In Odisha, several adivasis are languishing in jail due to their protest against the forceful displacement and pollution caused by Vedanta’s mining activities in the state.
One of the protesting adivasis, Pattnaik Harijan, a resident of Rengapalli village, allegedly died in custody of the Kalahandi jail authorities and administration. Activists are claiming that he died on Friday, August 23, while the police are claiming that he passed away at the Medical College Hospital. According to the activists, Pattnaik died at the Bhawanipatna jail but to avoid blame the jail authorities pretended to take him to Burla hospital for treatment.
Reportedly, Pattnaik was ill for a while and was running a high fever when taken to the hospital in Burla, which is more than 200 kilometres away from Bhawanipatna. The activists also said that his family was not informed of his ill health. They allege that it was primarily due to the negligence of the jail superintendent and jailor that he didn’t get proper treatment. Previously, Dongria Kondh leader Bari Pidikak had also died as an undertrial prisoner after not getting proper medical treatment. At least fifteen people from Rengopali village have already died allegedly due to contamination from the toxic waste disposal of Vedanta’s aluminium plant right next to the village.
The situation is extremely volatile in the area as the police have imposed Section 144 since yesterday which has created widespread panic in the region. The police has barred activists and leaders from meeting Pattnaik’s wife Manorama and her daughters.
In the light of his death, activists and lawyers in the state have issued a statement, “The state government at the behest of the company has withdrawn from its constitutional responsibility and the reign of the company has substituted the systems, which is deplorable. The terror and intimidation of the people of these villages around the refinery plant continues till date. In this manner, they are hastening the process of emptying these villages where the extension of the red mud pond is causing vast ecological damage to lives of people and the entire habitat.”
The activists are demanding strict punishment for the police officials and a judicial probe into the reasons behind Pattnaik’s death. They have also demanded a compensation of Rs. 50 lakh for his family.
Forty-five year old daily wage worker Pattnaik Harijan was one of the 29 villagers arrested from the refinery plant area of Vedanta Aluminium Resources in Lanjigarh in the wake of the incidents that followed the death of Dani Batra and the security guard Sujit Minz on March 18, 2019. Activists are saying that, till date, no proper investigation has taken place to bring to light the manner in which Dani Batra succumbed to injuries inflicted on him by the brutal lathicharge unleashed by the Odisha Industrial Security Forces (OISF). Yet many random arrests have taken place in the case of the security guard Sujit Minz whose dead body was found completely burnt with his feet tied with a wire in the premises of the refinery plant. In an FIR registered by the Lanjigarh police, 22 persons were named along with 300 “others” in events that led to the death of the security guard Sujit Minz.
NewsClick has previously reported on how the state government of Odisha has been resorting to brutal measures to suppress the struggle of the adivasis, who have been waging a resistance struggle against the corporate giant Vedanta which opened its refinery in Lanjigarh in 2006. Another activist, Dadi Kadraka is still in police custody. He was picked up from the Muniguda market without any notice in a case dating back a decade. Like Kadarka, on the morning of July 24, Niyamgiri Suraksha Samiti (NSS) activists Jilu Majhi, Tunguru Majhi, Range Majhi, Salpu Majhi and Patra Majhi from the villages of Palberi and Kunakadu of Kalahandi district, Odisha, were also arrested.
In March this year, two persons were killed and 50 injured at Vedanta’s aluminium refinery. The deaths happened after Odisha Industrial Security Force (OISF) personnel mercilessly used batons on the displaced tribals who were protesting and demanding jobs. One of the persons who was killed following the protests was Ambedkarite activist Dani Batra, who was reportedly beaten to death by security forces. Kadarka’s family is also fearing for his life as this is not the first time he has been hounded by the state police. In 2018, too, he was tortured in jail for over four days, leading to grave injuries on his body. A week before the violence at the Lanjigarh refinery, one of the founder members of Niyamgiri Suraksha Samiti (NSS), Lingaraj Azad was arrested and later released on bail.