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Anti-Jindal campaigners denied bail in Chhattisgarh High Court

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Petition from Jindal Power Ltd. led to arrests of Ramesh Agrawal and Harihar Patel in May

The Chhattisgarh High Court at Bilaspur has rejected bail petitions filed by prominent environmental activists Ramesh Agrawal and Harihar Patel. Mr. Agrawal and Mr. Patel were arrested on May 28 this year on charges of defamation, criminal intimidation, and inciting violence at a public hearing held in Raigarh district in May 2010.

On May 8 last year, Jindal Power Ltd (JPL), a subsidiary of Jindal Power and Steel Ltd, held a public hearing at Tamnar village in Raigarh to seek environmental clearance to build a 2400 MW thermal power plant. According to petitions filed in the High Court, the company claimed Mr. Agrawal and Mr. Patel threatened company officials present at the hearing and incited villagers to oppose to the plant.

While the complaint was filed last year, Mr. Agrawal and Mr. Patel were arrested only three weeks ago and charged under sections 500 to 506 of the Indian Penal Code. Bail petitions filed at the Raigarh Sessions Court on June 2 this year were turned down on technical grounds.

“The Sessions Court turned down our petition on the grounds that an anticipatory bail petition [filed by Mr. Agrawal] is still pending in the High Court. The Sessions court felt it would be inappropriate to go into the merits of the case in such an instance,” said Mahendra Dubey, Mr. Agrawal’s lawyer.

On Thursday, Mr. Dubey said, the High Court chose not to go into the merits of the case either and denied bail on technical grounds as well. Family members of the accused said they were waiting to get a copy of the court order before deciding what to do next.

This current case is part of a long running battle between Mr. Agrawal and JPL. “My father has filed complaints against Jindal’s coal washeries, power plants, cement plants and expansion projects in Raigarh,” said his son Dhananjay Agrawal.

In a complaint sent to the Ministry of Environment and Forests last year, Mr. Agrawal accused JPL of beginning construction on the site of a proposed power plant prior to receiving environmental clearance. The complaint prompted the MOEF to withdraw the terms of reference to the project and initiate an inquiry.

In a broader case filed in the Bilaspur High Court, Mr. Agrawal drew attention to the allegedly ad hoc manner in which the Chhattisgarh administration was scheduling and conducting public hearings in the State. In his petition, Mr. Agrawal claimed that the Chhattisgarh Environment Control Board (CECB) was delegating its duties to the district administration in violation of established norms. He citied instances in which, he alleged, JPL and Raigarh Ispat and Power Ltd benefited from the CECB’s oversight.

For its part, JPL has accused Mr. Agrawal of trying to extort money from the company by threatening to disrupt their public hearings and expansion projects. On June 23 last year, an officer of Jindal Steel and Power Ltd, Mr. Sanjiv Chauhan, filed a police complaint alleging that Mr. Agrawal had demanded Rs. 5 crore to allow public hearings to proceed without hindrance. The company alleged that Mr. Agrawal had also asked for a shop at the O.P. Jindal Hospital Inn complex in Raigarh.

Environmental experts believe that Mr. Agarwal is a victim of a larger campaign to control resources in the mineral rich State. “Through his interventions, Ramesh has said ‘follow the law and stop the pollution’,” said Sagar Dhara, a Hyderabad based environmental engineering consultant, “He is simply following Article 51 A (g) which directs all Indian citizens to protect and improve the environment.”

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Printable version | Jan 22, 2020 2:14:55 PM | https://www.thehindu.com/news/national/antijindal-campaigners-denied-bail-in-chhattisgarh-high-court/article2129334.ece

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