Visakhapatnam: The Human Rights Forum (HRF), on 20 May, condemned the registration of a criminal case against 60-year-old Poonthota Ranganayaki for her Facebook post expressing doubts about the investigation into the LG Polymers gas leak.

Guntur CID had registered a case against Ms Ranganayaki under Section 153A, 188, 120B, and 505(2) of the IPC and under Section 67 of the Information Technology Act 2008.

The state general secretary of HRF, K. Sudha, and the forum’s state vice-president G. Sivanageswara Rao said the case amounts to a brazen attack on free speech. HRF demanded that the state government immediately withdraw the case registered against Ms Ranganayaki. The filing of this case betrays utter intolerance by those in power and undermines and scuttles constitutionally-guaranteed rights to know, debate, differ, critique and dissent, they said, adding these are quintessential rights necessary for the sustenance of a healthy and democratic society.

All that Ms Ranganayaki had done was share a post which raised 20 valid questions about the method of investigation in the LG Polymers case in Visakhapatnam on 7 May which had led to the death of 12 persons.

The forum members said that questions raised in the Facebook post are extremely pertinent. It is a fact that the AP Pollution Control Board had granted consent to operate to LG Polymers even though the plant did not obtain the mandatory environmental clearance from the ministry of environment, forest and climate change, they said, adding that running a plant without environmental clearance is an act of gross criminal negligence and the management is culpable for the human loss, injury, and trauma.

They alleged that while government officials have been talking about civil liability, damages, and compensation to the deceased families and survivors, there has been no word on the criminal liability of the company, its management, and personnel. Thirteen days after the gas leak, the police have not arrested a single person, they said.

The HRF members said the styrene vapour leak is a corporate crime and the shipping of styrene to South Korea raises serious questions. They asked if the police were collecting material evidence and what measures were being taken to prevent tampering of evidence by the accused. They urged the government to release a statement on the progress of the criminal case registered against LG Polymers to dispel public doubts.

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