This report is based on the testimonies of persons who participated in the public hearing on Koodankulam and State Suppression of Democratic Rights, held on 14 May, 2012 in Lawrence Sundaram Hall, Loyola College, Chennai.
The public hearing was organised by the Chennai Solidarity Group for Koodankulam Struggle, a coalition of individuals and organisations formed to lend solidarity to the anti-nuclear struggle in Koodankulam.
The jury was comprised of-
Justice AP Shah (Former Chief Justice of Madras and Delhi High Court)
Geeta Ramaseshan (Advocate, Madras High Court)
Prof. Prabha Kalvimani (Irular Tribes Protection Association)
FINDINGS OF THE HEARING
The restriction ON FREEDOM of speech
- People living around the nuclear plant have strong reservations to its presence and have voiced their opposition to it. However eversince the plant was commissioned, any activities critical of the plant were countered by strong reaction as if even talking about the subject was seditious and against the State. This resulted in the suppression of the people’s right to freedom of speech. The restriction on freedom of movement
- The area around where the plant is situated was under siege with the imposition of section 144 CrPC at the time of the hearing, and in March. In both instances, the Government placed complete and severe restrictions on the freedom of movement of persons living in and around the area.
The denial of information
- The protestors are seeking genuine information that would address their concerns about safety, and there are genuine reasons for such safety concerns. Instead of addressing their concerns, and furnishing them information to which they are entitled under the Right to Information Act, the state police machinery is being used to harass them.
Registration of criminal cases and arrests
- The systematic registration of various cases against the protestors charging them with sedition, waging war against the Government of India, promoting enmity between different groups, and other provisions of the Indian Penal Code, seems to support the allegation of the persons who appeared before the committee that cases have been foisted on them in view of their active participation against the nuclear plant. The jury found that many arrests were made very arbitrarily. The mechanical and arbitrary method of arrests indicate that the issue was not that the persons concerned had committed an offence but was more to prevent any kind of legitimate protest or difference of opinion against the nuclear power plant.
Denial of other rights
- Plans by the police and revenue departments to impound passports and nullify ration cards of the protestors because they were wanting to return their voters ID as an act of protest was clearly illegal and in violation of the protestors’ right to food. By preventing effective transport from reaching the villages and making children walk long distances, the children’s right to education was deeply affected. The restriction on movement had an impact on the right to health of the residents in the surrounding villages as they could not get adequate and timely medical help. There was a severe impact on livelihood and the right to carry on trade and business as fishermen were unable to go the sea and small shopkeepers who depended on transport to get their goods from Tirunelveli were severely hit as they were unable to purchase goods and eke out their living. There has been culpable inaction on the part of the police in not proceeding with the investigation on the complaint given by Mrs. Meera Udayakumar relating to the attack on her school.
- The right to speech is a constitutionally guaranteed right and the persons who are opposed to the plant are well within their right to speak about it. However by filing cases of sedition, waging war against the Government of India, and promoting disaffection between groups of persons, the people are being unnecessarily harassed by the misuse of criminal law, and their constitutional rights are being violated. The jury recommends that all cases against persons under these provisions be withdrawn as they are only exercising their legitimate right to protest and there was nothing to indicate that they were committing suchserious offences.
- An order under Section 144 CrPC can be made only in an emergency. In rural areas, such imposition for a large stretch of time can cause tremendous hardship. In this instance, it has resulted in the denial of people’s right to life and livelihood. It seems to be pushing people towards despair and penury and does not augur well for their well being. The jury recommends that the order be revoked immediately and positive and pro-active steps be taken by the Government to bring normalcy in the area.
- Persons who are protesting cannot be branded as anti- national and unpatriotic, and peaceful protests cannot be equated to sedition or waging war against the state. The deliberate targeting of the protestors in criminal cases must stop and all cases filed under Waging War against the Government of India, Sedition, Promoting Enmity etc mustbe withdrawn immediately.All public transport services must be immediately restored.
- All persons including Satish Kumar and Mugilan, who have been arbitrarily arrested for exercising their right to protest must be released immediately.
- The Government of India must release information on safety, site evaluation and other such information that will not compromise strategic interests. In this connection the order of the Central Information Commission directing the Government to release such information should be complied with immediately.
- The inter governmental liability agreement between Russia and the Government of India must be made public in so far as it does not violate strategic interests.
- The talks with PMANE should be resumed and, a fair committee acceptable to villagers should be set up to address the concerns raised by the villagers.
- The right to gather, assemble and protest are all part of the fundamental right to speech and the right of the protestors to protest and dissent should be respected.
- Action must be taken against miscreants who attacked the school run by Meera Udayakumar and her complaint investigated.
- The media must be more responsible and play a role in giving alternate viewpoints. They should not create a fear psychosis among protestors or brand persons as Maoists simply because they do not support the functioning of the plant. The media must question the credibility of such cases filed against the protestors.
- The Government of India and the State Government must initiate dialogue, come to middle ground, stop persecution of persons and resolve the issue mutually.