Do or Die

An article from Do or Die Issue 48-49. In the paper edition, this article appears on page(s) 5.

DuPont's Plans in Goa Go Up in Smoke

by Claude Alvares, Third World Network

In the space of a mere weekend, after a series of fast-moving developments, DuPont's proposal to set up Asia's largest Nylon 6.6 plant in Goa, (India) has been literally burnt to cinders.

For seven years now, the villages surrounding the proposed site have carried on a sustained agitation on environmental and other grounds against the project. But the final denouement commenced in late January after police swooped down on eight demonstrators and stripped and beat them up in the police cells.

The incident of police brutality had repercussions the police and the administration could never have imagined. It led to a large-scale demonstration during a public function organised by Eduardo Falheiro, the Union Minister of State for Chemicals, at Farmagudi, Ponda, on 21 January 1995. Events snowballed rapidly after that, leading to the movement taking over the plant site on 25 January.

On the evening of 22 January village girls saw a truck moving to the site of the proposed factory; they realised that the company would be up to some activity the next day.

The Americans had apparently met Chief Minister Pratap Singh Range and insisted they be allowed to visit the proposed site and to begin preliminary work, with police protection if necessary. They therefore decided to move in to the site in an air-conditioned bus, escorted by two police vans. The trip was a serious act of provocation since the area was already quite tense with the happenings of the days earlier.

At Arla, one kilometre from the site, a large crowd women were already squatting in the middle of the narrow single road that leads to the site. They refused to budge. The Americans had to return to Ponda. They were furious. They met the Chief Minister again and demanded more aggressive action against the protesters. At 2pm, a CID inspector visited the Arla blockade site, told the women and other activists to disperse and threatened them with dire consequences. He was driven away.

At around 4.30 pm, three jeep loads of officials accompanied by two bus loads of police returned to the site. After they had parked their vehicles in a line along the road, the police got out and sprayed bullets directly at the women.

No warning was given. Two girls fell, with bullet injuries on their thighs. Then a young man, Nilesh Naik, also fell to the first line of bullets. Eyewitnesses say he was shot in the chest at point-blank range.

The women, despite being shot at, moved with determination towards the policemen firing at them who now panicked as stones began flying at them from both sides of the road. The officials jammed themselves into a police bus, turned around and fled. The other bus faced the fury of the crowd and so did the three jeeps.

They were burned to ashes. Several policemen suffered injuries. Some were kidnapped by the crowd and stripped of their clothes in a return action for what had been done to their fellow activists earlier.

A passing bus was requisitioned by the activists to rush Nilesh to the Ponda Hospital. However, the police impounded the bus two kilometres down the road, broke up the vehicle in anger and took Nilesh with them to the Ponda police station where he lay for another 20 minutes before he was taken on a motorcycle to the hospital. He was pronounced dead on arrival; the doctor said the young man would have survived had he arrived just a few minutes earlier. The other injured people were shifted to the Bambolim Medical College near Panjim.

The villagers next targeted the public clinic set up by DuPont for the villagers at Querim and razed it to the ground.

By this time anger against DuPont and Thapar had reached a crescendo. The night of the police murder, the Anti-Nylon Coordinating Committee announced a Ponda strike for the following day even as the administration imposed a curfew on the city.

The following day, however, before dawn could break, roadblocks were already installed by the activists bringing all life to a grinding halt. Police officials attempting to approach the town were met by a rain of soda water bottles at Kundai and had to retreat to Panjim. Several buses and jeeps went up in flames. No human beings, however, were hurt.

In the morning, after they had taken control of Ponda town, the activists went up to the local Thapar DuPont office and brought out more than 700 files, piles of site plans and drawings of the proposed factory, visiting cards, fax machines and office equipment including tables, a refrigerator, three pistols and an illegal Sten gun and burned these in the middle of the road. Twelve suitcases stacked with 500 denomination rupee notes belonging to the company were also consigned to the flames.

In the evening, a fire engine which came into the city unescorted was also burned to junk. Throughout the day, the curfew was imposed on the police by the people, rather than the other way around. They had now to remain within the precincts of the Ponda and Farmagudi police stations for fear of being exterminated if they ventured out. The strike ended at 8 pm.

On 25 January, the body of Nilesh was brought to the Ponda bus stand from the morgue where it was dressed with flowers by hundreds of activists and taken in a kilometre long procession to the village of Savoi Verem. The procession took over two hours as villagers all along the 12 kilometre route, including hundreds of school children, insisted on paying their respects to the fallen activist. In the evening, the body was cremated on a specially erected platform just outside the factory's gates. The area was re-named Hutatma Nilesh Pathar (plateau).

Even as the funeral pyre was lit, smoke could be seen billowing from the factory's administrative buildings as demonstrators set fire to them. A stick of dynamite exploded among the remains of the administrative buildings.

Later the same evening, Thapar DuPont MD, Sam Singh, informed the press the company "was completely shaken up over the past three days' events" and expressed his disappointment that the Chief Minister could not provide safety and security for the company's properties at the site.

As the people began returning home from the brightly burning pyre, it was quite obvious that the site - acquired by the Government for the factory - had returned into the possession of the villagers. Village animals including goats and cows, prevented for several months from entering the area, were now seen once again freely browsing all over the plot.

The week's events were an utter humiliation for DuPont, America's largest chemical multinational. The militant and successful rejection of the multinational's factory is the first of its kind since the country began the process of neo-liberalisation, and it presages more to come as multinationals attempt to grab more and more Indian resources through the agencies of the Indian state in the name of progress.

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