Sunday, July 17, 2016

Tamil Nadu environmentalist "kept in solitary prison, tortured", Jayalalitha told to ensure his early release

By Our Representative
There is flutter among environmentalists across India over the recent arrest of Piyush Sethia of Salem Citizen's Forum (SCF). While Leo F Saldanha of  Environment Support Group and Sanjeev Kumar of Delhi Forum have written to chief minister J Jayalalithaa to his immediate release, the National Alliance of People's Movements (NAPM) has called the arrest arbitrary.
In their letter, Sldanha and Kumar – who have shot the letter in the name of Coalition of Environmental Justice, India – have said that Sethia, a noted environmentalist, has been “arrested, denied bail and beaten inside Salem Central prison”, and “has been booked under IPC sections 341,188, 353 and 506 (2).”
Arrested on July 8, 2016, when he and other members of SCF were protesting against the railway authorities for starting the construction work of Mulvadi gate over-bridge in Salem without giving prior notice to the people in the area and without laying an alternate road, the letter regrets, on July 14, the Salem Magistrate's court dismissed Piyush's bail application, though granted “conditional bail” to the other two activists.
“Piyush has been kept in solitary confinement since the day of his arrest. And as per Piyush's wife and his lawyer, Piyush is being subjected to physical and mental harassment and not allowed to receive reading material or allowed to speak to his wife and other supporters freely”, the letter says.
It adds, “In fact, some of the supporters in Salem are being intimidated and threatened via phone calls to isolate Piyush. According to Piyush's lawyer, Piyush was beaten 'for a good half an hour before they sent him to solitary confinement'.”
On July 15, the letter says, “Piyush informed his lawyer that 'he was abused by a group of unknown persons numbering nearly 30 inside the prison several times'. We are shocked at this high-handedness of prison authorities and custodial assault on Piyush.”
Praising Piyush's work in the field of environmental protection and climate change mitigation, the letter says, SCF is known to have worked for the revival of “many water bodies in Salem city like Mukaneri,Ammapettai eri Kundukkal eri, Ismailkhan eri, Arisipalayam Theppakulam and Pallappatti well.”
Pointing out that Piyush has created “a co-operative forest in Dharmpuri extending upto 150 acres, with the support of his friends and well wishers”, the letter says, “This mountain forest acts as a water catchment area for Ettimarathupatti Canal which supplies irrigation water to 17 villages in the vicinity.”
A receipent of the CNN-IBN award for his activities, Piyush “has also initiated many green and sustainable livelihood projects and protected the Salem, Yercaud and Hoggenekkal Dam areas from environmental damage”, the letter says, adding, “In the recent floods of Chennai and Cuddalore, Piyush and members of SCF, mobilized relief material and tirelessly worked to reach the materials in time.”
In a separate statement, NAPM, which is led by well-known social activist Medha Patkar, says, Piyush's arrest has been made on “completely false charges can only be termed as political vendetta and an action by disgruntled officials who have been irked by several initiates Salem Ciizens Forum has taken over years now.”
Condemning his torture in the prison and refusal to grant him plea, the NAPM has also written to Jayalalitha demanding “immediate release” of Piyush and “action against the officials who are guilty for not following the law and also for inflicting torture on Piyush.”

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