Bangalore-Mysore Infrastructure Corridor:
Brute Police Action and denial of Information on Rs. 2,000 crore investment by International consortia
In a most shocking and condemnable act, the District Commissioner (DC) Sanaulla of Bangalore (Urban), ordered the arrests of over 30 citizens who were peacefully demanding access to public domain information on the Bangalore-Mysore Infrastructure Corridor during a statutory "Environmental Public Hearing" held on 5 July 2000 at Yavanika, Bangalore. The project is being promoted by the Nandi Infrastructure Corridor Enterprise of the Indian Kalyani group with support from Vanabe Hangen Brusten Inc., and SAB international Ltd. of USA. The Citizens Panel on the Public Hearing, including former Karnataka Environment Secretary A. N. Yellappa Reddy, chose to remain mute witnesses to this brutal attack on human rights.
First to be arrested was senior citizen and eminent Gandhian, H. S. Doreswamy, for inquiring why the Government was proceeding with the Hearing when the environmental impact, social impact, and techno-economic information on the project was not being provided as assured by the DC in the first round of hearings held during March 2000. What, then, was the logic of conducting these "hearings"?, he demanded.
Next round of arrests included Siremane Nagaraj and Vasu along with over 30 fellow activists of the Karnataka Viespressona Ranga (KVR), a grassroots group that has been championing the cause of consultation with project affected farming communities. Their crime? Insisting strongly, but only vocally, that the Hearing can be meaningful if and only if the due information that is public domain is shared with the public, particularly in their local language. Considering that over 20,000 acres of land was proposed to be acquired, over 13,000 acres of which was fertile agricultural land involving the displacement of 168 villages, on what basis was the Government justifying this project to be in the public interest, they enquired. This especially when all that the project envisaged was developing high speed expressways which only the rich could afford to use, and recreational and living facilities for the wealthy by acquiring lands from toiling farmers at throwaway rates.
The arrests of KVR activists were rather brutal. Squads of baton wielding Special Striking Forces swarmed around the activists who were sitting along the corridors in the overcrowded Yavanika, and physically dragged and lifted them out. Several women activists were dragged and lifted out, not by women police, but the terrorising men, of the Striking Forces.
At this stage, the DC should have been prevailed upon by the Panel to stop the Hearings. Instead, encouraged by the silence of the Panel, the DC signaled that Leo Saldanha, Coordinator of Environment Support Group, be "removed" as well. His crime? Contending that a Hearing could not be held under such a Climate of Terror. He had in the first hour of the "hearings" stood up several times urging the DC to respond to Doreswamy's queries on why project information was not being shared. He also informed the DC that this is exactly what citizens had been urged to do by the High Court of Karnataka when Doreswamy had filed Public Interest Litigation the previous week seeking public domain information on the project. He had not raised any slogans, and thus his actions could in no way have been construed to be "obstructionist".
Whilst he waited for his turn to speak, a posse of the Striking Forces surrounded him and dragged him out of the auditorium, one policeman urging his colleagues to "Kick Him. Throw him down". Such action was most effectively taken on him in full view of over 400 citizens, and the Press. Leo was not even informed that he was being arrested. As he lay in pain outside the building, loud protests were raised by several citizens against such brutal attack on a person's Right to Express and against a most arbitrary, irrational and draconian act of the Government. Only on insisting that he should be medically examined was he taken by the police to the Victoria Hospital and thankfully there were no serious injuries. He was then taken to the Viveknagar Police Station where the others arrested were kept in detention. It was only in the late hours of the evening that they were all released.
Despite such abuse of the human rights, the DC proceeded with his "peaceful" Hearings. What he chose not to do was to arrest about 15-20 drunken rabble-rousers raising slogans in favour of the project, rather more vociferously than the KVR activists and who even chose to use the most obscene language against those demanding project information.
This most abhorrent act of repression is a big blot on the much-hyped claims of the Karnataka Government being a transparent and progressive administration; a claim that Chief Minister S. M. Krishna has been championing widely. Yesterday's "hearings" demonstrated the Government's determination to push ahead with one of its several "progressive" schemes aimed at drawing foreign attention and investment to the State, what Krishna prefers to address as "making Bangalore a Singapore". The question is for whose benefit and what cost: environmental, social and economic. Not forgetting the most important cost of all: the denial of fundamental democratic rights.
Such arrogant attitude of the Government ensured that the Hearings in Mysore and Mandya held on 30 June and 3 July 2000 as well were similarly "peaceful". Only there, most who demanded project information boycotted the hearings as they were denied the same. Leading amongst them were M. D. Nanjundaswamy of the Karnataka Rajya Ryatha Sangha (Karnataka State Farmers Association), Maj. General Vombatkere (Retd.) of the Mysore Consumer Action Forum, and hundreds of other citizens.
-- Ranjini Thomas, Bhargavi S. Rao, Manu Mathai, K. R. Mallesh and H. C. Ravindranath, Environment Support Group
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(PUCL Bulletin, Sept. 2000)