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Job demand sparks IISCO land clash

Durgapur, Feb. 26: Over 500 villagers demanding jobs after having given their land over two decades ago fought pitched battles with police and stalled the construction of a wall by steel company IISCO near Asansol today.

The policemen resorted to lathicharge and fired tear gas shells to disperse the mob which, led by local Trinamul councillor Pabitra Majhi, retaliated by throwing stones. In all, 10 villagers and seven policemen were injured.

Around 6am today, IISCO authorities along with some labourers had gone to the Purushottampur site to construct the boundary wall. But the villagers gathered an hour later to try and stop them.

The plant had acquired 350 acres in 1989 from a cluster of villages near Burnpur for Rs 1 crore for the factory’s expansion and modernisation. But the villagers started an agitation in 2007 demanding higher compensation. The authorities paid them an additional Rs 49 crore.

Today, the agitation was supported by Trinamul-backed Purushottampur Bhumi Uchched Pratirodh Committee.

Chandrasekhar Roy, the secretary of the committee and a Trinamul worker, was among three persons arrested. “Mamata Banerjee had supported our agitation in 2007. But today, her police resorted to a lathicharge when we were demanding jobs at the IISCO plant. Even women protesters were beaten up.”

The plant’s authorities have been repeatedly stopped from carrying out the construction of the wall. Four months ago, the villagers had protested over a less-than-an-acre patch with a tree and some stones considered idols of Jhorabudi, a deity.

But even after the company built a temple 500 metres away, the villagers began demanding jobs at the plant. The last time the authorities were stopped from constructing the wall was in January.

Today, the officials had informed the police and a big force escorted them to the site.

After being dispersed from the site, the mob gheraoed the residence of state law minister Malay Ghatak in Asansol, 8km away.

“What kind of a government have we set up where the police lathicharged women who went there to demand jobs for their husbands,” shouted Majhi, but was pushed aside by Ghatak’s loyalists. The women present demanded that the arrested persons be released.

“Our government will not tolerate any hindrance to the modernisation of IISCO. I have told the agitators that I will hold a meeting with (industries minister) Partha Chatterjee on Wednesday to find out a solution,” Ghatak said.