A Singur is simmering in Nagri.
The farming village in Kanke block, 15km from state capital Ranchi, is rapidly reaching flashpoint with residents rising in revolt against the government’s proposed education hub on 218 acres of riyati land.
On Sunday, 200-odd villagers — under the banner of Bandhu Tirkey-led People’s Front — upped their ante by halting construction of the boundary wall of Indian Institute of Information Technology (IIIT), one of the three premier cradles expected to call Nagri their campus address.
Armed with spades, ploughs and other agricultural tools, the villagers chased away Kanke circle officer Sanjay Kumar who was supervising work and then started preparing their land for a kharif harvest, as 50-odd Rapid Action Force (RAF) personnel had to wait and watch.
“Mera khet mujhse koi nahi cheen sakta. Yeh khet meri pehchaan hai jo mere purkhon ki nishani hai. (No one can snatch away my land from me. It is my identity… it is a souvenir from my forefathers),” said 45-year-old Shanti Toppo, ploughing her plot.
Added farmer Mantu Oraon: “Land in Nagri has always been an agricultural goldmine. For three generations, we have harvested gold (read paddy) and that is what we like. After two spells of drought, we are hopeful of a bumper yield this time. How can we just give our ancestral land away?”
The state government has planned three prominent projects in Nagri — a 76-acre campus for IIM-Ranchi, a 67-acre address for National University for Study and Research in Law (NSURL), besides 75-acre premises for IIIT.
Though the district administration says that villagers no longer own the land for which they had been “duly compensated” in 1957-58, when acres were acquired for a Birsa Agriculture University seed farm, villagers refuse to buy the claim.
“Who says so? Where is the proof? No one has acquired any land. This is our property and we will either kill or die for it,” an agitated Oraon said, adding that the government could not grab their “zameen aur jivika (land and livelihood)” just like that.
“If we don’t have land, we won’t have money to live. What good will universities do to our starving families then? And if the government wants land, it should compensate us at today’s price and give us farmland elsewhere,” he maintained.
Ever since the state zeroed in on Nagri as its education hub address, protests have been routine. In the recent past, a high court intervention was required to raise the boundary wall of the other two proposed cradles amid soaring tension between villagers and local administration.
A visibly hassled Kanke circle officer said villagers paid no heed to court orders on Sunday. “We told them it is illegal to obstruct work, but they didn’t listen. They stopped construction of the IIIT boundary. I have informed my seniors and they will take necessary actions,” Sanjay Kumar said, not willing to talk further.
Arun Pradhan, the secretary of People’s Front, said farming would continue and warned of intensified agitation in coming days. “On 28th of this month, we will bring down the IIM and law university boundary walls, and till land there as well. We have filed a petition in Supreme Court, challenging the Jharkhand High Court order. It will be heard on the same day. Irrespective of the verdict, our battle will continue,” he said.
According to Pradhan, in 1957-58, the government had offered compensation to 153 riyati households under the Land Acquisition Act of 1894, but only 25 accepted it.
“The others still pay lagaan (land tax) and have receipts too. Moreover, there is a rule that no work can be carried out on village acres without the consent of the gram sabha. We will sacrifice our lives if the government uses muscle power, but won’t let injustice happen,” he added.
The land problem in Singur — the Bengal village where Tata Motors had wanted to set up a manufacturing unit — was a turning point in the political fortunes of the prodigious Left Front government.
Only time will tell whether Nagri will be the BJP-led administration’s undoing in Jharkhand.
Will the three cradle campuses see the light of day?