Ranchi Oct 3 (IANS) While Jharkhand Chief Minister Raghubar Das was in the US inviting investors to his state, there was violence back home and the killing of four villagers protesting acquisition of their land for NTPC’s Pankri Barwadih project.
No matter what the government’s road shows and investment drives claim, the ground reality remains that the villagers are out to protect their ancestral land from being taken over for various projects, government or otherwise.
In other words, it’s total chaos and unrest in the “investor-friendly” state, prompting the people to term it the “Singur of Jharkhand” — a reference to opposition to the land acquisition in neighbouring Bengal for Tata’s Nano project by the then Left Front government, which contributed to their losing power after three decades at the helm.
The killing of four villagers on October 1 at NTPC’s Barkagao project site has enraged the villagers no end, giving opposition parties an opportunity to fuel the situation, to their own benefit — similar to what happened in Singur, forcing the Tatas to pull out their small car project.
The incident has once again projected the Jharkhand Police as a brutal and insensitive force, as it was the second instance of police opening fire in less than a month’s time. In the last incident, in Gola of Ramgarh district, two people were killed over a similar land acquisition issue.
Chief Minister Raghubar Das, who returned Sunday after his 10-day US visit, has constituted a fact-finding committee comprising Additional Chief Secretary N.N. Pandey and Cabinet Secretary S.S. Meena, which would be aided by the Commissioner and DIG of the area.
However, the people feel this probe is going to be just an eyewash, as those responsible for the killings will be probed by their own departmental seniors. There is thus a demand from various quarters to institute a probe by an independent agency, apart from awarding Rs 25 lakh compensation and jobs to the kin of the deceased.
The villagers are unhappy, as DGP D.K. Pandey and Chief Secretary Rajbala Verma visited the scene of the firing on Sunday in a chopper and returned without speaking to the aggrieved people. They allege that the state government is trying to suppress their voices and acquire land without their consent.
“The state government is forcefully trying to acquire land for the NTPC project. The rate of land is not clear. People living in the forest areas are being forcefully driven, so that the forest land could be diverted for NTPC,” said Yogendra Sao, a former minister and Congress leader, who was spearheading the protest.
Sao was also a Congress MLA from Barkagao, which currently his wife Niramal Devi represents.
The opposition parties have demanded a judicial probe into the police firing. They are united in protest against the NTPC, with senior leaders like Babulal Marandi and Subodh Kant Sahay visiting the project site to express solidarity with the villagers.
The coal blocks of Pankri Barwadih, Chatti Bariatu and Keredari were identified in 2004 with the coal yield estimated at 13 million tonnes. The foundation stone was laid for the project on November 21, 2005. Overall, 8,100 acres of land needed to be acquired, of which 4,000 acres was to be from the ‘rayats’ (contract tillers), 2,900 acres was forest land and 1,200 acres was government land.
It was likely to affect 8,745 families. The proposed compensation was fixed at Rs 8 lakh per acre.
The land acquisition process hit a roadblock in 2004 itself as the people launched a movement to oppose it, leading to police action and FIRs being registered against several demonstrators. In 2007, twice in January and once in June, agitations again took place, ending in filing of FIRs against hundreds of villagers.
This continued off and on, and in July 2013, police opened fire as the people tried to stop construction work at the site, in which one person died, while several others were injured. On August 14, 2015, police and villagers clashed once again as they tried stopping the construction work at Dhega colony. The police firing injuring six villagers, while an agitated crowd torched both private and government vehicles.
Later, after several rounds of negotiations, it was agreed that compensation per acre of land would be increased from Rs 8 lakh to Rs 20 lakh.
Union Minister of State for Civil Aviation and Hazaribagh MP Jayant Sinha made the announcement in this regard at a press conference, stating that those who do not want to live in the Rehabilitation and Resettlement (R&R) colonies could take Rs 9 lakh as compensation and build a house at a place of their choice. Sinha also assured that one person from each family would also be given a job in the mining companies.
But before all that could happen, the situation worsened again when police fired on the villagers on Saturday as they protested the arrest of Barkagaon MLA Nirmala Devi, who had been leading their agitation.
The MLA still continues to be untraced. Police say she was forcibly taken away by the villagers from a police vehicle, while her husband Yogendra Sao says he is yet to find her. He alleges that police have confined her at some undisclosed location.
(Nityanand Shukla can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org)