Kisans of Mansurwal village in Zira tehsil, Ferozepur, and its adjoining regions in Punjab have been protesting for over five months against Malbros International Limited, an alcohol manufacturing plant. The villagers are protesting against the hazardous effects of the discharge from the liquor factory on their groundwater, soil and the environment, which have already claimed several lives of humans. Even as the matter is being heard by the Punjab and Haryana High Court, many of the protestors have been attacked by the police and arrested. People all over Punjab are very angry with the government and have come out in large numbers, from different parts of the state, to join the struggle.
Mazdoor Ekta Committee organised a meeting on January 7, 2023, in support of the struggle of the people of Punjab against the life-threatening liquor factory. The meeting was addressed by Shri Rajvinder Singh Bains, Senior Advocate, Punjab and Haryana High Court, who is representing the affected people of Zira in the High Court. Shri Birju Nayak, Secretary, Mazdoor Ekta Committee also spoke at the meeting. Participants from Punjab and many other parts of the country, as well as from abroad, made important interventions and expressed their solidarity with the struggling people.
The meeting was conducted by Santosh Kumar of Mazdoor Ekta Committee. He welcomed the speakers and participants and invited Shri Rajvinder Singh Bains to speak on the issue.
Shri Bains began by highlighting the fact that the investigations of his legal team suggest that the liquor factory is producing not only liquor but it is also producing certain hazardous chemicals and marketing them abroad. His team has filed a petition with the High Court and placed an enquiry with the Pollution Control Board but received no response from them so far. In fact, the company is listed as a zero-discharge company with the Pollution Control Board!
The agitation started in July this year when water in the tube wells came out filthy and smelling of alcohol. The water contamination, the thick ash that settles on everything whenever there is a storm, these are there for all to see – they do not require any great investigation. Cattle have died, people have died. But the government did not respond to the complaints of the residents.
The people of the area have been protesting day and night, for the past 5 months, camping at the protest site. They have faced lathi charge by the police and arrests. The lathi charge and arrests marked a turning point in the struggle, which up to that time, had been mainly confined to residents of the area. Kisan organisations from all over Punjab joined the struggle in large numbers. To douse the people’s anger, the government has now been forced to set up four committees to assess the damage to crops, cattle, environment and public health.
Shri Bains described how the government and all the agencies of the state, including the Court are working hand-in-glove, to protect the capitalist. In his opinion, the Punjab government is trying to get an order passed through the Court in favour of the capitalist, so that it does not get exposed in the eyes of the people. As soon as the protests began, the company owner Deep Malhotra, a former Shiromani Akali Dal MLA, approached the High Court, confident of a verdict in his favour. The High Court asked the government to pay Rs 20 crores as compensation to the capitalist, since the factory has been closed due to the protests. The protestors were ordered to protest 300 m away from the factory. When the struggle continued, the High Court ordered that the lands of the protestors should be attached. The government handed over to the Court all details of the protestors’ lands to be attached. The Court ordered that the factory should continue to function unhindered. They have even hinted that the army or CRPF may be used to disrupt the protests. All this has led to the agitation assuming an all-Punjab scale.
The recently elected AAP government in Punjab today stands totally discredited in the eyes of the people, Shri Bains said. The people are realizing that this government too, like others before it, defends the interests of the capitalists and betrays the people’s interests. He lauded the militant and death-defying spirit of the youth and people fighting for a just cause.
Shri Bains drew attention to the inspiring forms of protest and mass mobilisation at the protest site. People from all the adjoining villages have been camping at the protest site for the past 5 months, in a similar manner to the year-long kisan protests at Delhi’s borders. Youth from every village of Punjab are coming forward with novel methods of protest and mass mobilisation. Community kitchens and langars have been set up, with people contributing voluntarily and wholeheartedly. The villagers have organised food, blankets and all other requirements for the protestors. Each day, more and more people are joining the protest. The entire community is united, putting aside differences of political affiliation, religion, gender, etc. Women are present in large numbers. The protestors are displaying enormous courage and determination, concluded Shri Bains.
Shri Birju Nayak congratulated the people of Zira for their resolute struggle. He extended the wholehearted support of Mazdoor Ekta Committee for the struggle. He condemned the anti-people attitude of the Punjab government, in covering up the contamination and health hazards caused by the liquor factory at Zira and even sending the police to attack the protestors. Clean water and environment are the right of the people and no one should be permitted to take away this basic human right, he said.
Shri Birju Nayak cited the example of the struggle against the Sterlite plant in Toothikodi in Tamilnadu, to illustrate how the state defends the right of the capitalists to make profits and the Courts legitimise this right. The greed of the capitalists to maximise their profits, he said, stands in direct contradiction to the health and well-being of the people. He pointed out that all the institutions of the state, including the courts, defend the interests of the capitalists. They are not concerned about people’s health and destruction of the environment. Only the working class is interested in and capable of ensuring the well-being of people. The working class has to take political power in its own hands, to safeguard the environment for the future generations, he concluded.
There were several interventions from the participants. They expressed their support for the struggle of people of Zira and condemned the government and the Courts for defending the capitalists’ interests. Participants pointed out that it is the interests of the biggest Indian and foreign capitalists that are being served by the government in its drive to privatise electricity supply, rail transport, defence, banking, insurance, health care, education and other vital public enterprises and services. People gave examples from their own experience, to show how the courts defend the capitalists and attack those who fight for the people’s well-being. They thanked MEC for providing a platform on which workers, kisans, youth and women in different sectors can come together to discuss about their problems and highlight their struggles.
Santosh Kumar thanked the speakers and all the participants. He concluded the meeting by calling upon all to strengthen our unity and step up our common struggle against the all-sided attacks of the ruling class on our livelihood and rights.