Defend the Defenders: Human Rights Law Network

Gag effort: 3 RTI activists attacked in 2 weeks

Ramesh Agrawal

Ramesh Agrawal

NEW DELHI: The attack on three environment and RTI activists across the country in less than two weeks has brought to the fore how environmentalism is a dirty and sometimes violent game in the hinterland unlike the soft, candle-lighting tiger-loving green activism in big cities.

Akhil Gogoi in Assam, Bharat Jhunjhunwala in Uttarakhand and Ramesh Agrawal in Chhattisgarh – green activists who used RTI to their advantage – were attacked in the last fortnight. While the first two were fighting against rampant development of hydro-electric projects on rivers in their states, Agrawal had become a known voice for catalyzing information-based grassroots protests against mining and other projects in his state.
Gogoi, who had exposed corruption in the state government using RTI besides leading a swelling movement against dams in Assam and Arunachal Pradesh, was attacked in Nalbari district of Assam on July 6 by alleged Youth Congress workers.

Jhunjhunwala was attacked at his house by goons on June 22 and was threatened to stop his opposition to dams in the state. Agrawal, who has taken on the powerful steel and coal industry in Chhattisgarh’s Raigarh district, was shot at and injured on Saturday in his shop by unidentified assailants.

News of the attacks spread quickly as the three, and their organizations, were relatively well networked with others outside their regions but several such skirmishes and violence against environmental protestors largely goes unreported. The three have become prominent faces of protests in their respective areas but many other cases – such as violent eviction of forest dwellers and those protesting at public hearings of projects – largely goes unreported at the national level.

The violent and angry protests against projects have risen with rise in industrialization and massive surge in demand for land. From killings in Sompeta, Andhra Pradesh, of protestors against thermal power projects to a movement against the cement plant in Bhavnagar, Gujarat, scuffles have almost always been over use of local resources – land, forests or water.

Very often, the pitched arguments have been fought over community or tribal lands incorrectly classified on government records. While the use of RTI and larger networking with support groups in cities has given a fillip to activism at the ground level, the corporate world has very often complained of vested interests using the green cover to hit at their interests.

Filed Under: Akhil GogoiRamesh Agarwal

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