U.P. accuses RTI activist of 'anti-nationalism'

Former journalist Rajiv Chandel was asked to provide an explanation as to why he shouldn't be booked. He had raised awareness about over-extraction of water by power plants.

Updated - March 28, 2016 03:09 pm IST

Published - September 03, 2015 02:11 am IST - MUMBAI:

Rajiv Chandel faces charges of treason and his protest against power projects has been termed “anti-national”. Photo: Special Arrangement

Rajiv Chandel faces charges of treason and his protest against power projects has been termed “anti-national”. Photo: Special Arrangement

Five years ago, Rajiv Chandel discarded his footwear in a pledge to draw attention to parched villages in Uttar Pradesh. Opposing the over-extraction of water by power plants in the drought affected Trans-Yamuna region of Allahabad, in 2013 he went on to launch a farmers’ movement in the district demanding fair compensation for villagers displaced by the power projects.

He earned much acclaim for his grassroots movements.

However, the journalist-turned-RTI activist now faces charges of treason as the Samajwadi Party government has termed his sustained protest “anti-national” and accused him of “instigating farmers” to violence. The Allahabad administration has served Mr. Chandel a three-day ultimatum to explain why he should not be booked with “anti-national” and “anti-social” activities for his sustained resistance against the power plants. The Hindu has a copy of the notice.

An Allahabad University graduate, Mr. Chandel had a five-year stint as a reporter with top Hindi dailies before he became a crusader fighting to expose corruption in local projects, government employment schemes and rural sanitation, mainly through RTIs. Two years ago, he launched an agitation against the land acquisition in the 1320 MW Meja power plant accusing the administration of flouting rules while acquiring farmers’ land and demanded better compensation for those displaced.

Key to State’s future The power project, considered key to U.P.’s power future, is a joint venture of the State with NTPC. Due to the mass movement, the State found it difficult to get physical possession of the land. Though the agitation was peaceful, farmers under the Visthapan Virodhi Sanghrash Morcha, resisted the land acquisition leading to several confrontations and violent clashes with police and administration.

Mr. Chandel is now accused of indulging in “anarchy,” “disrupting public harmony” and “obstructing” the progress of projects of “national interest.” “The entire region is engulfed in unrest,” due to his “conspiracy,” the State says.

Mr. Chandel disputes the State’s allegations and says it is trying to “stifle a peaceful movement.” “I have only exposed the State’s claims through RTIs. The truth spurred people to demand their rights and fight for it through democratic and peaceful means. The State used force on protesting farmers and now they blame me for instigating violence,” Mr. Chandel said.

Local farmers have consistently resisted any works at the plant, which was and opposed further land acquisition. Mr. Chandel alleges that while the project has the permission to use 1100 acre of land, it has acquired much more than that.

While the State says it has given compensation to “almost all” those from whom it acquired land, Mr. Chandel says the farmers “feel cheated” as they were not given the promised rehabilitation and jobs. Another point of discord is over the Land Act 2013. The State has blamed Mr. Chandel for “spreading misconception” among farmers that they deserved compensation under the 2013 Land Act, which guarantees them four times the compensation. As the project pertained to 2011, the farmers would get compensation as per the 1894 Land Act.

In May 2014, over 100 farmers filed a petition in the Allahabad High Court contending that norms were flouted while acquiring land for the project and the process be declared illegal. Within weeks of that Mr. Chandel was booked under the stringent Goonda Act for leading a protest at the project site. He challenged the decision in the High Court.

Allahabad District Magistrate Kaushal Raj Sharma did not respond to calls or messages.

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