The attack by Bangladesh Chhatra League activists and police on the anti-Rampal plant cycle procession on Friday in the capital yet again betrays that the Awami League-led government is hell-bent on constricting the space for any democratic protests against its flawed policies and actions. According to a New Age report on Saturday, a group of activists of the Bangladesh Chhatra League, the student wing of the ruling Awami League, led by the Dhaka University unit president and general secretary of the organisation unleashed attacks on those who brought out their planned cycle procession from the Central Shahid Minar in protest against the controversial coal-based power plant to be set up at Rampal in Bagerhat near the Sundarbans. The Chhatra League activists also beat up those who made efforts to join the procession from different areas of the city. Meanwhile, the police deployed in the area played just onlookers’ role during the attacks that left at least 50 anti-Rampal protesters injured. Worse still, they dispersed the protesters using water cannons as the latter reached Doyel Chattar in the university campus defying the Chhatra League cordon around the shahid minar. Besides, the police allegedly even arrested a number of youths willing to take part in the cycle procession.
This is not the first time when the government used unconstitutional means to foil a procession organised by people linked to National Committee to Protect Oil, Gas, Mineral Resources, Power and Ports that has been protesting against the coal-fired plant, a joint venture between the Indian National Thermal Power Corporation and the Bangladesh Power Development Board, ever since the process to set up it began in 2011, arguing that the plant would end up destroying the largest mangrove forest of the world. Just in March, when the committee organised a long march from Dhaka to Rampal against the power plant, the police and ruling party goons swooped on them at different places. The government also employed similar heinous tactics earlier to foil several programmes organised by the committee that has long been critical about government’s wrong policies and actions, especially related to the power and energy sector. In fact, all this cannot be isolated from the unconstitutional tactics the government has resorted to so far when it came to dealing with protests, including even human chains, organised by opposition political parties, particularly the Bangladesh Nationalist Party and its allies, in the capital and elsewhere in the country. Appallingly still, the incumbents gave free hand to law enforcing agencies, including the police, to this end which allegedly resulted in several incidents of enforced disappearance of leaders and activists of the BNP and its allies in the period.
The government should immediately shun the path of undemocratic handling of protests, be it organised by political or civic forces. It also needs to heed what the protesters against the Rampal plant say. However, conscious sections of society need to realise that without sustained pressure from them, all this may remain a distant hope.
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