| Medha Patkar helps an anti-Posco activist after a scuffle with police in front of the Orissa chief minister’s residence in Bhubaneswar. Pix: Sanjib Mukherjee
Bhubaneswar, Oct. 15: Making light of her chikungunya, a frail Medha Patkar today led a lightning 6-km march in 50 minutes to throw a surprise siege around chief minister Naveen Patnaik’s residence.
But she refused to go in when, after the police had roughed up her 130-strong contingent, Patnaik invited her to a discussion.
She insisted that the chief minister talk to the rallyists, instead, who would be displaced by India’s biggest foreign investment deal — a Rs 52,000-crore, 12-million-tonne steel plant by South Korean giant Posco in Jagatsinghpur.
Yesterday, the Narmada Bachao Andolan leader gave Naveen 18 hours to come to the roadside spot where protesters had been fasting since September 25, demanding a public debate with the chief minister on the rehabilitation package. As the deadline passed around 8 am today, Medha and the protesters set off towards Naveen Niwas, taking police by surprise by the speed of their march.
At Airport Square, about 200 metres from Patnaik’s gate, the marchers pushed past half-a-dozen policemen. At Naveen Niwas’s gates, where Section 144 had been clamped, a larger group of policemen charged at them. The police dragged away some protesters, including women, without waiting for policewomen to arrive. Medha was pushed and shoved as she tried to help those injured in the scuffle.
“This is absolutely inhuman… nowhere have I seen such excessive use of force on non-violent people,” she screamed.
Senior officers tried to persuade Medha to go in and meet Patnaik with fellow rallyist B.D. Sharma, former IAS officer and president of Bharatiya Jana Andolan. But she said: “It is the protesters who should be invited in, we are merely supporting them.”
District collector Narayan Jena and additional district magistrate R. Nanda then arrived as the chief minister’s emissaries. Medha now demanded the police free all the detainees and Patnaik step outside to accept a memorandum.
The police finally decided to arrest the rest of the protesters. Medha, though, decided not to court arrest saying she had to attend a Supreme Court hearing on the Sardar Sarovar issue. “Four protesters have been hospitalised due to police action,” she later said.
Patnaik said his government was offering displaced people the country’s best relief and rehabilitation policy.