On Monday 29th April more than 10 platoons of police attacked a peaceful gathering of around 2000 people who were sitting on the bed of the threatened Suktel river, which is being dammed for another major aluminium project in Odisha. In a brutal lathi charge 16 people were arrested and others injured. Most seriously injured was Amitabh Patra, an activist film maker who had been documenting the protests and the police brutality. His head and camera were smashed and he was unconscious for two hours before being taken to hospital where he regained consciousness. Another journalist and poet Lenin Kumar was also injured and arrested. The 16 are now in Bolangir jail where demonstrations are being held demanding their release.
The arrested farmers, tribal women and journalists are: Bhadrasen Chatria, Manchand Sahu, Minaketan Chand, Narayan Swain, Cheturam Rajput, Phula Pradhan, Nilakanti Sahu, Girija Pradhan, Panchali Pradhan,Sukanti Bariha, Bhanumati Bariha, Sarojini Bhua, Sushila Bariha, Subhakeshi Bariha, Amitabh Patra, and Lenin Kumar.
The attack can be seen on this footage which was saved from the scene.
More about the Lower Suktel project below.
For the last 23 days people from more than 29 villages which will be affected by the planned Lower Suktel dam have stayed in the river bed and peacefully protested this devastating project. The river runs from Gandhamardan mountain (or ‘herb mountain’ due to its amazing variety of medicinal herbs) which contains one of Odisha’s largest deposits of bauxite. The first plans to mine the mountain, and build the accompanying Lower Suktel dam) came in 1979 from BALCO but determined local opposition managed to stop it in the 1980’s. Since then the mountain has been saved, and the district administration changed their tack on the dam, claiming it would be a multi-purpose irrigation project, in order to try to gain support from the Bolangir City dwellers. Now there are once again a queue of companies hoping to get mining permission – including NALCO and Vedanta. The Odisha government are claiming the dam is for irrigation, but it is clearly linked to the mining plans, not least because there is not enough water in the river to provide a decent irrigation dam. The state are well aware that an industrial dam would be unpopular, but are likely to try to build the dam and bring a bill for industrial development later. The dam would submerge 50 villages and one of the most fertile valleys in the region, known as ‘the vegetable garden of Odisha’.
Earlier this month scores of Dongria from Niyamgiri joined the Lower Suktel protests, expressing their support and solidarity for another threatened mountain like their own. Government officials and police have already tried many of their tricks, familiar to the Niyamgiri struggle, to force this project through. According to an article by Subrat Kumar Sahu:
The government is unbending in not making public the DPR (detailed project report) despite demands from all quarters. While the people are united in fighting under the banner of the Lower Suktel Budi Anchal Sangram Samiti, government officials have earlier forced people in many villages to accept the so-called compensation money. Police force has been used mercilessly against the villagers in number of occasions and false cases have been registered against hundreds of them, including teenagers. In 2005, 52 persons (including school-going girls) from Dungripali and Pardhiapali villages were arrested, beaten up badly (two of them later succumbed to the injuries), and sent to judicial custody. They were released on bail after 21 days after the intervention of a local lawyer while the cases are still pending.(1)
As usual local landlords and goondas who back the project are claiming that villagers fully support the project but that ‘outsiders with vested interests’ have instigated protests and violence. Amitabh Patra and Lenin Kumar are claimed to be such outsiders. Some reports claim that the protesters were carrying deadly weapons, which is clearly disproven by the footage linked here.
We at Foil Vedanta stand in solidarity with the people of Gandhamardan and the Suktel valley, and with all those protesting this undemocratic and devastating project which serves only the greed of the corporates and state to the detriment of the people and environment.
We demand the release of all those arrested now.
(1) Subrat Kumar Sahu, Sanhati Managzine Dams and the Doomed… min(e)d games of the state