Reported by Benudhar Behera
Joda, Jan 16:
The administration in Odisha’s Keonjhar district has clamped section 144 on the banks of river Baitarani in Basantpur panchayat and dispersed people protesting the drawing of water from the river by Essar Steel for the last 10 days.
Tension ran high in the area on Thursday after the Jhumpura tehsildar, accompanied by Bamebari IIC Binita Majhi and one platoon of armed police, reached the spot at around 4 PM and handed over the order issued by ADM Keonjhar imposing section 144 Cr Pc in the area and asked agitators to vacate the place.
However, the district administration was able to persuade agitators to vacate the agitation site on the river bank today. Protestors were warned that the administration would be forced to arrest them if they persisted with their assembly there.
Bamebari IIC Binita Majhi confirmed to OST today; “The agitators have left the place after we convinced them that since section 144 has been clamped in the area, assembly of persons was illegal”.
Villagers opposing the company’s move were irritated by the district administration’s move and shouted slogans like “Come what may. We will rather die than give a drop of Baitarini water to Essar “.
“Who is the police and district administration working for? For the people or the company ?” they asked.
“If the district administration considers collecting water for cultivation of crops as illegal, then why has it allowed Essar Steel to illegally construct a concrete dyke in the middle of the river for drawing water?” the irate villagers questioned.
Tension prevailed till late into the night as the protesters argued with the tehsildar. But they relented after another round of talks today during which the tehsildar convinced them that the river bank is public property and thus agitation at the site was an illegal act.
The villagers of Basantpur panchayat are opposed to Essar Steel drawing water from river Baitarini by constructing an intake well in the middle of the river and are on an agitation for the last 10 days opposing the company’s move.
“ After careful observation of documents and hearing of the petitioner as well as Bamebari Police, I am satisfied that the circumstances now prevailing in and around the pump house of M/s ESSAR Steel Ltd. may lead to apprehension of serious breach of peace and public tranquilly which may lead to loss of human lives, properties, bloodshed etc. and therefore do hereby promulgate order under section144 (2) & (3) of CrPC to restrain the opposite parties along with public in general to enter in and around the intake well situated in village Basantpur and adjoining access road up to three hundred meters from the pump house except habitation (for a period of 30 days from today i.e. 14.01.2014). The IIC, Bamebari police station is directed to promulgate the order by beating of drum and displaying at all conspicuos places as deemed fit by him/her. Entry into the said site shall be subject to express permission and knowledge of the local police”, said the order issued by ADM Keonjhar Sangram Keshari which was handed over to the agitators by Jhumpura tehsildar Sibu Toppo.
The ADM issued the order following adjudication of a criminal misc case in which the petitioner Essar Steel Ltd had alleged that some villagers had unlawfully assembled at the intake pump house site of the company with malafide intention to exploit and cause loss and damage to the company’s properties. The petitioner had further alleged that the villagers had illegally constructed a ridge upstream on the river Baitarini and had diverted the perennial source of water of the river causing heavy loss to the company as it was not getting sufficient quantity of water for its beneficiation plant at Dubuna. The company, in its petition, stated that it was authorized to construct intake well along with a pump house and was drawing permissible quantum of water for running its beneficiation plant at Dubuna.
Meanwhile, the company has removed the ridge constructed by the villagers upstream of the river and has resumed drawing of water from its intake well today, latest reports said.
It may be recalled here that Essar Steel had demolished its intake well in river Baitarini in 2013 following orders from the Odisha government after stiff protest by locals who had alleged then that such an act by Essar Steel would dry up river Baitarini and affect the livelihood of several people in the area who largely depend on agriculture.