The industrialist-politician Naveen Jindal will not be pleased to learn that Ramesh Agarwal, an environmental activist and internet café owner in Raigarh, Chhattisgarh, is one of the winners of this year’s $175,000 Goldman Environmental Prize. Agarwal began his activism in 2005 and won his first legal battle in 2010 when he managed to prevent the expansion of the mining company Scania Steel & Power Ltd. in Chhattisgarh. He has been a thorn in Jindal’s side since 2010, and has taken him to court for irregularities in mining, power and coal projects planned by his company, Jindal Steel & Power Limited. In this extract from our March 2013 profile of Naveen Jindal, Mehboob Jeelani travels to Raigarh to meet Agarwal and learn about his fierce battle against the corporate colossus, as well as the terrible price he paid for his activism.
Back in Raigarh, I walked through an old neighbourhood called Itwaari Bazaar, past little tarpaulin-roofed shacks selling clothes, plastic utensils, socks and bags. After 10 minutes, I came to a two-storey concrete house with two security guards, wearing commando uniforms and carrying automatic rifles, posted at the entrance. The guards had been deputed by the state government to prevent any further attack on Ramesh Agarwal, a local environmental activist and Jindal’s most determined foe.
Inside, Agarwal was lying on a bed with his left leg wrapped in a bandage; two steel rods had been inserted through his ankle and knee. “Two bullets,” Agarwal said, softly. “They shot at me thrice.”