When seven deaths have not stirred the government’s conscience, Rai is convinced that the resistance is futile. “The worst pain in the world is the pain of being displaced,” said Rai. “But the fact is neither political protests nor public demand can stop displacement. We’ll have to leave this village, our fields and our history.”
The Jharkhand police responds to protests against land acquisition with bullets, while the BJP-led state government amends native tenancy acts making acquisition easier.
Mehtab Alam, 32, was working in Delhi as a tailor for the past decade. In September 2016, he had gone home to Chepa Khurd in Jharkhand to spend Eid with his family. On October 1, Alam was on his way to the nearby village Dadi Kalan to meet an acquaintance. He heard noises as he neared the chowk in Dadi Kalan. When he realised what he had heard were gun-shots, he turned around to get out of there. Before he could escape, one of the bullets hit him.
“He tried to leave once he realised bullets were being fired,” said Alam’s 65-year-old father Maujim Ansari. “And then, the police shot him from behind.” Alam is survived by his wife Shakila Khatoon, a daughter and two sons.
His family is heartbroken and furious. Alam’s mother Majidan Khatoon told Newslaundry, she lost her son and will now lose their land too.
Alam’s parents are among thousands of families in the Pakri-Barwadih coal block area, in Hazaribagh’s Barkagaon block, who are resisting land acquisition for the National Thermal Power Corporation’s mining project. Chepa Khurd and Dadi Kalan are among the 86 villages in the Barkagaon block.
On October 1, the local Congress legislator Nirmala Devi and hundreds of villagers – who were observing the 16th day of kafan satyagraha against land acquisition – encountered the state police. When the police tried to take her away, the situation turned violent. First, there was lathi-charge, and then came the bullets.
Ranjan, 17, was on his way to tuition in Dadi Kalan when a bullet hit his neck. His father Kari Nath Ram said Ranjan died on the spot. Pawan, 16, lived in Sonbarsa and was in Dadi Kalan on October 1. He became another victim of the violence. “We worked hard to raise him,” said his still-distraught mother, Savitri. “Either give me my Pawan back or the head of the man who shot him.”
Abhishek was also shot dead in the Barkagaon police firings
A senior minister in Jharkhand’s BJP government told Newslaundry, “Barkagaon could have been avoided. It was our mistake. There was huge pressure on the local administration from NTPC in Delhi.”
The police action in Barkagaon isn’t an isolated incident. In the last four months, seven have been killed in police firing in the state because of incidents related to land acquisition or land rights. While some enquiries have been instituted, no police officials have been found responsible or punished for the deaths so far. While Jharkhand has seen repeated instances of violence, resistance and police crackdowns in issues related to land acquisition, the state assembly passed amendments in local tenancy acts — Chotanagpur Tenancy Act, 1908 and Santhal Pargana Tenancy Act,1949.
Development and destruction
Jharkhand was formed in 2000 – on tribal resistance leader Birsa Munda’s birth anniversary – and since then, it has struggled to find a balance between its development promises and the expectations of its common people. The current state government, elected to power in 2014, is the first instance of a party managing a majority single-handedly. BJP’s Raghubar Das was the first non-tribal chief minister of the tribal state.
Das has worked hard to bring investments into the mineral-rich state. During one of the investment road shows, Das said in Hyderabad that Jharkhand is a “young state” with 40 per cent of its land having mineral deposit and offers tremendous possibilities.
Under ‘Momentum Jharkhand’ – its investment programme – the state department of industries has signed 15 memorandums of understanding since February 2016. Out of this, at least five need land acquisitions. On November 23, amidst much chaos, the amendments in CNT and SPT were tabled in the Assembly and passed within three minutes.
The entire opposition — Jharkhand Mukti Morch (JMM), Jharkhand Vikas Morcha (JVM), Congress Party and BJP’s ally All Jharkhand Students’ Union vehemently opposed the will. They questioned the government for passing amendments to the acts, considered vital to the spirit of the tribal state, without any consultation.
These tenancy acts put a restriction on sale/acquisition of agricultural land for non-agricultural purposes. But now, with the amendments in place, agricultural land can be acquired for any non-agricultural purposes including those notified by the state, as and when required. In an interview to ABP News, Das claimed that the people of Jharkhand are willing to give their land.
He has evidently not asked people like Majidan Khatoon.“Jaan denge lekin jameen nahi denge (We can give our life, but not our land.)”
