Good job bringing this to light. People won't realise how huge the problem is and municipalities are woefully ill equipped to...
Agreed; mining can never be sustainable, but then how do you get the metals to make all the things you need in the course of...
Very good piece.
Dhurli village, Dantewada district, August 30, 11.30 am Armed police in riot gear stand in clusters around the walled compound where people of this quiet, picturesque village are to gather for a gram sabha hearing. They are to decide today whether they want Essar Steel to set up a 3.2 million-tonne plant on their land for Rs 7,000 crore. The single lane highway connecting this village, lying halfway between Dantewada town and the Bailadila iron ore mines, is lined with cars and jeeps of district administrators, Essar's top brass, Mahendra Karma and bjp public engineering and health minister Kedar Kashyap, and their respective entourages. They are all gathered inside the compound.
This is the second hearing called to discuss the issue. An earlier one, called on June 10, was cancelled because villagers refused to turn up. Police officials say there's a possibility of a Naxalite attack today, since the rebels are anti-development.Essar officials say "outside elements" were provoking the villagers to reject the steel plant, so they needed extra security. Pisda, Dantewada's collector, says villagers were "fighting among themselves", there was "tension in the area" and they wanted people to speak peacefully.
Gram sabhas, as per law, shouldn't be attended by outsiders. Hence, gun-toting policemen keep media personnel -- "outsiders" -- beyond the walls, while within the walls Essar officials -- "insiders" in Dantewada administration's lingo - hobnob with state leaders. Essar wants 600 hectares (ha) of land from Dhurli and its adjoining village Bansi for its plant. Bansi has apparently approved the proposal.
Section 144 of the Criminal Procedure Code, banning the gathering of five or more persons, had been imposed on Dhurli on August 26. Police had picked up eight villagers that day, on charges that they had roughed up the sarpanch, Bhagat Kunjam. Four were released the next morning, while the rest were still being held.
Kunjam doesn't live in the village anymore. The villagers have labelled him "Essar ka dalal (Essar's agent)" and are baying for his blood. For a while he was staying in Dantewada town's only hotel, Madhuban, but has since relocated to some unknown address. Villagers say the eight people arrested had been the most vocal about not wanting the plant. Deva Tellam, one of the four people who were released, says the police told them if they agreed to give up their land they would be released.
Villagers begin trickling in around noon. H S Sethi, Essar's Chhattisgarh director, laughs. "Oh, the meeting won't start till about 4 pm," he says. "These people take their time. They will eat, and drink, then have lunch, then drink again, then rest, and then they will come... They don't follow our schedule."
The compound fills up by around 1.30 pm, however. But there's no meeting. No discussion. Villagers are taken in turns to a room where officials tell them they have to sign on a piece of paper indicating whether they are for or against the project. Confused, unable to read what is written on the paper, about 30 give thumb impressions. By then the rest of the villagers in the compound get restive. Why aren't we being allowed to discuss the issue, they ask, creating a commotion. Pisda tells them to "either sign or get out". Angry villagers leave. The hearing is re-scheduled for September 9.
"They should have allowed us to talk, this wasn't a gram sabha, this was like forced voting," farmer Dashroo Gundru tells DTE later. "We won't sell our land at any cost, let them do their development elsewhere," adds Yuvraj Tellam, another farmer. Other villagers crowded around murmur assent.
When DTE got in touch with Essar later they said the version of events presented here was "unfounded".
At Dantewada town the next day, Karma has his own take on the Essar proposal. "Such big decisions aren't taken asking the common people. No gram sabha can take a decision against the villagers' own development. For such a big investment, those affected are very small, only 48 families. All of these 48 will be given jobs according to their ability."
At the district office, Pisda said "The agenda was one point, yes or no. There have been discussions about this from before, so there was no need for further discussion at the gram sabha."
September 9 The story is replayed. Again Section 144 is imposed on the whole region. The area is sealed off this time. Roads are blocked by Central Industrial Security Force personnel. All the administrators, Essar officials and mlas are present again. Few villagers turn up for the gram sabha, but since this is the second meeting on the subject, by law no quorum is necessary. The outcome of the meeting isn't made public.
September 13 Two reports. One from Raipur by India Abroad News Service says "after months of protests" villagers of Dhurli and Bansi had agreed to give land to Essar. "Eighty-six protesting families have held a meeting last week and agreed to hand over 600 ha of land to Essar Steel," the report quotes Sethi as saying. Apparently, only 86 families from Dhurli and Bansi hadn't wanted the plant. Essar was going to pay villagers "Rs 150,000 per acre (just less than half a hectare) plus compensation for trees on the surrendered land".
The second report, in Daily Chhattisgarh, a Hindi paper, says thousands took out a rally in Dantewada against the proposed plant and gave the collector a note saying they would not give Essar land. This is an extract from the report "The villagers, under the leadership of Dantewada Adivasi Mahasabha and Sangharsh Samiti, Dhurli, said that on September 9, police had forced them to sign no-objection letters. Two constables were posted at each house. No outsider was allowed at the meeting place. People were not allowed to leave their homes or to talk to each other. According to villagers, at 9 am they were forced into vehicles, and taken to the meeting. They were taken to a room in twos, and pistols were placed at their temples to make them sign. They were told not to step out of the village."