Piyush Manush: An Environmental Activist Gone Astray Bitten By The Political Bug

Piyush Manush: An Environmental Activist Gone Astray Bitten By The Political Bug

by M R Subramani - Wednesday, June 20, 2018 08:25 PM IST
Piyush Manush: An Environmental Activist Gone Astray Bitten By The Political BugPiyush Manush
  • Eight years ago, Piyush Sethia was an environmental activists who formed the “Salem Citizens’ Forum” and took up people welfare activities.

    But today, leading the campaign against the eight-lane Salem-Chennai express corridor, Sethia is just another wannabe political leader making statements that dent his own credibility.

On Tuesday (19 June), Tamil Nadu police arrested environmental activist Piyush Manush alias Piyush Sethia for statements that would “incite violence in the local community”. In particular, his statements were made while opposing the proposed Rs 10,000 crore Salem-Chennai green expressway corridor under the Bharatmala Pariyojana scheme. A few others others, including Tamil actor Mansur Ali Khan, have also been arrested in this connection.

From being arrested in July 2016 for chaining himself to a road-roller to prevent the construction of Mulavadi bridge at Salem for allegedly not following due procedure to being picked for inciting people against the expressway corridor now, the 42-year-old Manush has come a long way, albeit not something to crow about.

Eight years ago, he was an environmental activists who formed the “Salem Citizens’ Forum” and took up people welfare activities. The forum took up developmental activities like adopting a lake - Mookaneri - at the foot of Shevaroy Hills and conserving it. (We will look at the allegations on this later.) Then, he and his forum took up restorations of lakes and ponds at Ammapettai, Arisipalayam, Kundukkal and Pallapatti around Salem. The team opposed land mafia, encroachments and even took up preservation of forests by developing a hilly land in Dharmapuri.

“He has always been a champion of environment from his school days. He has planted trees and led environment campaigns,” says a classmate of his.

All that is passe today. as he leads the campaign against the eight-lane Salem-Chennai expressway, misleading people with a slew of allegations. In short, you can term him as an environmental activists who has gone on a wrong path in trying to become a political leader in his own right.

“He (Manush) is an activist who thinks his views or opinions are more important than truth, reality and government schemes... Basically he has views which are extremely good, but not in tune with the times…. He is rash, prejudiced and tells lies (resulting in loss of credibility) if someone doesn't agree with him,” said a comment on Quora.

The unfortunate aspect of Manush’s current activities is that he is fast losing his credibility and the ground below him is slipping fast. Probably, this is also the reason why his arrest hasn’t got the sort of response that some of the media expected him to get. Take for example, his justification for opposing the Salem-Chennai green expressway corridor. He says in this interview that Japan will colonise India! And then he says Japanese industrial township will come in the expressway and claims that he had put up a report that appeared in the media in his Facebook posting.

This statement is a plain attempt to mislead. If you do a due diligence on what he says, his lies and half-truths are exposed. For, the industrial township will come up, as this report says, at Mamallapuram and not as he claims.

Second, Japan has always backed development in India, dating back to the days when Japan International Cooperation Agency (JICA) entered the country. In 1990s, JICA helped sericulturists by funding the bivoltine project that ensured the farmers got better quality cocoons. Japan never sought any favour for such acts.

In recent memory, has Japan been involved in any controversy like the one that China was involved in at Hambantota Port, Sri Lanka? You cannot mislead people in one’s blind hatred for certain persons, things and parties. Personally, this argument derails his entire case. Period!

Second, Manush’s cost analysis of the green expresssway corridor is wrong. He says the actual cost of the Rs 11,000 crore and 270 kilometre long greenway wouldn’t be more than Rs 4,000 crore and the rest would be pocketed by the minister(s). Manush seems to make his own calculation with the sole intention of misleading people. Going by his claim, does he have the courage to question former Uttar Pradesh Chief Minister Akhilesh Yadav whose government spent Rs 13,200 crore to construct the Lucknow-Agra 302km highway in 2016? Did he ever look at the detailed project report (DPR) that gives the break-up for each and every rupee that will be spent on the project? Does he know that the DPR gives three options on the project cost?

Manush is among those who has been going around telling people that the expressway is to help corporate firms and multi-national companies. But what he hides is the fact that among those people who are using the currently available routes between Chennai and Salem and further is that nearly 40 per cent of them are headed to are from western parts of Tamil Nadu or eastern parts of Kerala, who will stand to gain immensely from this. His portrayal of the Defence Industrial Corridor is even more humorous, terming it as some production of guns! Manush’s such arguments are amusing but also make one suspect his intentions. Allegations against him are that he had promised a monthly payment plus a motorcycle to every person who would support his opposition to the project.

Getting back to the Mookaneri lake, critics allege that the Salem Citizen’s Forum won the contract to maintain the lake. Manush took control of the forum and sidelined all others to collect Rs 52 lakh and clean the lake. This cleansing act only favoured a relative of his, they allege, adding that he had collected funds for various activities, including for Chennai 2015 floods but no one knows what happened to the money that accrued.

Surprisingly Manush, a neutral person until 2016, has suddenly turned into one who is opposed to the All India Anna Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam (AIADMK) government led by Edappadi K Palaniswami in the state and the Narendra Modi government at the centre. He never refrains from repeating his charges like the Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam (DMK) and others like the Naam Tamilar Katchi (NTK) that the Bharatiya Janata Party is ruling Tamil Nadu by proxy.

In his desperation to see the back of the ruling AIADMK government immediately like the opposition parties, Manush or others are making these allegations without giving any thought to the Constitution and the recent rulings of the Supreme Court as regards the centre’s role in state’s affairs.

“He is apparently an environmental activist, who is eyeing politics, going by his recent posturing and his public posts. From his FB posts I find that he lacks core human values, which is unfortunate, after all his pretense of being a saviour,” says another Quora posting.

Nothing more could have been more spot on about Manush because he is now seen more in the company of NTK leaders like Seeman, who are notorious for pedalling half-truths and lies among the people of Tamil Nadu.

On 9 June, when Tamil Nadu police arrested actor Mansoor Ali Khan for threatening to “assault 8 persons” (officials) if the government went ahead with the eight-lane Salem-Chennai green expressway corridor, Manush wrote on his Facebook page that the actor was arrested for “speaking in support of the people”.

Recently, he was caught in a controversy over his alleged demand of Rs 7 lakh from a textile firm for cutting down trees in front of its showroom in Salem. Manush denied that he had demanded money but added that he had urged the firm to support the tree planting programme for which it paid the amount.

“But then found a bunch of videos (on Manush) which while pontificating about environment, nicely adds in Brahmin bashing and other standard tropes of SLOBS- Secular Liberal Outrage Brigade. But then if the guy is eyeing a political career in TN with a name like Piyush Manush, he can’t skip qualifying criteria like Brahmin Bashing. A soul brother to Kanhaiya Kumar and Kejriwal, either will join AAP or Naam Tamilar party,” says another on Quora.

Today, Manush is no more an environmental activist. NTK leaders like Seeman, Ameer Sultan and Khan have all come down to Salem to meet him and address meetings to oppose the green expressway corridor. It seems to have fired his ambition to become a politician. How far can he succeed with his type of politics? Maybe, only until his half-truths are exposed!

M.R. Subramani is Executive Editor, Swarajya. He tweets @mrsubramani

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