Farmers owing allegiance to BKU Ugrahan and some other farm unions Monday joined the protest against a liquor factory at Mansurwal village in Ferozepur’s Zira even as Punjab Minister Aman Arora termed the dharna as “illegal” and the police warned of strict action if anyone obstructs government officials from performing their duties. The members of the farmers’ unions while on their way to the protest site removed barricades put up by police and forcibly entered the road leading to the ‘dharna’ site.
Villagers under the banner of the Sanjha Zira Morcha have been protesting in front of the factory —Malbros International Private Limited, which is owned by former SAD MLA Deep Malhotra — for the past five months, demanding that the distillery be shut down as it was polluting underground water in several villages besides causing air pollution.
The dharna was launched on July 24 after residents of nearby 24 villages complained of groundwater getting polluted due to the factory’s discharge.
On Monday, the new group of protesters who reached the dharna site were led by BKU (Ugrahan general secretary Sukhdev Singh Kokrikalan.
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It may be noted that protesters had launched another dharna at nearby Rataul Rohi village which connects NH-54. They had also set up a temporary check-post at this location with aluminium sheets. On Sunday, police teams had got this check-post removed, arrested several people and imposed Section 144 of CrPC on this stretch of the road.
Kokrikalan said, “We crossed through this road only. Police tried to use force on us.”
Sources said that heated exchanges also took place between protesters and police at several places. A few members of the farmers’ association alleged that the police cane charged them when they were heading towards the protest site.
Ferozepur Senior Superintendent of Police Kanwardeep Kaur, however, on Monday said the police was not preventing anyone from reaching the ‘dharna’ site.
The SSP said if any person tries to disturb law and order by obstructing the government officials on duty or by posting any objectionable posts on social media, will be dealt with a firm hand.
“The police are here to ensure compliance of the high court order. The protesters can carry on with their ‘dharna’ but we have to ensure safe passage for the plant workers inside the factory as per court directive and anyone who interrupts in this process, shall be dealt with in accordance with the law”, the SSP said.
Kaur said they had arrested 46 people for obstructing the police from discharging their duty on Suinday. “That action was taken near Rataul Rohi village as they had launched another dharna on NH-54. We never took action on people sitting on dharna at Mansurwal,” she added.
The SSP said that on Sunday three different FIRs were lodged in which about 40 people were booked by name. More than 200 other people were also booked but they were unidentified.
On Saturday evening as well, the police had lodged an FIR in which 15 people were booked by name, while nearly 100 others were unidentified.
Baldev Singh Zira – general secretary of BKU (Krantikari), who was booked in the incident of stopping the convoy of Prime Minister Narendra Modi on January 5 this year – is also one of the accused in the FIR.
The SSP said, “Due legal action will be taken against him. Our teams are raiding houses of only those who have been booked in the FIR.”
Meanwhile, till the time of filing this report, all roads leading to Mansurwal were open and people were reaching the dharna spot.
Meanwhile, Punjab Minister for Information and Public Relations, New and Renewable Energy Sources and Housing & Urban Development, Aman Arora, while interacting with the media in Sangrur said, “The dharna in Zira is illegal. I urge the protesters to lift it. They can get a scientific study done. If the factory is found polluting the groundwater, we will take action. But if in this manner all factories are closed, then who will invest in Punjab. Already the Punjab and Haryana High Court has imposed a fine of Rs 20 crore on state government. This burden will come on taxpayers only. The high court has already given a clean chit to the factory. I humbly appeal to the protesters to review their decision and lift this ‘unwanted’ dharna.”
Authorities of Malbros International Private Limited have been maintaining since the beginning that they were following all the norms and they were not polluting the groundwater. Punjab Pollution Control Board had also given a clean chit to the unit. They had also moved the high court in September seeking entry into their unit following which the court had directed the Punjab government to get the dharna shifted by 300 m from the site. As the government failed to get it done, the high court even imposed a fine of Rs 20 crore on the Punjab government as the unit owner had claimed heavy losses due to closure of his unit.
Earlier, Punjab Agriculture Minister Kuldeep Singh Dhaliwal on Saturday had reached out to the agitators while assuring that their concerns will be addressed. Dhaliwal had assured the protesters that their interests would be protected and added that special fact-finding committees comprising experts from various fields will be set up in this regard. However, protesters stuck to their demand of shutting down the plant.
Sources revealed that few employees entered through the smaller gate of liquor factory on Monday but it hasn’t been ascertained as yet that whether work has been started or not.
Reacting on this Nirbhai Singh Dhudike , president of Kirti Kisan Union Punjab said ,”we will discuss about this matter on Tuesday as how to get this unit closed which is spreading pollution.”
He added ,” 32 farmer unions of Punjab under the banner of Samyukta Kisan Morcha ( SKM) – Punjab unit will be doing their meeting at the protest site only on Tuesday so as to decide as how to go about this dharna. We had been fully supporting this dharna earlier as well and even now SKM is with Sanjha Morcha Zira. “
Buta Singh Burjgill , president of BKU Dakaunda said,” we highly condemn the repression done by Bhagwant Mann government. Many of our leaders who had attended meeting with the CM have been arrested.”
Morcha people stated that many youngsters haven’t come to their houses till now and police isn’t telling about their whereabouts.