In July 2013, 52-year-old Keshar Mahto from Pagaar village, Hazaribagh, was killed in police firing and BJP, then in the Opposition, had criticised the state government for it. A day before Independence Day in 2015, villagers allegedly stone pelted the construction site of NTPC and the police fired once again. This time, four villagers were heavily injured and two received minor injuries. Six policemen were injured in the stone pelting and arson by villagers.
On August 29, as Jharkhand Police tried to shut down the protest outside Inland Power Limited (IPL) in Ramgarh district’s Gola block, it first lathi-charged the crowd and later fired 47 rounds. Dasrath Nayak and Ram Lakhan Mahto (reported as Premchand Mahto) were shot dead in these firings. Prohibitory orders were clamped near the power plant and CM Raghubar Das ordered a two-member enquiry in the killings.
In September, the kafan (shroud) satyagraha was launched in the Barkagaon area, by Nirmala Devi of Congress.
Activist Lakhendra Thakur told Newslaundry, “Several battalions of police, rapid action force and other security forces were deployed at the protest venue. Anyway, for years now on an average 10 security personnel are stationed per village.” The police took away Nirmala Devi from the venue early in the morning of October 1.
Thakur pointed at the Urdu school between Sorbarsa and Dadi Kalan village and said, “Right here, they were stopped by the villagers and then the police crackdown started.” By crackdown, he means the firing that killed Alam and three others. Another enquiry was ordered by the state government.
On October 22, in Khunti, police firing claimed another life and injured 10 others. Hundreds of tribals on their way to join the protest in Ranchi against the proposed amendments in the local tenancy acts were stopped by the police. According to the police, the protesters had held the additional superintendent of police Anurag Raj hostage. Deputy Commissioner of Police Vijay Kumar Laguni and his bodyguard Nagendra Sharma were injured while trying to free Raj. Sharma allegedly fired shots in self-defence. No enquiry was ordered this time. And the CM announced a compensation of Rs 2 lakh for the dead and Rs 1 lakh for injured.
On November 25, when the Opposition parties and tribals called the first, state-wide strike, Jharkhand witnessed arson and arrest of protesters. While the rural areas were in complete grip of the bandhi, districts such as Dumka, Sahibganj, Jamshedpur saw incidents of violence. Around 9,000 protesters were arrested during the bandh, which included almost the entire opposition leadership and two former chief ministers Babulal Marandi and Hemant Soren.
A pattern of violence
There has been an attempt to pass off these episodes as trivial. IPL’s deputy general manager, Shailendra Sinha, told Newslaundry that while the firing in Ramgarh was unfortunate, the troublemaker was Rajiv Jaiswal, a local leader and according to Sinha, a transporter whose contracts had been cancelled by IPL.
Recalling the August meeting when there was police firing, IPL’s Sinha said, “We held meeting with 30 villagers, the rest were possibly busy in their fields as it was sowing season.” He maintained that no protest were expected and IPL hadn’t asked for security. However, villagers say heavy forces were deployed around the area hours before the meeting and Sinha has no explanation for this.
On August 29, the villagers led by Jaiswal and panchayat parishad member Mamta Devi under the banner of Nagrik Chetna Manch had gathered outside IPL for a public meeting. The pollution caused by the power plant has sparked an agitation among local villagers, which over the past two months cemented into a list of 22 demands that was presented to IPL’s management.
This included demands such as concrete solution for pollution, roads for villagers, school, and water for the affected villages. However, a closed meeting was convened in the block office and when villagers, who were waiting outside the IPL gates, were informed about this, the situation went out of control. While the villagers allegedly stone pelted the police and administrative officials, the police resorted to lathi-charge. It was when Gola BDO Dinesh Kumar sustained injuries in stone-pelting, and villagers reached the water intake pump of IPL, that police started firing. Dasrath Nayak and Ram Lakhan Mahto were shot dead in these firings. While, Nayak was a former employee of IPL, Mahto was one of the title owners of land acquired by IPL.
Nayak and Mahto’s families told Newslaundry that in the initial reports, the police had written that Nayak and Ram died owing to snake-bite and a road accident, respectively. The villagers blocked Gola-Ramgarh road and demanded that reports be rectified. It was after all this that the official reports were changed to say that Nayak and Mahto were killed by the bullet injury.
Rajiv Jaiswal, Panchayat parishad member Mamta Devi and others who led the protest against IPL are in jail.
For locals, it’s a fight for their way of life and, for them, the state government’s plans seem more destructive than constructive.
