Work in progress at the mine site on Thursday. (Gour Sharma)
Asansol, Dec. 13: Villagers whose land agitation had forced Bharat Coking Coal Ltd (BCCL) to scrap a mining project near Asansol apologised to company officials last evening with folded hands and requested them to reconsider the decision.
This is the first time in recent memory that land protesters in Bengal have apologised for their agitation. It is also a pointer to the lack of jobs, which prompted the residents to organise the agitation and later apologise.
A senior official of BCCL, a Coal India subsidiary, today said the company had decided to scrap its earlier decision to look for options in Jharkhand and dig the mine in Damagoria.
The villagers told the BCCL officials that they would stop the agitation and wait for the company to make arrangements for jobs for land-loser families.
The Telegraph had on Tuesday reported the BCCL’s decision to move out following villagers’ agitation on December 5. The villagers squatted on the plots identified for acquisition and stopped a land survey demanding that BCCL give them jobs immediately.
BCCL had said that jobs of 70 people had already been finalised but it would require at least a couple of months to issue appointment letters. About 200 acres, belonging to 150 families in Damagoria, were identified by BCCL, a subsidiary of public sector Coal India, in 2003 for the open-cast mine.
Yesterday, the villagers held a meeting and discussed the impact of the pullout decision as many of them already been identified for the jobs and compensation.
“It was our mistake that we hampered the work of the coal company as we had thought it would cheat us by not giving us jobs after setting up the mine on our plots. But we do not want the project to be shifted from here because it would permanently kill our hope to get money and jobs. Our land is almost barren and we depend only on rain to cultivate vegetables and very little paddy. So if we get jobs in BCCL, it would be better for us,” said Biplab Mandal, one of the agitators whose name is on the primary job list prepared by BCCL.
Tarasish Mandal, the general manager of the Church Victoria area of BCCL in Barakar, said the company had received a written apology from the villagers.
“The villagers came to my office and requested me to continue with the project. They gave a written declaration that they would not hamper work any more. I spoke to our chairman-cum-managing director, Tapas Kumar Lahiri. He was pleased with the development and instructed me to scrap the previous decision and resume work,” Tarasish Mandal said.
“We have also assured the villagers that there will be no breach of trust from our side and jobs will be given to them according to rules.”
The general manager said the process of land registration would begin from Monday and compensation cheques would be distributed after that.
A BCCL official termed the villagers’ move a good sign. “We had expected little help from the administration because of the state government’s hands-off land policy. But what happened yesterday is a good sign. It shows that the villagers have become sensible. This will set a good example,” he said.
The local Trinamul leadership said it had “no objection” if the villagers gave up land willingly. “We did not oppose the project but were worried about the villagers’ interests. If they have no problem, we have nothing to say,” Trinamul leader Baban Mukherjee said.
Local CPM, Congress and the Forward Bloc leaders, who had also backed the villagers’ agitation, echoed Mukherjee.