Activist Ramesh Agrawal shot and injured
Ramesh Agrawal, partner of The Access Initiative (TAI) and RTI activist with the NGO Jan Chetna Manch, is in stable condition after being shot on the morning of Saturday, July 7th in his district of Raigarh. The long-time environmental advocate came to prominence due to his altercations with Jindal Steel and Power, Ltd (JSPL) and members of Jan Chetna Manch have accused JSPL of ordering the attack. Following the incident, Agrawal was rushed to the district government hospital where doctors removed two bullets from his thigh. No arrests have been made.
Raghubir Pradhan, a fellow activist and acquaintance of Mr. Agrawal, described the attack to The Hindu: “Rameshji was in his internet cafe when two men came into the shop on the excuse of some computer-related work. They told him to stop opposing Jindal and put a gun to his chest. There was a scuffle and Mr. Agrawal was shot through the thigh.”
JSPL strongly denies the allegations, telling The Hindu: “This is a very unfortunate incident. We strongly condemn this act of violence. We deny the allegations and have nothing to do with this incident.”
The steel and energy powerhouse, chaired by Member of Parliament Naveen Jindal, has found its attempts to bypass environmental regulations in the state of Chhattisgarh obstructed by the work of Agrawal and his fellow activists. In 2010, JSPL began construction on a 2,400 MW-power plant without receiving proper clearance from the Ministry of Environment and Forests (MoEF), a violation pointed out to the MoEF in a letter written by Agrawal. The ministry subsequently withdrew their approval of the project. Though terms of reference were eventually restored by the MoEF, Agrawal’s advocacy caused a major setback for the company.
The shooting is the most recent in a series of abuses brought against Mr. Agrawal by JSPL and the local police. On May 28th, 2011, Agrawal was arrested at the behest of the Jindal business group on charges of defamation, insult, and making false statements after speaking out against proposed industrial expansion at a public hearing. During the period of his arrest Agrawal’s human and civil rights were repeatedly violated, as he was chained and handcuffed to his bed and given delayed and insufficient medical attention. Agrawal was held for over two months by local authorities, gaining wide attention and garnering the support of Amnesty International.
Saturday’s shooting has made Mr. Agrawal one of three RTI activists attacked in India in the last two weeks. Akhil Gogoi in Assam and Bharat Jhunjhunwala in Uttarakhand have both been victims of violence as they fight hydroelectric projects in their respective states.