Andhra Pradesh Police on Monday arrested a woman (60) in Guntur on charges of creating a fear psychosis among people and inciting hatred against the state government by posting objectionable comments on her Facebook page regarding the toxic styrene gas leak from LG Polymers’ plant at Visakhapatnam on May 7.
The Crime Investigation Department (CID) unit of Guntur Police served a notice on Poonthota Ranganayaki under Section 41-A of the Criminal Procedure Code (CrPC). They are also on the lookout for another person, Malladi Raghunath, who had allegedly supported her views.
A criminal case was registered against Ranganayaki under Sections 505 (2) (making statements leading to public mischief), 153(A) (promoting enmity between two groups), 188 (disobedience to order promulgated by a public servant), 120-B (criminal conspiracy) of the Indian Penal Code (IPC) and also Section 67 of the Information Technology (IT) Act. Later, she was later released on bail.
The CID had prima facie established that Ranganayaki had indulged in propaganda against the state government regarding the gas leak from LG Polymers, and also created panic among people and provoked mistrust against the state authorities.
“If this is her first offence, she is liable for imprisonment up to three years and a fine of Rs 5 lakh. If she repeats the offence, she would be sentenced to five years’ imprisonment, besides a fine of Rs 10 lakh,” the CID said in the statement.
While Ranganayaki could not be reached for her comment, her Facebook page revealed that she had raised around 20 issues regarding the Visakhapatnam gas leak tragedy.
She suspected that the South Korean company might have destroyed all the evidence, as they were not seized by the police, and had cleverly shifted styrene, the plant’s liquid asset, outside the country.
She also raised several questions such as the police’s inability to collect fingerprints and whether the attendance of the plant staff was authenticated. She blamed the police for allowing ‘errant’ plant officials to go scot-free.
She also wondered about the delay behind handing over the probe into the industrial disaster to the Central Bureau of Investigation (CBI).
Main opposition Telugu Desam Party (TDP) criticised the police for arresting an old woman, who raised doubts about the gas leak tragedy, while no action was taken against the accused.
“If posting a comment against the government is a crime, one wonders how many cases should have been filed against YSR Congress leaders for posting objectionable comments against the previous TDP government,” said former minister and TDP leader Devineni Umamaheshwara Rao. He also demanded that the cases against Ranganayaki be withdrawn with immediate effect.