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BCCL scraps Bengal mine plan

Asansol, Dec. 11: A land agitation has forced Bharat Coking Coal Ltd (BCCL) to scrap a mining project near Asansol and explore options in neighbouring Jharkhand.

“We had no option but to cancel the project following protests from the villagers. They want jobs in BCCL immediately. We told them that getting documents verified and allotting jobs on the basis of their qualifications would take time. But they want the appointment letters before their plots are registered,” said Tarasish Mandal, the BCCL general manager of the Church Victoria area in Barakar.

About 200 acres, belonging to 150 families in Damagoria, were identified by BCCL, a subsidiary of public sector company Coal India, in 2003 for the open-cast mine.

But on December 5 this year, the villagers squatted on their plots and prevented BCCL officials from carrying out a land survey.

The company said it had finalised jobs for 70 people but would require at least a couple of months to issue appointment letters. “A member from each family would get a job according to our rule of providing employment to any family that gives more than two acres. But they refused to listen to us,” Mandal said.

BCCL officials said they expected little help from the administration because of the government’s hands-off policy on land acquisition. “After the Loba clash, we did not want any trouble. We will set up another project in Jharkhand,” a BCCL engineer said.

In Birbhum’s Loba, villagers who wanted a discussion for higher land prices with DVC-Emta had clashed with police last month.

BCCL wanted to set up the mine to extract 4,000 tonnes of coal daily and supply it to power plants in the area.

Local Trinamul leader Baban Mukherjee said the villagers would give land only after being issued appointment letters. “If the company refuses to give us jobs after we give our land, who will be responsible?” he said.

A CPM leader in the area, Sujit Mukherjee, said his party wanted the mine there but not at the cost of villagers’ interests. “The villagers demanded jobs and BCCL will have to give them that,” he said. Congress leader Kinesh Mondal and former Forward Bloc MLA in the area Maniklal Acharya echoed the other parties.