|The protest outside one of the Essar pits on Sunday. Picture by Arup Sarkar
Durgapur, Feb. 10: Over 300 villagers in Durgapur, most of them Trinamul supporters, today stalled work at five pits of Essar Oil demanding the company hire guards from among them and repair a road its heavy vehicles use every day.
The villagers of Laudoha, led by local Trinamul activists, organised an eight-hour sit-in from around 7am and prevented officials from working at the pits where the Mumbai-based company is extracting coal-bed methane (CBM).
“Essar extracts CBM in our village and earns crores. But we are not getting anything. Two years ago, the company had promised it would at least hire guards from our village but they have engaged private agencies,” said Biswajoy Mukherjee, a Trinamul worker in Laudoha.
Later in the evening, an Essar Oil spokesperson said: “Today, some of our employees were temporarily prevented from discharging their duties. The work has since resumed and there has been no impact on supplies to customers. We continue to engage with the community in a long-lasting and symbiotic relationship.”
In Laudoha, a section of the villagers said chemical waste from the pits are damaging farm land. “How will we cultivate? What will we eat?” Mukherjee asked.
Trinamul tried to distance itself from the agitation, saying the movement “is not party-sponsored”.
“They (the villagers) are our supporters. But it is not a party-sponsored movement. The villagers are agitating about their own issues,” said the Laudoha block president of Trinamul, Sujit Mukherjee.
Essar workers said such protests to put pressure on the company have become a practice in the area. On January 28, some officials were detained by a Trinamul faction in neighbouring Jatgoria to protest a delay in paying compensation to landlosers.
“Such protests have become a practice here. Villagers disrupt work over fresh demands. This is ridiculous,” said an engineer from Gujarat.
An Essar official in Durgapur, who termed the protest “pointless”, said the company had already recruited the six guards it needed for each of the five pits.
“But the villagers are demanding that we increase the slots. We have refused to do that. As for the chemical waste, we first store them in pits and then take the treated material away in tankers. The protest is pointless,” the official said.
The official, however, refused comment on the villagers’ demand to repair the moram road Essar trucks and trailers use to access the NH2. The villagers said the regular plying of heavy vehicles had damaged the road.
The five Essar pits are on 2 acres each that were bought directly from 150 villagers two years ago.
The demonstration was lifted around 3pm when the officer in charge of Laudoha police station, Sandip Chattaraj, assured the villagers that the company would hear their grievances tomorrow.