Environmental Advocate Ramesh Agarwal Arrested in India!
Jun 2, 2011
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Ramesh Agrawal chained to his hospital bed by jail officials in violation of his human rights.

By Lalanath de Silva & Emma Smith

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.

In the meantime, Agarwal’s reported treatment by the police and jail officers raises serious questions about his safety, health, and well-being. Sources close to Agarwal say he regularly takes medicine for high blood pressure and diabetes. His medicines are prescribed by doctors in nearby Raipur and Rourkela, and are not easily available. Agarwal ran out of medication shortly before his arrest. Despite repeated requests to the police, Agarwal was not given his medication. Agarwal was reportedly extremely weak by the time he was presented before the Gharghoda Court for his bail hearing on the afternoon of his arrest; again, Agarwal asked for the medicines. The judge sent him to the local government hospital for checkup. There, sources say, Dr. V.S. Lakda checked Agrawal’s blood pressure and found it to be dangerously high. The doctor reportedly gave Agarwal a dose of medicine and immediately referred him to the district hospital. Instead of taking Agarwal to the district hospital, the police reportedly took him to jail.

According to sources close to Agarwal, he had asked for medical care at the jail but care was not provided to him. On the day after his arrest, the medical doctor at the jail examined Agarwal, prescribed medication and referred him to a specialist. The specialist doctor did not see Agarwal on that day. In the evening hours of 30 May, two days after his arrest, Agarwal reportedly experienced chest pains and other symptoms. According to the same source, he had then been transferred to the district hospital where he received treatment for his medical conditions. But, in the hospital he was handcuffed and chained to the bed by jail officials restricting his movements. (See photo of Ramesh Agarwal in handcuffs and chains in his hospital bed).

Lawyers for Agarwal have stated that the failure to provide satisfactory and immediate medical attention, and the inhuman and degrading treatment he has been subjected to are flagrant violations of Agarwal’s constitutionally-protected human rights. They cited several judgments of the Supreme Court of India, where restraining of detainees pending trial, whether within the jail, outside, or in-transit to and from court, or while in a hospital, have been denounced as serious human rights violations. In those judgements, the Court has threatened to hold any police or jail officer found violating its rulings in contempt of court, carrying punishments of fines and prison terms. In its judgement, the Supreme Court of India went so far as to say that “to bind a man hand-and-foot, fetter his limbs with hoops of steel, shuffle him along in the streets and stand him for hours in the Courts is to torture him, defile his dignity, vulgarize society and foul the soul of our constitutional culture.”

TAI India partners have expressed grave concerned about Agarwal’s health, safety and well-being in both the hospital and jail. They believe that unless steps are taken to protect Agarwal’s human rights and civil liberties, he may continue to be subjected to inhuman and degrading treatment in violation of his constitutional rights. Expect updates on this blog about Agarwal’s well-being and the implications of this event for civil society.

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