Stir over project site

Steel plant plan opposed by villagers facing ouster

Published: Monday 31 December 2001

ever since 2000, Bastar district in the fledgling state of Chhattisgarh has been on the boil. The reason for the growing unrest: a State government proposal to set up a Rs 300-crore steel plant project of the National Mineral Development Corporation (nmdc) in the Nagarnar area of the district . The administration, instead of ironing out the problems of locals who are likely to be displaced, has unilaterally decided to go ahead with the plan. Consequently, the affected villagers are fighting it tooth and nail.

Recently matters came to a head when the police resorted to lathicharge and firing on a restive mob at Jagdalpur, the district headquarters of Bastar. The violence left 60 injured. The protesters were demanding the unconditional release of three of their leaders who were taken into custody, allegedly on cooked-up charges. "The agitation was silent and was led by women. The police firing highlights the insensitivity of the local administration towards the people," alleges Satyanarayan Sethia, convener of Kisan Sangharsh Samiti (kss), Nagarnar, and one of the three leaders arrested. The authorities, however, deny the charges.

A total land area of 413.18 hectares (ha) has been approved for acquisition. At least 303 people, mostly tribals from four villages, are being asked to leave. "They are promising me a job in lieu of my 2.4 ha of land, but I do not want to be a labourer. Since I am illiterate I will not land a good job. How will I then feed my two children and myself ?" says Gurupatta, a widow of Amaguda village.

Under the fifth schedule of the Constitution it is mandatory for the acquisition process to be in consultation with the gram sabha . "This has been completely ignored. In all the meetings with the collector, the four gram sabhas have rejected the proposal for land acquisition," says Sethia. Villagers claim that gram sabha registers have been tampered with and fake signatures have been affixed in the list of those who are ready to give their land. "These allegations are completely baseless," says Richa Sharma, collector, Jagdalpur. She says that the interests of the villagers will be safeguarded. But the people are in no mood to reconcile.

On the environmental front too unanswered questions remain. BD Sharma, a tribal affairs expert who is leading the movement, says: "Getting environmental clearance is mandatory before the process for land acquisition begins. But nmdc hasn't done that." However, according to Kumar Raghavan, Chief of Public Relations, nmdc, the Technical Development Board of the State government has given its nod to the project.

Even as the Kisan Sangharsh Samiti is planning another rally in Jagdalpur, the Chhattisgarh government is in a fix. The administration is contemplating shifting the steel plant site, says state industry minister Vidhan Mishra. Incidentally, if it happens, this would be the second such relocation since 2000 when the government bowed to the people's demands and shifted the plant's location from Geedam in Dantewada district to Nagarnar.

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