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Anti-GMO researcher's eviction: 'Armed forces meant to protect, not attack citizens' rights'

Armed soldiers duing eviction
Counterview Desk 
A petition floated by senior environmentalist Leo Saldanha has sought the Defence Secretary of India's immediately investigate into "brazen defiance" of the Rule of Law by the Defence Estate Officer of Mhow Cantonment, Madhya Pradesh, which acted to evict Aruna Rodriques, top researcher who is known to she have made a case in the Supreme Court on why India should not yield to pressures from mega agri transnational corporations promoting Genetically Modified Organisms (GMOs) in farming.
She was evicted "without any sort of authority of law, and particularly without any judicial order", the petition claims, demanding, "During the pendency of this enquiry, the particular officer must be removed from his position" and "the investigation report must be made public." It added, "The Home Secretary of Madhya Pradesh must immediately initiate a separate enquiry into how local police were allowed to participate in this illegal attack."


Mighty powers have been accorded by the Indian Constitution to the Defence forces to ensure the territory of India is secure. The Defence Estate Office is the custodian of all military properties of India, and is required to secure such properties by following the due process of law. The might of the military power is never to be employed against harmless ordinary citizens, especially senior citizens.
In a fair world, Aruna Rodrigues would be heralded as an incredible individual for her ongoing struggle to protect the socio-economic and environmental integrity of India. Since 2005, she has tirelessly pursued a Public Interest Litigation before the Supreme Court of India, in which she has made a case why India should not yield to pressures from mega agri transnational corporations and certain sections of the Indian agricultural sector who are keen on promoting Genetically Modified Organisms in farming. There is widespread support for this PIL which argues GMOs are totally unnecessary in India, and their promotion would further cause distress in the already over-distressed farmers, besides unleashing a range of adverse and irreversible environmental and public health impacts.
Due to Rodrigues' case, which is buttressed by her extraordinary collation of top class research, the Supreme Court has time and again questioned the enthusiasm with which the Indian Government and several public institutions have collaborated, questionably and controversially, in promoting corporatized, commodified, financialised and genetically modified foods and commercial crops. By a decision in the same case, the Supreme Court stayed the commercial release of GM mustard on 3rd November 2022.
In sustaining this challenge against the might of the Indian State and a range of public institutions, and giant agri and financial corporations, Aruna Rodriques works from her home in Mhow, a small cantonment town near Indore in central India. Her home has been with her family from 1892 – a property legally secured via proper sale deeds.
About 27 years ago, the Defence Estate Office made a claim over this house. This claim was challenged and the matter has been in court since then. Consequently, any action against the occupant must and should be only through due process of law, based on clear court directives, and providing due and sufficient opportunity for appeal for all parties involved.
As recently as on 20th December 2022, the Court of the Civil Judge 1st Class in Mhow ruled that Aruna Rodrigues has occupation rights to the house. The claim of title was not sustained due to coercive admission deeds. To absolutely secure her fundamental rights, i.e. the right to live, which includes the right to shelter, an appeal was moved the very next day (21st December) before the Additional District Judge (1st Appellate Court) Mhow, and a status quo order was issued that very evening.
Clearly and evidently the matter was sub judice, and was actually actively being addressed by the Appellate Court. Yet, in brazen defiance of the rule of law, the Defence Estate Officer moved into Aruna Rodrigues’ house with a massive build of Army personnel (see photo) who were wielding firearms -- all without any court directive -- and physically removed Aruna Rodrigues from her house. They then dismantled her home, and threw all the contents of the house onto the public street fronting the house (Bhaya Road). And all this was done in such a hurry as the DEO was well aware that his actions would not find support. In fact, within hours the court ruled in Rodriques favour directing a status quo. By then the damage had been done.
It must shock the conscience of any righteous person that Rodrigues was illegally evicted from her own home just as she was preparing to celebrate Christmas with family and friends.
All the contents of the house were thrown to the public road in Mhow (see photo).
While legal process will continue to address this dastardly attack on the fundamental rights of a citizen of India by the Defence Estate Officer of Mhow Cantonment, backed as it was by the brute force of the Indian military, and quite clearly without any authority of the law, what is absolutely shocking is that the entire chain of command of the Defence forces was silent with what constitutes a brazen abuse of power – Defence power that is meant to secure Indian citizens, not attack their fundamental rights.
Whether this had anything to do with Aruna Rodrigues’ challenge to GMOs in India, time will reveal. The Indian Constitution is sacrosanct, especially so when it comes to the fettering of the enormous powers vested in the Defence Ministry.
We unsparingly condemn the actions of the Defence Estate Officer who has literally thrown a valiant citizen of India, a senior citizen at that, literally into the streets of Mhow without in any manner being backed by the authority of law.
Taking into consideration all of the above, the undersigned demand:
  1. Defence Secretary of India must immediately initiate a detailed enquiry into the brazen abuse of power by the Defence Estate Officer of Mhow who acted to evict Aruna Rodriques without any sort of authority of law, and particularly without any judicial order. During the pendency of this enquiry, the particular officer must be removed from his position.
  2. The investigation report must be made public so citizens of India are assured that the Defence Ministry does not tolerate abuse of -- the might of -- power vested in the military by any of its subordinate officers.
  3. The Home Secretary of Madhya Pradesh must immediately initiate a separate enquiry into how local police were allowed to participate in this illegal attack on Rodrigues' fundamental rights.
It is vital that the Government of Madhya Pradesh and the Defence Ministry of India will step up their efforts to take these steps with due dispatch even as Aruna Rodrigues pursues all legal efforts to secure justice.
Click here to sign the petition



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