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Report on a recent mass rally against land acquisition in Hazaribagh, Jharkhand

Posted by Admin on September 2, 2009

nepalSource: Sanhati

September 1, 2009 By Manali Chakrabarti.

Main yehan Nandigram bana doonga (I’ll make this a Nandigram)

This is, apparently, what the Deputy Commissioner of Hazaribagh, Mr Vinay Chaubey, said on the 8th of August 2009, to a group of villagers in Arahara village, in the state of Jharkhand, who have been refusing to part with their land for compensation. The heavily armed police cover gave credence to this arrogant assertion.

The villagers of Arahara are part of a movement spread over 186 villages in the Karnpura valley in Jharkhand. Extending over three blocks – Barkagaon, Keredari and Tandwa, the beautiful green valley of Karnpura, is surrounded by hills (part of the Chota Nagpur range) on three sides, and has a thick lush forest cover too. The valley which is criss-crossed by numerous small water bodies including perennial rivers also has one of the most fertile agricultural lands in the country. At present the valley supplies vegetables to the surrounding areas and even up to major cities like Patna and Kolkata. Like in the rest of Jharkhand there is a significant tribal population in this region.

But, unfortunately for the people of this valley there is a very thick crust of good quality coal (apparently upto 350 metres) under their land. And the government has decided to excavate the whole region into open cast mines to extract coal and produce electricity. Twenty one private companies have been given contracts to mine coal which would primarily feed into a massive (over 2000 Mega Watts) thermal power plant to be set up by the public sector National Thermal Power Corporation (NTPC). The feasibility report claims that they would be able to extract all the coal in 25 years and that there would be minimal environmental dislocation due to this project. The government has offered cash compensation for the displaced population.

But the people of Karnpura are not ready to fall in with the proposed plan of this grand development project. They are not sure as to:

How money can compensate for their ancestral land, their primary source of income, their bountiful feeding mother?
How can cash compensate for their forests, their religious places, gods and goddesses, the rivers, the streams, their burial grounds, the animals and the birds and the trees? And who owns them anyway?

And among many other questions about the landless people, community land, etc. they also want to know that, when the 640 MW Patratu thermal power plant set up in 1962 produces less than 10 percent of its installed capacity, why should another power plant be set up in the region?

The people have been resisting this forced acquisition by the government for over a decade now. They have repeatedly stated their position in Jan Sunwayis, public meetings and through petitions to various authorities. They have been sincerely trying to get their point across through peaceful means of ‘civil disobedience’. And their point is simple: “Jaan Denge par zameen nahin denge”.

Significantly, the people of Karnpura assert that they are not against development per se and they would be happy to participate in initiatives where they have a say in their own development. They are confident that left to themselves they would be able to mine coal and also produce electricity albeit at a much smaller scale and more importantly without the disastrous displacement inevitable in the administrations’ plan. They have even worked out an elaborate plan to implement their claims. They have already registered a producers’ company under the amendment made in 2002 of 1956 Company’s Act, to mine coal. They have also set up a mini thermal plant in Barkagaon to convince the authorities of their intentions. They hope to replicate this effort all over the region. All they want from the administration is:

a sympathetic attitude towards their genuine efforts,
plan the development of the region according to the wishes of the residents of the region,
and extend all possible support to them.

But the administration does not seem to be in any mood for further dialogue and is desperate to acquire land by any means, including forced eviction as is apparent from the open threat of the Deputy Commissioner.

The people of Karnpura decided to come over to Hazaribagh to tell the District Administration to refrain from using such indecent language. They held a rally in Hazaribagh on the 18th of August, followed by a general meeting and then submitted a petition to the Commissioner’s office protesting against the attitude of the district administration. A few of us were invited to participate in this programme.

The first reaction that I had when I came to know of the incident was that the role of District Commissioner has remained unchanged since its creation in the colonial times. Then too they collected revenues from the impoverished population of this country for a private company, and 62 years after independence it still collects (land and other possessions) for corporations. Incidentally the East India Company got the rights to Dewani (collect revenues) of Jharkhand from the Moghul emperor in 1765. This also marked the beginning of a glorious journey of resistance movements against colonial domination by the people of Jharkhand, spanning over two centuries. I was keen to witness the present effort of this wonderful legacy.

Programme on 18th August, 2009, Hazaribagh

1. By 11 am busloads of villagers started arriving at the starting location for the rally. The affected villages are 40 to 60 kilometres from Hazaribagh and the villagers had collectively contributed for the transport. About 1000 people representing all the blocks came for the programme. Significantly almost half of the participants were women.

2. The rally started at around 1.30 pm. The women led the march organised in double file, ensuring there was minimal disruption of traffic. The rallyists carried several banners about their movement and there was mild sloganeering to keep the tempo of the marchers. Pamphlets were distributed all along the way.

3. The rally covered all the important squares of the small town and converged in the Jila School ground at around 3.30 pm. With the marchers seated in neat formations in their flamboyantly bright coloured sarees and head scarves, the ground appeared to be a valley of wild flowers from the makeshift stage.

4. There were emotion laden speeches from representatives of each of the 21 sub-movements of the valley. Every one reiterated their commitment for the collective ‘Jaan denge Zameen nahin denge’ and ‘Jal Jangal, Zameen, Khanij par hamara adhikaar hai’ (We have rights over water, forest, minerals and land).

5. At 4.45 pm a delegation went to give the signed petition protesting against the utterance of the Deputy Commissioner to the Commissioner’s (a superior officer) Office. The delegation was received by a representative of the Commissioner and after hearing the position of the petitioners the official orally admitted that “if this was actually said by the Dy. Commissioner it was not proper”.

6. The meeting ended with the above reporting to the gathering amidst huge cheering. The exuberant crowd loaded back in the buses and started on their journey home at around 6 pm. There was a mood of festivity all around – in spite of an extremely uncertain tomorrow, today at least was theirs.

I am reporting this to the larger community to bring forth the story of an unknown struggle going on in a small newly formed state against the all too familiar attitude of corporate – state high-handedness. The people of Karnpura are waging their own battle. They know not what will be the final outcome. And yet women, men, elderly and children have decided to fight the State, which insolently threatens “Zameen do, Muaawza lo nahin to Main yehan Nandigram bana doonga” (Give land, take compensation, else I’ll make a Nandigram of this place).

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