The villages in the Pakri-Barwadih of Barkagaon block have multi-crop land. It is a vital vegetable source for the two major districts of Jharkhand – Hazaribagh and Dhanbad. The farmers here proudly claim that they manufacture “export-quality” jaggery. The NTPC mining project proposes to acquire these fertile lands along with a forest area of at least 2,700 acres.
NTPC mining project in Barkagaon block poses a threat to Pakri-Barkagoan Equinox Megalith
Chapter three of the Right to Fair Compensation and Transparency in Land Acquisition, Rehabilitation and Resettlement Act, 2013, stipulates that no irrigated multi-crop land shall be acquired unless in exceptional cases. In this case, the land can be acquired under the Coal Bearing Act, 1957.
Parliamentary Affairs Minister, Saryu Rai told Newslaundry that the government of Jharkhand will take care of people’s rights while executing the plans of development.
For the villagers who have been protesting the allotment of coal blocks in the Barkagaon area since 2004, this is not an assurance on which they can depend.
The NTPC had acquired 8,056 acres of land in 2010. The response from locals has been a variety of peaceful protests, including satyagraha. In 2011, in a unique twist to resistance, the villagers floated three companies and demanded that rights of extraction to be given to them. Citing the Supreme Court verdict of July 8, 2013, (in the case No 4,549/2,000) Azadi Bachao Andolan (ABA) activist Mithilesh Dangi said, “According to the order, Raiyats (titleholders of land) would be the real owners of minerals found under their land.”
ABA has been mobilising the villagers of Barkagaon through public meetings, reading material and educating them of their rights. Dangi, who also fought 2014 general election on Aam Aadmi Party ticket from Hazaribagh, argued that instead of giving compensation, the government and companies could share profit with villagers if they agree to give their land.
Investments trump people’s rights
This year, the villagers intensified their resistance as NTPC started its mining activity. Local leaders, activists and villagers including 87-year-old Shugan Saw sat on chitta (pyre) satyagraha from May 1 to 17. “Farmers from 28 villages will die, they will be left disabled if the land is acquired,” Shugan told Newslaundry. “For generations we have been taking care of forest and land in the area,” he said. “Who is the government to allot these lands without our consent?”
For locals, crackdowns by the state imply that people are less important than investments. Jharkhand’s Parliamentary Affairs minister, Saryu Rai told Newslaundry that Barkagaon was a result of politicking by Congress’s Nirmala Devi. Khunti, for Additional Chief Secretary (Home) of Jharkhand, NN Pandey, was not even a firing incident. These are now, to quote Pandey, “closed chapters.”
Those in Barkagaon continue to live in fear as the police and para-military forces keep patrolling the affected villages and areas near the Thriveni Sainik Mining Private Limited, which has been awarded the tender of mining development by NTPC. Not only this, according to locals, Thriveni Sainik has employed around 800 local youth to monitor these areas. The villagers refer to them as company dalals. (This correspondent was followed by several such ‘observers’, wearing t-shirts of Thriveni Sainik, as we met families in affected villages.)
Arun Rai, 66, owns several acres of land in Barkagaon. He’s certain that NTPC will “grab” his land any day. He has little hope that his government will listen to people like him who are being asked to uproot themselves and give up their way of life.
When seven deaths have not stirred the government’s conscience, Rai is convinced that the resistance is futile. “The worst pain in the world is the pain of being displaced,” said Rai. “But the fact is neither political protests nor public demand can stop displacement. We will have to leave this village, our fields and our history.”
Rai is not wrong in his analysis. Jharkhand falls short on the national average in almost all development indicators. The only way, the state government feels the situation can be improved is by exploiting the natural resources and bringing investments to Jharkhand. The fact that 30 per cent of the land in Jharkhand comes under forest cover and net sown area is only 28 per cent — acquiring land becomes a critical matter for the state government.
In the last decade, several sites for proposed industrial projects have witnessed heavy protest — mobilised by the local political parties such as JMM and JVM. Jindal Power failed to acquire land for its power plant, Ultra Mega Power Plant (a central government project) in Deoghar has been kept on the back burner after the police firing in 2015 and the ongoing protest against Adani’s power plant in Godda are examples of people’s resistance against land acquisition. And while the government pushes for investment, the opposition backs the people’s movements for political compulsions and convenience. In all of this, it is the common man that has to bear the brunt of police bullets.
The second part of the ground report will cover protests against the Adani Power Plant.