On 19th March I along with Ananta , social activist, Advocate Pradosh Mohanty and Adv. Gaiendra Pradhan visited the villages like Kandadhuda, Beleimunda and Ratanpur in Hemagiri Block of Sundargarh District severally affected by acute pollution by MCL coal transport since 2012. We met with villagers including women who were ill treated, beaten by the police as well as school going girls who have been sitting on the road to protest the illegal and harmful transport of coal by 3000 trucks daily polluting air, water, soil as well as causing sound pollution.
On last 9th February the State Human Rights Commission had directed the Sundargarh District Collector not to allow coal loaded Tracks on the road across the villages and the commission had also directed the District Collector to submit a report on actions taken to meet the local affected people’s plights till 5th April 2021 to which date there would be no transporting of coal on road. After this order the agitating people also withheld their strike, sitting on the road till said date.
Meanwhile hearing a writ petition of truck owners, the High Court of Odisha stayed the execution of the direction of the State Human Rights Commission without listening the affected people who had already filed a caviat earlier though no industry, as user of coal supplied by the MCL was a party to the petition but the interim order of stay mentioned shortage of coal as one of causes. This is very much unfortunate that the stay order deprived the affected people from natural justice and police used it as an opportunity to repress the people who again protested the reappearance of coal loaded trucks run on the road. The people have constitutional right to protest peacefully. The state fails to protect their right to clean air, clean water and healthy soil but the police’s inhuman treatment to arrested women and children is deplorable and condemable. People including woman along with children of Anganwadi Centre of Kandadhuda, Ratanpur and Beleimunda villages were forcefully taken to police station when for thirty hours all including children were kept without food. After a huge hue and cry 24 villagers including 12 women were sent to jail on false charges of criminal offence like attempt to murder and dacoiti.
Some women were beaten by the police, this happened under district police administration of a lady superintendent of police. There should be an inquiry either by the house committee of the state assembly to punish the unruly police officers. Even a social activist Sura Mishra has been locked under docoiti case as he supported the villagers to protest against acute pollution caused by the MCL who is not following the environmental clearance by the ministry of MOEF. There was direction of the High Court earlier to MCL to construct coal transport corridor to avoid public road through villages till 2018 but neither the construction has been started nor any no preventive measures have been taken for safety of the villagers.
I urge the Odisha Government to force the MCL to adhere the guide lines and environmental laws as well as protect the rights of people who need to be free from agony and painful lives being suffered by air, noise, water and soil pollution. The MCL be asked to provide compensation for the loss of crops due to coal dust. My appeal to the Chief Minister to intervene to release to 25 people including elected Lady Zilla Parishad and Samiti Member from Jail.
Prafulla Samantara, National Adviser, NAPM, Lohia Academy, Bhubaneswar