A dharna by Sanjha Zira Morcha outside a liquor factory in Ferozepur continued strong on Saturday —the 147th day since its inception — even as Ludhiana police lodged an FIR against protesters for stopping the police from performing its duty and a meeting with Punjab Agriculture Minister failed to break the deadlock.
The dharna, being staged since July 24 this year outside a liquor factory at Mansurwal village of Zira, has already come under the lens of Punjab and Haryana High Court, which had in September ordered that the protesters be shifted 300 metres from the present spot, so as not to inconvenience the employees of the factory. December 20 has been set as the next date of hearing in the case.
On November 29, the Punjab and Haryana High Court had fined the Punjab government Rs 15 crore for failing to get the dharna shifted from the gate of the factory. The protesters, who have seen support from local villagers and farmer unions, have been demanding a closure of the factory as the believe that the unit was polluting pollution of ground water in Mansurwal and adjoining villages.
On Friday evening, a 21-member delegation of the morcha had met Punjab Chief Minister Bhagwant Mann. On Saturday, Mann’s Cabinet colleague Kuldeep Singh Dhaliwal, met protesters to pacify them.
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Roman Brar, convener of Sanjha Morcha Zira (SMZ) said, “The CM first and then the agriculture minister proposed that a committee be formed to verify all facts related to pollution being caused by this factory and will submit its report within a month’s time. If the owner is found guilty, the unit will be closed . They asked us to lift the dharna for now and let the committee do its work. However, we have decided to continue with the dharna till the time the committee conducts its investigations. We have a feeling that this is just a ploy by the government to end our protest and then later delay their reports . They did so in the case of Bargari sacrilege case as well.”
Addressing the protesters on Saturday, Dhaliwal said,”We are thankful that you chose a common man as your CM. Bhagwant Mann has seven acres of land under his name. I am the owner of 4 acres. We are both small farmers like you, and hence you should believe us. We appreciate your concern about need for a safe environment for which you have been staging dharna for the past many days. Let the committee conduct its probe in a month’s time.”
He added,”Punjab CM Bhagwant Mann is the only CM who has met all 52 farmer unions and has held meetings with them multiple times . We are keen about redressing your issues.”
Dhaliwal said that the government will form several committees — Vidhan Sabha committee, soil health committee, agriculture committee, veterinary committee — to check the effect of pollution in the area.
The protesters, however, dubbed the promises made by the minister as a gimmick to get them to lift their dharna. Convener Brar said,”We are firm in our resolve of not ending the protests till the time this unit is closed permanently. ”
Brar stated ,”The government must investigate how permission was granted to this liquor factory to operate if it has so many anomalies. They should check if the unit took took consent from all 25 surrounding villages before commencing operations here.”
A few protesters also told Dhaliwal that the Bhagwant Mann had called a woman protester as his sister when she had climbed on a water tank to demand permanent job as a teacher. The same person, after assuming the post of Punjab’s CM, has been callous towards woman protesters who are part of the ongoing dharna. “We have lost trust in our governments. Our protests will continue,” said Brar.
Minister leaves, FIR lodged
Hours after Singh Dhaliwal left the dharna site , Ferozepur police lodged an FIR against 14 protesters by name and 100-125 unidentified persons for allegedly obstructing the police from performing their duty. The FIR was lodged at around 6 pm. ASI Kulwant Singh, in his complaint, mentioned that while he along with his team was on his way to Mansurwal village to get the dharna outside the liquor unit shifted 300 metres away from the present site. “We were, however, stopped near Rataul Rohi village by a bunch of protesters who were wielding swords, rods, sticks. They came on tractor trolleys and sat on NH-54 adjoining the village and obstructed the police from going towards Mansurwal,” said the FIR. No one has been arrested yet.