A clear case of political persecution, says Konkan Bacho Samiti

After Maharashtra Chief Minister Prithviraj Chavan's public meeting last Saturday, the police have gone on the offensive against activists opposed to the Jaitapur nuclear power plant, arresting 14. Four more persons surrendered to the police on Tuesday.

Ratnagiri Superintendent of Police Pradeep Raskar confirmed to The Hindu that 11 persons, including Milind Desai, one of the leaders of the agitation, were arrested late on Monday night and three on Tuesday. He said four more had surrendered, making it a total of 18. The arrests were made in connection with offences registered on December 18, 2010, at the Nate police station after a riot broke out. All those arrested had been charged, under various IPC sections, with attempted murder, rioting, dacoity, assault or use of criminal force to deter public servants from the discharge of their duty, and rioting with deadly weapons. They have also been charged under The Prevention of Damage to Public Property Act, 1984. Dr. Desai is in police custody till March 4.

On December 18 last, Irfan Yusuf Kazi, 40, died near Jaitapur after his scooter was hit by a police jeep. However, while a case of accidental death was registered, activists, suspecting foul play, attacked and burnt the police jeep. Mr. Raskar said that after the death of Kazi, a Nate resident who was brought to the primary health care centre near Jaitapur, a mob had burnt a police van and assaulted police personnel. A case of rioting was registered against many activists and protesters and the leaders of the movement. Earlier, the police had arrested Pravin Gavankar of the Janhit Seva Samiti, Madban, for attempted murder, among other charges. He was released on bail early February.

Most of the arrested persons are from Mithgavane, one of the project affected villages. Dr. Desai has been in the forefront of the protests against the Jaitapur project and last Saturday, while addressing the Chief Minister and others at the public meeting, he accused the government of being shameless on the issue of compensation.

Industries Minister Narayan Rane had asked him to stop speaking at once and Dr. Desai had to leave the stage. Mr. Rane later publicly berated those who had used such language against Mr. Chavan.

Adwait Pednekar of the Konkan Bachao Samiti (KBS), an NGO which is protesting against the project, said that the incident of rioting had nothing to do with the people's protests against the nuclear project. “This was a clear case of political persecution,” he said.

The activists also fear that this is an attempt to scuttle a proposed hearing by the Indian People's Tribunal (IPT). The IPT had decided to conduct a two-day hearing on the project at Niveli village, on March 6 and 7. Notices have already been sent to government officials and ministers, including Union Minister of State for Environment Jairam Ramesh and concerned authorities, to attend the tribunal and present their side of the matter.

Justice A.P. Shah, former Chief Justice of the Delhi High Court and Justice Sampath, who was formerly with the Madras High Court, will hear the depositions while advocate Prashant Bhushan will be counsel, according to sources in the KBS. There are apprehensions that the government may not allow this tribunal.

The KBS and others will also embark on a programme to create awareness about the nuclear power project and from mid-March, various organisations will have programmes every Friday in Mumbai, Navi Mumbai and Thane. Mr. Pednekar said that the campaign would focus on the repression in the area and the police cases filed against protesters. Every Friday, activists are to stand outside suburban railway stations and distribute pamphlets, and ask people to sign letters to the Chief Minister and other authorities against the project.