The attempt to violently suppress the stir against the setting up of LPG import terminal of the Indian Oil Corporation (IOC) at Puthuvype in Elankunnapuzha panchayat, Ernakulam, using police force has drawn widespread flak from all quarters.
The apprehensions of the local residents over setting up a 15, 450 ton LPG import terminal and storage plant in a densely populated area comprising 600 families and extending up to 11 km, which is also an intertidal zone from the coastline, was snowballing into a public protest in Puthuvype. The agitation that began eight years ago in 2009 failing to yield any result, took the form of an indefinite blockade in last February. The police trying to remove the agitators on 14th led to the protest being spread to the city of Kochi. The action against the protestors ordered by the Deputy Police Commissioner in the region on the same day as well as on 16th, led to a police atrocity. The political leaders and the media, being engrossed in the inaugural celebrations of Kochi metro, didn’t pay heed to the agitations in Puthuvype.
State Fisheries Minister J Mercy kutty Amma who intervened in the matter intending to resolve it, held talks with the leaders of the protest and announced to halt all construction works in the region until the decision of the National Green Tribunal. She also promised to withdraw the police force. Following this, the protest was temporarily called off. However, the agitators blocked the authorities from resuming the construction works on Sunday, contrary to the assurance of the Minister. The police force that entered the scene to disperse the crowd was literally on a rampage. They resorted to brutal action against women, children and the elderly. About 50 people were severely injured in the skirmishes. Meanwhile Chief Minister Pinarayi Vijayan called a meeting at Thiruvananthapuram to discuss the issue. The IOC has also agreed to stop the construction activities until then. But the agitators have refused calls for discussion without the authorities backing off from setting up the terminal.
Apprehensions have surfaced since the storage plant of the IOC in Puthuvype was announced. When the project started in 2009, importing 6 lakh tons of LPG was the target. Kochi refinery produced around 4.5 lakh tons. The Puthuvype project is touted as a scheme to plug that gap. Moves to produce 1.17 crore tons of LPG at the Kochi refinery and give the additional quantity to Tamil Nadu, is progressing. Therefore, the residents argue that the project which has increased the storage capacity of the plant to about 15.5 ton, was unnecessary. The Forest and Environment ministry had directed, while giving the green clearance, that the terminal and the pipeline should be set up 200 metres from the high tide line. This distance-limit has been made mandatory for the permission of the Coastal Regulation Zone (CRZ) as well. The plant is being set up in an area where there are houses located at a distance of 30 metres and schools, playschools, health centres and places of worship lying within a one kilometer radius of the project. Instead of paying heed to the agitators and resolve their woes, the government has been trying to brutally suppress the stir using the police. When the residents say that the intervention of the Minister was a ploy maneuvered to prevent any hullabaloos during the metro inauguration ceremony citing the police action the very next day, the authorities are left with no answer.
It’s the basic decency of the government to create awareness among the residents and listen to their genuine complaints when a new development project is announced. But the government has been trying to implement development projects through the use of force. This is what creates problems most of the times and ruin the lives of the people with development eventually coming to a halt. It was after the initial quashing of the protests in Puthuvype that the CM made a closed announcement during the Kochi metro inaugural function that his government would go ahead with development schemes disregarding obstacles.
The police atrocity that soon followed surely had the backing of the state government. The Puthuvype issue proves that those who constantly criticize the police force being used as a torture-tool by governments are doing the same with the force under their own rule. The officer who was blacklisted by the CPM leadership was who led the violent action against the locals. Amidst the hullabaloo, the district police superintendent have alleged terrorist links to the protests. The government should realise the irony in drawing the same communal card usually used by the right wing parties to suppress a protest led by the hapless residents in fear of their lives. Not just West Bengal, Kerala too has witnessed the people's protests failing the government’s' efforts to bring development without considering their interests and lives. The government would be able to move ahead only if it realise the fact that the easiest way to progress is to show compassion to the victims and recognise their genuine needs and not quash them through violence.