Hartal called off, agitators to continue hunger strike

On a day that saw a series of twists and turns in the anti-Vilappilsala garbage factory protest, the Samyukta Samara Samithi (SSS), led by elected representatives of the panchayat, called off the four-day-old hartal on Tuesday but decided to keep the hunger strike on till the State government gave a written assurance that the factory would be closed.

The developments came after a series of talks with the government including Chief Minister Oommen Chandy.

Turn

The day, which began with continuation of the indefinite hunger strike and hartal by the SSS in the Vilappil panchayat, took a new turn when panchayat president S. Shobana Kumari was arrested and shifted to hospital by the police around 3 p.m., citing her deteriorating health.

This was followed by talks held by Urban Affairs Minister Manjalamkuzhi Ali with the SSS leaders, after which they announced the Minister had assured them that the factory would be closed permanently and that garbage from the city would not be taken to the panchayat anymore.

Took over strike

Even as four other members of the SSS took over the indefinite hunger strike, a final round of talks was held by the SSS leaders with Mr. Chandy, following which they announced that they were calling off the hartal.

The hunger strike would continue till they were given in writing that the factory would be closed.

The twist in the story came when the leaders of the Vilappil Janakeeya Samithi (VJS), led by S. Burhan, accused the SSS of cheating the people.

The doubts that the recently formed the SSS had come up with the intention of weakening the decade-old protest by the public were proved right by Tuesday’s developments, they said.

Their strike would continue in full force with a protest march to be taken out at 7 a.m. on Wednesday from the factory to the Secretariat, the VJS leaders said.

“It is clear that they have cheated the public because they called off the hartal without discussing with the public, and more significantly, with no major breakthrough being achieved. The public have repeatedly been given the same assurances, and the strike continued only because there was no written assurance,” the VJS leaders said.

No major breakthrough

The SSS made no attempt to ensure compensation for the public or to make the government withdraw cases hoisted on hundreds of innocent people who participated in the protest, right from the day it began a decade ago to the last four days, the VJS leaders said.

They reiterated that the ‘actual protest’ would end only when they were involved in the talks and the demands of the public were met with written assurances.

The government, meanwhile, would hold a high-level meeting on Wednesday to discuss moving of garbage from the city to quarries, Mr. Ali said.