its employees in a public hearing held on May 8, 2010 in Kunjemura village of Tamnar block. Public hearing is a statutory process involving consultation between the company and the local people for the grant of environment clearance of the project. The hearing was for the addition of 1,400 mega-watt (MW) to the existing thermal power plant of 1,000 MW. The thermal power plant of JSPL is located in Tamnar, Raigarh district in Chhattisgarh.

Ramesh had brought to the notice of the union Ministry of Environment and Forests (MoEF), the start of the expansion work of the thermal power plant even before the environmental clearance was granted (see Down to Earth story: http://www.downtoearth.org.in/node/1514 Jindal Pays for Flouting Norms). The ministry constituted an inspection team compromising officials from MoEF Bhopal regional office, Chhattisgarh Environment Conservation Board (CECB) and an ex officer of Central Pollution Control Board (CPCB). This team visited the site on May 22, 2010 and confirmed that the complaint of illegal construction at site was true which resulted in retraction of Terms of Reference (ToR) by MoEF for violation under Section 2 of the EIA Notification, 2006. The ministry had also issued a show-cause notice to JSPL for violation of green laws.

Harihar, a resident of Raigarh and a doctor by profession, is the other activist who has been put behind the bars after the complaint from JSPL. He is the leader of Adivasi Kisan Mazdoor Ekta Sangathan, an NGO working on land in Chhattisgarh. It is interesting to note that Harihar had approached the National Environment Appellate Authority against the environment clearance granted to the company's Gare IV coal mining project.

JSPL has registered a series of complaints against the two under Sections 500 to 505. The cases are mostly of defamation, insult and making false statements to disrupt public peace. Rahul Sharma, Suprintendent of Police (Raigarh) says, “Ramesh is behind the bars because of using unnecessary words and disrupting a process that should have otherwise been peaceful.' Last year the senior manager of Jindal Steel, Sanjeev Chauhan, had alleged that Ramesh had demanded Rs five crore in lieu of not creating nuisance at the public hearing and when the company did not give him the money he created a furore at the hearing. Ramesh and his son have however denied the charges.

MoEF changed its stance and again granted clearance to the project on March 18, 2011 on the basis of new ToRs. Although new ToRs were issued which should have meant conducting a fresh public hearing but there has been no hearing for the project after May 8, 2010. Although for JSPL everything is back to normal it is not the case with Ramesh. He suffers from medical problem like hypertension and diabetes and he had to be moved to a district hospital after the arrest. Dhananjay Agrawal, Ramesh’s son, says “He was handcuffed to the bed in the hospital. He is not a criminal and this is inhuman behaviour.” The family filed an application in the magistrate court on the day of the arrest but that was rejected on the grounds of absence of anticipatory bail from the high court. Dhananjay is of the opinion that his father should have got bail from the magistrate court itself but the case has been stretched. “Obviously there is some politics brewing as the case has become a national issue,” he adds.

The family now plans to file a bail application in the Supreme Court.