Hazaribagh, Jan. 16: While Singur in Bengal has been hogging the headlines, a people’s movement is brewing unnoticed in this Jharkhand district, where thousands of acres of land are being acquired for a host of coal-mining projects and a super-thermal power station.
But aggressive resistance by villagers, mobilised not by political parties but by social activists, has stalled most public hearings, mandatory under the law before acquiring land. The flare-ups so far have been relatively minor but the situation appears to be getting out of control, especially following the midnight drama here on the night of January 5.
The next day was fixed for a public hearing here for NTPC’s Pakri-Barwadih coal-mining project. While the project site is 42 km from Hazaribagh town, past experience, when people did not allow the hearing to take place, had prompted the company to hold it at the district headquarters this time.
NTPC is accused of transporting around 150 villagers to Hazaribagh the previous day. Arrangements were made for their stay. A rival group of villagers too arrived at the headquarters to oppose the acquisition, apprehending that the next day they might be physically prevented from travelling to Hazaribagh.
The social activists leading the resistance claim that they were informed over the telephone at 11 pm, by a villager enjoying NTPC’s hospitality, that they had been asked to assemble at the collectorate. Apprehending that the officials were planning a stage-managed “public hearing”, this group of villagers, numbering 150 or more, ran through the night and stormed the collectorate.
They confess that they did not find any villager there. But their explanation is that once information reached the collectorate that the rival group was marching towards it, the pro-acquisition villagers were allowed to melt away. But they did find a NTPC general manager and other officials there and saw the meeting room ready with banners and public address systems. “What were the officials doing at the collectorate at midnight,” ask the activists.
The police arrived only after an hour and ordered the belligerent villagers to disperse. The people, claim activists, finally left around 3 am after the police furnished a written guarantee that NTPC officials would not return.
But the next day, when the people went back to the collectorate for the meeting, there was no sign of any official. The villagers left the venue after 2 pm and put up a roadblock to give vent to their frustration. They had arrived at Hazaribagh on November 23 last year also for the hearing, which again was called off at the last moment.
Member-secretary of the state pollution control board, S.K. Singh, claimed that for a public hearing to be valid, it has to be held during daytime and in the presence of a representative each of the board and the district administration.
NTPC officials claimed coal mafia and other vested interests were instigating the people because they do not want the project to come up. But a majority of the people in Barkagaon, they said, were supportive.