Release Anti-Mining Environmental Defenders from Gadchiroli, India
November 23, 2023
The Asia Pacific Network of Environmental Defenders (APNED) calls for the immediate release of 21 individuals arrested in the Gadchiroli district in the state of Maharashtra, central India on November 20. They were among the residents of the Todgatta Village and around 70 neighboring villages who have been protesting for over 250 days against six auctioned iron mines at Surjagarh Hills since March 11 this year.
According to the organization Damkondwahi Bachao Sangharsh Samiti, the 21 individuals arrested were slapped with Section 353 (assault or criminal force to determine public servant from discharge of his duty) and that the police claimed that these individuals tried to kill them and carried explosives. The organizations also said that many of those arrested sustained severe injuries after being beaten in detention. On November 20, Damkondwahi Bachao Sangharsh Samiti also released on social media that the police destroyed huts in Todgatta and seized the phones of protesters.
The police associated the protestors with Maoists and that they were forced to participate in the protests.
However, mining operations have long been opposed by Adivasi villagers who considered these lands sacred to them. They are also concerned that the mines will destroy local ecosystems and their livelihoods. According to locals, the mining operations released red dust covering surrounding roads, fields and homes as well as wastewater that contaminated river water and fields. Residents also reported to have various illnesses like fever and body aches.
Despite strong opposition, leases were given for mines spanning 4,684 hectares to the following companies: Omsairam Steels and Alloys Private Limited, JSW Steels Limited, Sunflag Iron and Steel Company Limited, Universal Industrial Equipment and Technical Services Private Limited and Natural Resources Energy Private Limited.
APNED condemns the arrests and violence against the protestors. Instead of duty-bearers heeding the concerns and calls of the indigenous communities, false narratives are being brandished by the police which are used to justify their actions.
It is in this light that APNED calls for the following:
- Release the 21 arrested protestors.
- For the police to immediately stop human rights violations on the mining-affected communities.
- For government agencies and human rights institutions to investigate the situation of the environmental human rights defenders and seek accountability for perpetrators of violations.
- For the mining license approval and operations to stop until proper human rights due diligence, environmental investigation and accountability measures are taken in the affected areas.
- For fellow environmental human rights defenders and human rights institutions support the initiatives of the mining-affected communities to uphold their environmental and human rights.
Photo credits: Screengrab from Damkondwahi Bachao Sangharsh Samiti retrieved from https://scroll.in/latest/1059460/maharashtra-21-protestors-opposing-iron-mining-in-gadchiroli-arrested