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No key to landlocked airport
Row over 50 acre holds up Rs 400cr steel city project

Jamshedpur, Dec. 2: A beleaguered Jharkhand government’s acquisition antecedents and allegedly ambiguous rehabilitation and resettlement (R&R) policy may indefinitely delay an ambitious international airport that hopes to legitimise the steel city’s place in the aviation map of the country.

Tata Steel is pursuing the proposed airport in neighbouring Seraikela-Kharsawan district’s Gamharia block ever since it became clear that the existing Sonari airport, with runway of 3,480 feet, lacked enough elbow-room for expansion.

The Gamharia venture will have a 10,000-feet runway, meeting Director General of Civil Aviation (DGCA) norms to open up Jamshedpur to the services of larger aircraft, like the Airbus (320).

But, around 7,500 people in six villages of Gamharia block have refused to part with ancestral acres for the Rs 400-crore project, citing the “raw deal” meted out to those who gave up land for the recently inaugurated Adhunik Power plant in Kandra, some 25km from here.

The government owns 90 per cent of the 528-acre required for the airport. The bone of contention is a 50-acre stretch, which come under riyati (private land) category and stretches across Shibpur, Mohanpur, Machilikudur, Jagannathpur, Murgaguttu and Salempathar.

According to sources, while the first four villages could still be convinced to part with their ancestral land, but the others in Murgaguttu and Salempathar are absolutely adamant.

Sarkar ne hamare Kandra bhaiyon ko Adhunik plant ke liye dhokha diya. Jameen aur bade ghar ke badle chote-chote ghar diye jo nakaafi hai. Abhi bhi kuch ghar plant parisar ke andar basein huye hai. Unhe bhi hata hi liya jayega. Gaon ke log jayenge kahan. Hamare saath bhi yahi hone wala hai. Par hum sachet ho gaye hai. Adhunik kisse ne hamari ankhein khol di hai (The government has cheated our brethren in Kandra for acquiring land for the Adhunik plant. The evicted villagers have been rehabilitated in one-room quarters, which are inadequate. Some homes still exist on company premises, but they will be removed too. Where will the villagers go? The same will happen to us. But, we have become alert. The Adhunik episode has opened our eyes),” said a vocal Dhuku Sardar of Murgaguttu.

Echoing him, gram pradhan Kando Besra blamed the government’s R&R policy. “We are in the dark about how we will be compensated and rehabilitated. Nobody from the district administration has explained anything about this. Our ancestors had lived here for ages. How can anybody evict us from our own land?” the 40-year-old said, adding that villagers displaced by the power plant had nowhere to go.

The power plant ghost also shadowed the sentiments of Salempathar. “We know the government will betray us once we agree to part with our land,” Haridas Tudu, gram pradhan, said matter-of-factly.