Kerala Chief Minister Pinaryai Vijayan, on more than one occasion, said what his development plan is. And he elaborated several times that just because people are opposing development projects, the government will not withdraw it, and will go ahead with its developmental plans.
So when people in Puthuvype, a picturesque village near Kochi on the banks of the Arabian Sea in Ernakulam district of Kerala, started protesting against the construction of the Indian Oil Corporation plant defying existing laws, the police did what they were told to do. Attack the people. And several people are injured and admitted to the nearby hospital after police lathi-charged them brutally.
But neither the police action nor Chief Minister Pinarayi Vijayan’s veiled threat against those agitating against development projects has been able to dampen the spirit of the people who are fighting for their life. With an intransigent CM at the helm of the government and the way the people are fighting for their livelihood, many are reminded of what has happened in Nandigram in Bengal which eventually led to the decimation of the CPI(M) in that state.
Puthuvype becomes a hotbed of protests as scores of locals have joined hands up in arms against the LPG import terminal and storage plant of IOC. As the indefinite agitation called by the residents against the plant got a new momentum, it was high drama in front of the plant on Sunday when the Kerala police unleashed apparently arbitrary lati charge on the protesters.
Residents irrespective gender and age have unanimously opposed the plant and were brutally beaten up by the police, leaving many seriously injured. The area has witnessed unprecedented police crackdown on Saturday also when the cops tried to evict the protesters ahead of Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s visit to the city to flag off the Kochi metro. The protest has been brewing for long, but the residents started a sit-in under the aegis of Puthuvype LPG Terminal Virudha Janakeeya Samara Samithi on Saturday.
The state fisheries minister J Mercy Kutty Amma has earlier promised that the construction works of the plant would be halted until the case comes up in front of National Green Tribunal on 4 July. The minister’s promise had come after 121 days of protests. The stir against the plant was first started eight years ago.
However, the promise by the government was broken on Saturday when the construction works resumed with police protection after which the residents went for a full swing protest.
Men women, children and senior citizen came out protesting the LGP plant, against what they call as a “disaster” and a “bomb” in the highly populated coastal area. The activists and agitators also alleged that the project is in violation of environmental norms.
The Samithi alleged the LPG terminal was set up in contravention of the order issued by the NGT on 2 August 2016, which directed, no construction work should be taken up in the inter-tidal zone between 200 and 300 metres from the coastline.
We are not against the LPG terminal, but we don’t want the terminal to come up in Puthuvype, which is a densely populated area. The LPG tanker accident in Chala and Karunagappally and the pipeline accident in Andhra Pradesh indicate the dangers involved in handling LPG. The plant at Elamkunnapuzha in Puthuvype will put our lives at risk,” chairman of the Samithi M B Jayaghosh was quoted saying.
The Majority of the people of Puthuvypeen are poor, landless people and many of them belong to the fishing community.
The state police had demolished protest tents in front of the plant on 14 June, which brought the stir into the streets and in front of the Kerala High Court. However, they had withdrawn from the streets after the Minister's promise.
When the works resumed in the plant on Sunday, the locals gathered in front of the plant and when some protesters tried to barge into the IOC, the police resorted to lati charge, bringing a violent turn to the protest. The locals also pelted stones at the police.
The protesters, however, said that they will not end the stir until the plant shuts down.
“Even if the state government put the entire village behind the bars, the protest will continue,” a protest leader Maglin Peter said.
According to the protesters, it was promised that they will be allowed to meet the Chief Minister Pinarayi Vijayan when he reaches Kochi for the inauguration of Kochi Metro on Saturday. However, no such move was initiated by the authorities.
The administration, however, said the decision to deploy police at the terminal was taken in view of a recent High Court order that the terminal, functioning in the Special Economic Zone in Puthuvype, should be provided police protection. However, Mercy kutty Amma, had promised to withdraw the forces from the site.
The district administration also said the LPG terminal and storage facilities, the project, part of Rs 2,200 cr venture which included another LPG Terminal at Palakkad in partnership with BPCL, had received all clearances from various agencies, including the Environment Ministry.
The state government is expected to earn an additional tax revenue of around Rs 150 crore per annum.
Several activists under the National Alliance of People’s Movement’s (NAPM’s) on Saturday urged Pinarayi Vijayan to intervene in the matter urgently to ensure justice to the residents.
“ We are constrained to note that like in any other state, people’s voices and struggles continue to be muzzled in Kerala, particularly when the justifiability of ‘development projects’, pushed against popular consent is questioned in democratic ways,” the activists wrote to Pinarayi Vijayan.
“Their concerns of livelihood loss, environmental and health impacts must be addressed by the State, not crushed in this manner,” the letter signed by renowned activists and environmentalists such as Medha Patkar, Prafulla Samantara, Lingraj Azad, Binayak Sen, Kavita Srivastava, Aruna Roy and many others, said.