WSS stands with the struggling people of Bhangar against the severe repression unleashed by the state in order to establish a power grid and high power transmission lines across the area by force. In the course of this struggle:
- Two people have died as a result of bullet wounds inflicted by the police and armed goons while several more people have been beaten and injured.
- On 22 January 2017, K. N. Ramachandran, General Secretary of CPI (ML) Red Star, was overpowered, blindfolded and abducted as he arrived at Howrah station. He was detained for twenty six hours by the police without being produced in court or any information provided to his family before finally being released without the money in his pocket with which to proceed to the location of the protests.
- On the evening of 25 January 2017, Sharmishtha Chowdhury (a member of WSS), Shahnawaz Mandal and Pradip Singh Thakur have also been picked up by the police around 6:30 pm from Panapukur in Bhangar area. A staggering array of false charges have been slapped on her and 35 other people including other members of WSS, under sections of the IPC for allegedly inciting violence, instigating people, destruction of public property and various sections of the Arms and Explosives Acts, in FIR No. 339/17 dated 18.01.17.
- On 18.01.17. itself, 11 persons including 2 juveniles were arrested, of which the two juveniles have obtained bail as of 25.1.17.
- Since then, Sharmishtha Chowdhury, Shahnawaz Mandal and Pradip Singh have been held for eight days in police custody during which they were not allowed to meet family nor even allowed to take essential medicines which their families brought for them.
- Finally, attempt is being made to add sections 18 and 19 of the draconian Unlawful Activities Prevention Act (UAPA) for which we await the next hearing.
Let us look into the struggle waged by people of Bhangar and why they are opposed to the setting up of the power grid by the West Bengal government. Without obtaining the consent of the people of Bhangar, an area consisting of thickly populated areas and fertile farm land, the government’s Power Grid Corporation of India Limited (PGCIL) has attempted to set up a 440/220 KV power grid consisting of a Rajarhat sub-station and 450 MW double circuit power transmission lines. People from the villages Khamarait, Machhi Bhanga, Tona, Gazipur, etc. have been very agitated over two issues: one is the forcible acquisition of land two years ago to set up the substation on 16 acres of fertile agricultural land in Khamarait, as well as more forcible acquisition of land in early 2016 for installing transmission lines on agricultural land instead of the roadside as promised. The other important question was of the range of health hazards posted by the electromagnetic field which will be generated by the transmission lines as well as the extremely strong greenhouse gas SF6 (Sulphur hexafluoride) used in the substation which leaks from most high voltage equipment and settles in low-lying areas. This gas has anaesthetic properties, and in high enough quantities can also lead to asphyxiation by displacing oxygen in the lungs. The electromagnetic field that could be generated depends on the configuration of the wires but at this high voltage it can even give electric shocks to those walking with an umbrella or any other electrical conductor under or near these lines. A report by Nisha Biswas, scientist and WSS member, lays out all of these concerns for not just human health but also the health of livestock and crops, their scientific validity, and the response by the government in detail. The people constituted an Anti Grid People’s Movement led by Jami, Jeevika, Bastutantra O Paribesh Rakshya Committee, and raised these questions to the local Trinamool Congress (TMC) as well as to PGCIL authorities.
One continuing trend in the government’s handling of this situation has been one of betrayed promises. The villagers were initially deceived into thinking that a small power house would be built, not a power grid, for which land was forcibly acquired in 2015; later they were told that the power lines would not run across their fields but across the road, and finally, transmission towers were set up on their fields with neither intimation nor any compensation; eventually compensation far below stipulated guidelines was given but people were still not informed that the transmission lines would extend beyond the local area through more areas of West Bengal until Bihar. People have not been informed of how waste will be disposed off from the power station and they have also been notified that they will be solely responsible for any accidents resulting from carrying conducting metal rods near the power lines. In the absence of any response to their concerns, people’s demonstrations have continued and have only been met with state repression. On November 3rd, 2016, the police arrested 6 people, including 3 women. Tens of thousands of people came out on the streets of Kolkata on 22nd December 2016, and when they planned to mobilize again in Khamarait on December 28, the administration imposed Section 144 for the villagers but not for PGCIL employees.
These tactics are strongly reminiscent of the way the Singur movement was suppressed; and the same TMC that came to power on the back of the Singur protestors has not only been using the same tactics but has actively organized meetings duping protestors into thinking it is supporting the agitation, but where they have supported the PGCIL work. PGCIL authorities have promised to meet protesters but have been absent on the scheduled date. On 11th January 2017, almost half a lakh people, half of whom were women, participated in a road blockade and the DM’s emissaries had promised that a meeting would be organised soon to listen to their demands until when construction would be stopped. The same was reiterated by the DM in later meetings, yet people have been attacked by the police and armed goons. On 18 January, an FIR was filed targeting several organizers and the police opened fire on people, killing two and injuring 6 people; several people including women were beaten and injured. The protests continue, with almost 10,000 people protesting on the 25th of January, and instead of responding to its people, the state government has picked up protestors and subjected them to over a week in police custody. Coming just before Republic Day, it makes one wonder whose government this is? Who does the Republic stand for?
WSS demands the West Bengal government to:
1 ) Ensure an end to state violence and repression of any kind against the villagers and activists
2) Ensure that democratic dialogue with the people which had been initiated with the District Magistrate is resumed and their concerns and apprehensions properly addressed.
3) Charges against the activists are immediately dropped.
4) Judicial enquiry into the police who perpetrated the firing upon unarmed protestors and the abduction of Com KN Ramachandran with due punishment for their arbitrary and unlawful actions
Bittu Kondaiah, Ranjana Padhi, Nisha Biswas, Rinchin and Kalyani Menon
(National Coordinators – WSS)
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