Ramesh Agarwal, an environmental advocate and partner of the Access Initiative (TAI), was arrested in the early hours on May 28. According to multiple reports, Agarwal’s human and civil rights have been reportedly violated by police and jail officials, and TAI remains concerned for his health, safety and wellbeing.
Agarwal has long been an environmental and social advocate. He has highlighted many violations of India’s environmental laws arising from industrial non-compliance and pollution. Employing the legal tools and institutions available to him, he has obtained valuable information through numerous Right to Information (RTI) Act applications, raised concerns about faulty environmental impact assessments, and exposed fraud and corruption in environmental decision-making, particularly at public hearings. In particular, he has drawn the attention of the authorities to illegal industrial construction without the requisite environmental safeguards and permits. He has taken his complaints, often with success, to state and central level authorities and ministries in the Raigarh district of Chhattisgarh. He has also petitioned and filed applications before the National Environmental Appellate Authority (NEAA), courts, and other regulatory bodies. (See attached note from TAI India lead partner LIFE)
Agarwal was arrested on a police complaint filed in June 2010, by Jindal Steel and Power Ltd (JSPL). JSPL claims Agarwal defamed and intimidated the company by speaking out against the company’s proposed expansion in the Raigarh district at a public hearing in May 2010. These are issues that a court will likely decide on evidence based on a trial. Public hearings are legal venues allowing citizens to express their concerns about proposed developments and projects. Agarwal’s arrest, based on alleged statements he made within the context of such a legal forum and on matters of concern to him, threatens his civil rights.
The state has become intolerant after two developments — economic liberalisation and 9/11,” says S A R Geelani, vice-president of the Committee for the Release of Political Prisoners. “Anyone who talks about land rights or opposes the SEZ policy could be called a Maoist or a Naxalite and put in prison. And people who talk about self-determination in Kashmir, Nagaland or Tamil Nadu are labelled terrorists.”
In the absence of POTA and TADA, governments invoke the National Security Act or the state-specific counterpart, like the Chhattisgarh Special Public Security Act, under which Dr Binayak Sen was charged, or the recently amended Unlawful Activities (Prevention) Act.