THE BHAVNAGAR police on Monday released all 355 farmers, including 138 women, who were arrested for rioting and attacking the police during the protests against the proposed lignite mines in Gogha taluka of Bhavnagar district on Sunday. Farmers of 12 villages of Bhavnagar and Ghogha talukas of Bhavnagar district had assembled at Surka village on Sunday to protest against the ongoing activity by the Gujarat Power Corporation (GPCL) to develop lignite mines in the area. However, around 1,000 farmers from the 12 villages, which are likely to be affected by the proposed three lignite mining sites, had assembled at Surka, the village adjoining Badi village in Bhavnagar. After the protests turned violent, the farmers had clashed with the police. At least two police officers were injured during stone-pelting. To control the violence, police had lobbed 62 teargas shells and also resorted to lathicharge.
Late on Sunday night, SM Rana, police sub-inspector of Ghogha, filed a police complaint with Vartej police station. Based on the complaint, the Vartej police booked a mob of around 1,000 under the IPC Sections 143 (illegal assembly), 147 (punishment for rioting), 186 (obstructing public servant from discharge of public duty), 337 (causing hurt by act endangering life or personal safety of others), 504 (intentional insult with intent to provoke breach of the peace) and 188 (disobedience to order duly promulgated by public servant). The same night, Vartej police arrested 355 farmers from Surka. “After arresting them, we had brought the farmers to the headquarters of Bhavnagar police in Bhavnagar city. Since there were women among the accused, we had also sought the permission of the magistrate to arrest them. But in case of offences for which they have been booked, police have powers to grant bail. Therefore, all the farmers were granted bail late on Monday evening and released,” Vartej police sub-inspector Rajendra Chudasama said.
Chudasama, who is the investigating officer of the case, was among the policemen who were injured in the rioting. MH Thakar,Deputy Superintendent of Police of Bhavnagar city, had also sustained injuries in the stone-pelting at Surka.
GPCL, a company promoted by the state government, is developing three lignite mines – Ghogha-Suraka, Khadsaliya-I and Khadsaliya-III – spread across 12 villages of Ghogha and Bhavnagar talukas. The company has plans to exploit 3.5 million metric tonnes of lignite from them every year and supply it to Bhavnagar Energy Company Limited (BECL), another state government-owned enterprise which has set up a 500 megawatt thermal power plant at Padva village.
The company acquired 1,414 hectares of land from 1,114 farmers of these villages between 1997 and 2005 and has already paid compensation to its owners. However, farmers have moved court, arguing that the GPCL did not claim possession of the said land in due time and, therefore, the acquisition should be declared null and void and that the farmers should be allowed to retain possession of the land. The matter is pending with the Gujarat HC.
As a firm appointed by the GPCL to develop lignite mines tried to take possession of the land on April 1, farmers resisted and clashed with police. Violence was again reported on April 7 as GPCL continued with its work of developing the mines. On Tuesday, police said that the mine development activity was going on under its protection.
Meanwhile, Kanaksinh Gohil, the leader of the farmers, said that the 1,114 affected farmers have written to the President of India, seeking his permission for passive euthanasia. “We farmers, along with our family members, cumulatively numbering 5,259, have pleaded the President to allow us to end our lives as we have been robbed of our land,” said Gohil.