Arunachal Pradesh police have arrested a graffiti artist from Assam along with an Itanagar-based lawyer activist for allegedly defacing the boundary wall of the state secretariat in Itanagar with an anti-dam message.
Artist Neelim Mahanta’s Sunday night arrest triggered protests in his hometown Lakhimpur in Assam. The Asom Jatiyatabadi Yuba Chatra Parishad (AJYCP) held an hour’s demonstration and threatened a blockade of Arunachal from Tuesday if Neelim was not released unconditionally.
Arunachal police arrested Neelim from his home on the outskirts of Lakhimpur town with the help of Lakhimpur police, sources said. The BJP is in power in both Arunachal and Assam.
Jimmy Chiram, superintendent of police, Itanagar
capital complex, told The Telegraph that Neelim and lawyer Ebo Mili, both in their 30s, were arrested in connection with a case registered with Itanagar police.
Mahanta and Mili allegedly wrote “No More Dams” in black and drew a fist inside a circle on the wall, which has a mural of a dam.
They face charges under the non-bailable Section 3 of the Prevention of Damage to Public Property Act, 1984. Conviction carries a jail term between six months and five years.
“They were arrested on the charge of defacing the wall of the state secretariat building in Itanagar, known as the Wall of Harmony, with their anti-dam message,” Chiram said.
“These two (accused) drew and wrote over an existing artwork done recently by fine arts students. They were produced in a local court on Monday and remanded in police custody for two days. We are proceeding legally.”
Big dams are a sensitive issue in Assam’s Lakhimpur and Dhemaji districts where the National Hydroelectric Power Corporation’s 2,000MW Lower Subansiri project is coming up. Local people have alleged that a proper impact assessment was not done for the project.
Many in Arunachal, whose government is seeking to tap the state’s huge hydropower potential —estimated at around 50,000MW — too are against too many dams being built. They have cited ecological reasons.
Neelim, a prominent face in Assam’s art circles, is known for his anti-dam stand. His wife, younger brother and a friend have left for Itanagar and will be moving for bail on Tuesday.
“Neelim is an artist and should not be treated as a criminal,” AJYCP assistant general secretary Saurabh Das said on Monday evening.
“We will go ahead with our blockade programme on Tuesday if he is not released unconditionally. We will block all roads to Arunachal. We also condemn the role of Lakhimpur police in his arrest.”
AJYCP members burnt an effigy of Arunachal chief minister Pema Khandu in Lakhimpur town, about 70km from Itanagar.