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Ping pong bail in Chhattisgarh

The undersigned visited Raigarh and Raipur on 20-21 June 2011 and met
several people to meet Ramesh Agarwal and Harihar Patel and others and
find out more about their recent arrest. This is a very brief report.

Raigarh-based environmental and RTI activist, Ramesh Agarwal and
Gare-based (a village about 35 Km from Raigarh) Harihar Patel,
acupuncturist, were arrested by the Raigarh Police on 28 May 2011 on
the charge of defaming Jindal. According to Raman Agarwal, Ramesh
Agarwal’s son, the lower courts rejected bail twice, the first time
without citing any reason, and the second time, on technical grounds
that a third person named in the FIR, Rajesh Tripathi, is still at
large, and that Ramesh Agarwal had failed to mention in his bail
application that he had applied for anticipatory bail in the
Chhattisgarh High Court. Agarwal was chained to his bed for 2 days,
an act considered as illegal by the Supreme Court of India.

The High Court rejected Agarwal and Patels’ bail application today (23
June 2011) stating that the lower court had erred in rejecting their
bail application on technical grounds and not on merit, ie, failure to
mention the anticipatory bail application. The High Court order is
not yet available. The order seems to imply that the accused may have
to go back to the lower court and re-apply for bail.

The undersigned met about 50 persons, mostly elderly women, from
Patel’s village who have been doing a dharna under the scorching
summer sun, and now in rain, for Patel and Agarwals’ release.
Government officials have ignored them so far.

For years now Agarwal has been using RTI to peruse documents from the
union and state governments to prove that the Jindal group of
industries has been violating environmental and revenue laws. The
group, headed by Congress MP, Navin Jindal, owns and operates several
large industries and coal mines around Raigarh, very polluting sponge
iron plants and power plants. More recently Patel and Tripathi joined
Agarwal’s crusade against Jindal.

It appears that the immediate cause for Jindal’s ire against the
activists is the Ministry of Environment and Forest’s (MoEF)
stop-order on Jindal’s 2,400 MW coal-base power plant expansion plan.
Plant construction was started without MoEF’s environmental clearance
and on Chhattisgarh Mineral Development Corporation’s land. Based on
Agarwal’s letter written in March 2010 highlighting these
irregularities, MoEF was forced to act against Jindal.

The Superintendent of Police (SP), Raigarh, Rahul Sharma, told the
undersigned when they met him on 20 June 2011, that Jindal had
approached him with a defamation complaint against the three accused,
based on statements made by the three in the environmental hearing for
the power plant expansion (held in May 2010) videographed by Jindal
(not by the Chhattisgarh Pollution Control Board). The SP did not
register the case and advised Jindal to settle the matter in a civil
court. Jindal then filed a private complaint in the lower court and
obtained a court direction to the police to file an FIR under IPC
Secns 34, 35, 500 through 506. Most of these sections pertain to
defamation, and only one section—505 is non-bailable. ie, attracts
arrest. The SP sent the video for forensic analysis to Chandigarh and
it took the laboratory about 8 months to certify that the video was
not doctored. The Jindal representative, a minor functionary in the
company, who filed the court case, was not seen by three accused at
the public hearing.

Jindal had earlier had another case of blackmail and extortion
registered against Agarwal. According to Agarwal, this is based on a
surreptitious recording made by a Jindal functionary of a conversation
between him and Agarwal. A year after filing the FIR, the SP admitted
that they did not have any credible evidence to file a chargesheet.

In the past, Agarwal has highlighted other irregularities of Jindal.

The issues that emerge from this episode are:

  • Article 51A(g) of Part IVA of the Indian Constitution
    makes it a fundamental duty of every citizen to protect and improve
    the natural environment including forests, lakes, rivers and wild
    life, and to have compassion for living creatures. As good Indian
    citizens the three accused have upheld the Indian Constitution and
    requested Jindal to follow the law and not spoil the environment. For
    doing this, Agarwal, Patel and their families have suffered for the
    lack of a Whistleblowers protection act, which has been approved by
    the Union Cabinet a year ago, but not presented in Parliament yet.
  • Getting bail for the minor allegation of defamation has
    become almost insurmountable in Chhattisgarh, and has incarcerated two
    persons for nearly 4 weeks. The justice delivery system needs to
    introspect and needs overhaul.
  • Gare village farmers stand little chance against Jindal.
    Their subsistence is based on harvesting solar energy online through
    photosynthesis. Jindal uses fossil fuels, ie, 300 million year old
    biomass converted into fossil fuels by ancient sunlight. Solar energy
    has a low energy density compared to fossil fuels. It can deliver
    limited energy per unit area. There is a grand global war being waged
    by fossil fuel users against those dependent on photosynthesis. Laws
    favour the former, without regard for the enormous injury the war
    causes to nature and the injustice and attrition it causes to working
    people.
  • Chhattisgarh is a state where mineral wealth, including
    coal, is below the ground; forests are above it, and adivasis in the
    forest. To get the mineral wealth, forests and adivasis have to be
    cleared. Those who stand in the way—Binayak Sen, Ramesh Agarwal,
    Harihar Patel, Rajesh Tripathi and many others who say, “Please don’t
    trample over the rights of adivasis, please conserve nature,” have to
    be fixed. Such fixing has happened all over the world for decades.
    We need to take a firm stand to protect those who are attempting to
    conserve nature and protect working people.

In light of today’s High Court verdict we have written this quick
note to inform readers of the immediate facts of the case, and our
views on it. We will be writing longer report a little later.

Sagar Dhara, K Babu Rao

Hyderabad, 23 June 2011