Violence erupted in three villages of Andhra's West Godavari district, as police arrested 12 protesters and detained as many as 60 people, including 26 women, on Thursday.
The villages Tundurru, Kamsali Bethapudi and Jonnalagaruvu of Bhimavaram Mandal have been on the boil for several months, demanding that the Godavari Aqua Mega Food Park being established by the Ananda Group of companies, be relocated.
Locals have claimed that the project, is close to their settlements, and would dry up their water sources, and pollute their environment, making it difficult for them to live in their villages.
On Thursday, a large number of locals led by the Aqua Park Vyatireka Porata Samithi obstructed several trucks at Kamsali Bethapudi, that were said to be carrying equipment and material for the project, as it passed through the village.
However, the police personnel deployed in the area, in view of the tension, began forcefully evacuating people, to maintain law and order.
The police claimed that a scuffle broke out soon, and the protesters threw chilli powder and kerosene on the personnel, which forced them to use force and detain and arrest several locals.
The locals were shifted to Palacole rural, Poduru, Mogalthur and Narsapuram police stations.
"How can the government give permission to such a big company in the middle of a human settlement? It is situated right next to a water body, and isn't even 200 metres from the Government High School," Mucharla Trimurthulu, a CPM activist and leader of the Porata Samithi tells TNM.
Trimurthulu, who was recently released after spending 53 days in prison, was detained again by the police on Thursday.
Locals also deny the police claim that they assaulted personnel.
"As a last resort, some of the women had tried to immolate themselves. When police intervened, and tried to prevent them, the kerosene spilled on them too. However, they have used this as an excuse, and filed false cases on us," Trimurthulu claims.
He denied the claim that locals threw chilli powder on the police.
"We never assaulted the police. We have been trying to protest peacefully since the beginning. In fact, it was the police that was violent. Many male police officers manhandled and abused women during the protest. Isn't that a violation of the rules?" he asks.
The activist also alleged that a policeman in plainclothes got on to a vehicle that was carrying detainees, at Kamsali Bethapudi, and started abusing women, attacking one 55-year-old Annapurna Policheti and a pregnant lady.
The 26 women who were detained were released later on Thursday.
This is also not the first time that the police have allegedly roughed up locals.
In February this year too, hundreds of women who had gathered to protest, claimed that they were roughed up, beaten and dragged by the police, while others were detained and arrested.
Police warn of stringent action
Six police personnel were reported to be injured in Thursday's scuffle, and were rushed to hospitals in Narasapuram.
Addressing media persons, District Superintendent Ravi Prakash said that three women constables, two constables and one reserve sub-inspector sustained injuries, while one constable grievously injured in the eyes due to chilli powder.
Speaking to TNM, Narsapupram DSP Poornachandra Rao refuted the protesters' claims, saying, "There were women officers present, and they were handling the crowd. There was no assault or attack by cops, on the locals, we are producing 12 persons in front of the Narsapuram court."
The official added that cases had been registered on the locals for unlawful assembly, violating Section 144, and assaulting on-duty policemen.
"Section 144 will be continue to be in force until normalcy is restored in the villages. Police presence has also been stepped up," the police officer added.
Meanwhile, the SP has also warned "that any attempt to impede development in the district would not be tolerated."
The government on its part, has promised to construct a 27 km long pipeline from the industry, to discharge the waste and other poisonous chemicals elsewhere.
Last year, Chief Minister N Chandrababu Naidu had said, “The people should be aware that employment generation is possible only through industrial development. Industrialization is must for the development and progress of the district.".
Many political leaders in the state including Opposition leader YS Jaganmohan Reddy and Jana Sena party chief Pawan Kalyan have extended their support to the cause of the locals.
"They are saying that they won't release the polluted effluents into our water bodies. Then, why they are not telling us about where the contaminated water will go? If the food park comes up, three villages will lose their life. We are not fighting against development. Our fight is against environmental pollution," Trimurthulu says.
"Before 'development' and 'employment', we first need life. There is a school 200 metres away, and a water tank 50 metres away. Our protest is not without logic. They should shift the project to another location, or our protest will continue to go on," he adds.
(With inputs from Nitin.B)