Hyderabad: Farmers and Left parties have begun a relay hunger strike on Tuesday at the collectorate in Kakinada town in Andhra Pradesh. They have been demanding that “illegal” cases against 172 protestors be scrapped. The protests have been against construction by pharmaceutical company Divis laboratories at Kona forest in Ontimamidi village near Kakinada in East Godavari district.
“The company started construction in December despite a pending court hearing. The ruling YSRCP had opposed the project citing environmental concerns when it was in opposition but has taken a U-turn now,” said Veerababu, CPI(M) secretary from Kakinada. He added that 16 persons, including 12 farmers and four Left party leaders, were arrested in the third week of December for protesting against the pharmaceutical company.
“The arrests and the cases are illegal as many people who joined peaceful protests were arrested,” said the wife of a farmer who is currently in remand.
Addressing a protest gathering led by Divis Vyatireka Porata Samithi (struggle committee) at the collectorate, Andhra Pradesh Rythu Sangham East Godavari district president Thirumalasetty Nageshwar Rao said that the farmers in the region cultivate cashew, casuarina and other fruits.
“There are over 250 hatcheries near the proposed project which are under threat of being polluted. On several occasions environmentalists have warned that groundwater across the coast line will be polluted due to the controversial plant,” he said.
The demands of the protesters include immediate withdrawal of the cases against the farmers and leaders and relocation of the plant.
“The ruling YSRCP MLA Dadisetti Raja had promised to relocate the plant before the elections,” said Veerababu.
Earlier this month, the company reportedly commenced construction of Unit III at the proposed site at a cost of Rs 1,500 crore. It claimed that it has acquired all necessary licences from the government and regulatory bodies.
Following this, locals and farmers intensified protests against the company following which the state government on December 19 asked the company to stop work and resolve the issue.
Industries Minister Mekapati Goutham Reddy has reportedly initiated talks with the company management and the protesters to resolve the issue. He is said to be negotiating with the company management, suggesting that it provide 75% of the jobs created to the locals and establishe a skill centre there.
“It is feared that the farmers, agriculture workers and workers in hatcheries will lose more jobs if the plant comes up. We are demanding a relocation of the plant and urging the ruling party to keep its promise,” added veerababu.
According to the locals, over 500 acres have been acquired by the company since 2011 but proper compensation has not been implemented and agricultural land has been “forcefully acquired”.
Newsclick has sent a questionnaire to the Divis management asking for a response to the farmers allegations about environmental concerns and the land acquisition process. However, no response has been forthcoming. The copy will be updated once we receive a response.
According to its website, the company is among the top three active pharmaceutical ingredients manufacturers in the world.