Bombay HC preserves Barsu activists’ right to protest
Several activists were issued orders prohibiting them from entering Rajapur taluka.
The Bombay High Court on Thursday agreed to preserve the right of the activists to protest by asking the state to withdraw the externment notices issued to them. Last month, several residents of the villages in Rajapur taluka, who were protesting against the refinery project in the Barsu-Solgaon region, were issued notices prohibiting them from entering Rajapur taluka in Ratnagiri district ahead of the planned survey of the area by the State Government. Those associated with the case said that the Justices Revati Deore and Sharmila Deshmukh, who were hearing the case, upheld their right to protest and said they cannot be exiled from their homes.
On April 22, 2023, two days before the government planned to start drilling for a preliminary survey at the proposed refinery site, the Rajapur Tehsil Office and Magistrate Office issued externment notices to eight activists prohibiting them from entering or moving around Rajapur taluka from April 22 to May 31, 2023. Most of these activists have their homes and livelihoods in the taluka itself. Meanwhile, the protest in Barsu-Solgaon intensified as the government began drilling with heavy police bandobast and thousands of locals gathers on Barsu sada (laterite plateau) in protest.
Narendra Joshi, Satish Bane, Deepak Joshi, Eknath Joshi, Kamlakar Gaurav, Amol Bole, Nitin Jathar and Vaibhav Kolwankar are the activists who were issued talukabandi, that is externment from Rajapur taluka under Section 144 (2) of the Code of Criminal Procedure (CrPC). They moved the Bombay High Court on Friday, April 28, demanding the externment notices to be withdrawn. Senior counsel Adv. Mihir Desai and Adv. Vijay Hiremath appeared on behalf of the protesters.
“The Court has ordered the state government to withdraw the externment notices issued to these eight protesters. If the state disagreed, the Court said that it would quash the orders. Following this, the State Government agreed to withdraw the notices," said Adv. Vijay Hiremath.
The Court has not yet published the order in this regard. But as per reports, at the hearing, the bench told the state that these orders are not tenable, also orally observing that people will lose livelihood for more than a month and they cannot be gagged.
Those aware of the proceedings of the case said that the Court agreed that the petitioners cannot be prohibited from entering the taluka where they reside. They also said that while the State Government wished to gag the protesters if the externment notices are withdrawn, the Court also refused to do so, asserting the petitioners’ right to protest.
Meanwhile, the protest in Barsu, which began on April 24th continues, with the locals fighting the government’s advances. Satyajit Chavan, local leader of the movement and activist, said that the administration tried to reach out to the people in some parts of Dhopeshwar and Goval villages.
“They tried to tell the people how refinery is beneficial. But the people opposed them. They are not happy with the administration issuing externment notices and find the government dishonest,” Chavan said.
Chavan was arrested two days prior to the scheduled survey, along with another activist. He was released on bail a few days later on condition that he will not enter the Ratnagiri district for 15 days.
While there are not many people on the Barsu sada now, a big protest has been planned for Friday, May 5.
“Around four to five thousand people from the five Gram Panchayats in the affected area will gather on the sada tomorrow to protest the refinery. More people from other villages in Rajapur taluka do wish to join us, but the police are not allowing them to enter the region. Nevertheless, we have appealed everyone to protest from wherever they are,” protester Nitin Jathar said.
After Barsu sada, the drilling is now being undertaken at a second site on the border of Goval and Shivane villages, as per the locals.