Attacked for taking on Jindal Steel and Power Ltd, claim supporters

Ramesh Agrawal, an environmental activist who clashed with powerful steel and coal interests in Chhattisgarh’s coal-rich Raigarh district, was attacked by unidentified assailants and shot through the thigh on Saturday morning. Mr. Agrawal has been hospitalised.

Sarita Rath, a member of the Jan Chetna Manch, Mr. Agrawal’s NGO, said he had been attacked at the behest of officials from Jindal Steel and Power Ltd (JSPL) for opposing the company’s expansion plans in the district. “We demand a CBI probe as we do not trust the local police,” she said.

JSPL officials have strongly refuted these allegations. JSPL is the world’s largest sponge-iron manufacturer with interests in steel, cement, and thermal power.

“Rameshji was in his internet caf? when two men came into the shop on the excuse of some computer-related work,” said Raghubir Pradhan, an environmental activist acquainted with Mr. Agrawal. “They told him to stop opposing Jindal and put a gun to his chest. There was a scuffle and Mr. Agrawal was shot through the thigh,” he added.

“This is a very unfortunate incident. We strongly condemn this act of violence. We deny the allegations and have nothing to do with this incident,” a JSPL spokesperson said in a statement emailed to The Hindu.

Chhattisgarh accounts for 16 per cent of India’s coal reserves and contributes to over 18 per cent of national production. The deposits are concentrated in the northern part of the State, including Raigarh where rapid industrialisation has led to violent clashes between thermal power companies and villagers living above rich coal seams.Mr. Agrawal and his NGO organised village-level opposition to the projects and frequently accused several companies, particularly JSPL, of violating environmental norms and procedures. In April this year, the National Green Tribunal (NGT) cancelled environmental clearance granted for a four-million-tonne per annum coalmine operated by JSPL, after Mr. Agrawal and his associates claimed that the mandatory public hearing held to clear the project did not follow accepted procedures. In its order, the NGT described the hearing as “a classic example of violation of the rules and the principles of natural justice to its brim.” In June last year, Mr. Agrawal was imprisoned for two months for allegedly inciting a mob at a public hearing organised to grant clearance for a 2,400-MW thermal power plant proposed by Jindal Power Ltd.

In 2010, Mr. Agrawal wrote to the Ministry of Environment and Forests (MoEF), accusing the company of beginning construction on its plant prior to obtaining clearance from the Ministry.

He accused Jindal Power Ltd. also of modifying the terms of the project without informing the MoEF, prompting the Ministry to temporarily withdraw its terms of reference.

Previously, a Jindal employee filed a police complaint in Raigarh, in which he claimed Mr. Agrawal had demanded Rs. 5 crore and a shop to ensure that the company’s public hearings were not disrupted. Mr. Agrawal has denied the claims.

Raigarh SP Anand Chabra said a special team had been set up to investigate Saturday’s incident.