Residents of McCluskieganj demonstrate at the station against the proposed CCL project on Thursday. (below) East Central Railway's Hajipur zone GM Madhuresh Kumar, who was supposed to hear them out, speeds past in a special train. Pictures by Prashant Mitra
What all to see in McCluskieganj
Old colonial bungalows: these flaunt Anglo-Indian
architecture, complete with grand bedrooms and
gardens; many of them have been converted into
Don Bosco Academy: a residential institute of
repute with 1,200 students
Gurdwara & temple: built in the same complex, the
twin shrines embody secularism and brotherhood
The town mosque: located just beside the gurdwara
and temple complex
St John’s Church: a quaint house of worship built by Anglo-Indians during British rule
Dugadugi River: the placid water body lends serenity
to the green town
A civil movement is simmering in McCluskieganj to save the quaint town celebrated for its distinctive Raj legacy.
The serene and secluded tourist haunt — 65km northwest of capital Ranchi and famous for its Anglo-Indian bungalows — on Thursday woke up to voices of angst and anger, arguably for the first time, as residents protested against a proposed coal siding project of CCL and East Central Railway.
The people’s agitation compelled general manager of Hajipur zone Madhuresh Kumar to postpone his scheduled visit. Earlier, he had planned to conduct a station review and meet local residents. But, keeping the 2,000-strong crowd waiting since morning, the senior railway official raced past McCluskieganj station in his special coach after visiting Khelari-Piparwar around 2pm.
The demonstrators included diversified groups — from students to school principals, from panchayat officials to zilla parishad members, from ex-servicemen to civilians. Armed with placards and posters, and mouthing slogans like, “save McCluskieganj from getting polluted”, they squatted at the junction from 9am.
“Our fight is for fundamental rights — clean air, water and habitation. The railway authorities want to make a coal siding here. Imagine the pollution it will cause. McCluskieganj has historical significance and is also important from the tourism point of view. Once coal business begins, it will ruin lives of people with unwanted diseases and criminal activities,” said retired IAF group commander R.K. Prasad.
Pitched in general secretary of McCluskieganj Development Forum and senior BJP leader Surendranath Pandey: “We have assembled here to meet railway officials with our pleas. All we want is shifting of this project to Khelari or Piparwar, where CCL has its works. There is ample space there. It doesn’t make any sense to dump coal here and then transport it there by road. All this will promote smuggling and nothing else.”
Four days ago, Pandey also filed a PIL in Jharkhand High Court. “It is a do-or-die fight for us,” he added.
According to Kennith Jennings, a local resident and teacher, the economic backbone of McCluskieganj is academics and tourism. “A coal siding project will annihilate both, casting the town into a major economic crisis.”
Sarna Samiti president Kamal Munda said the Anglo-Indian town was address for roughly 40-45 schools, both private and government. “It is an established fact that wherever coal business begins, an area is environmentally degraded,” he said, adding that the protesters would not budge until the plan was shelved.
Agreed principal T.D. Joshi of Don Bosco School, one of the prominent institutions with over 1,200 boarders on its rolls. “Since our inception in 1997, the only reason why parents opt to send their children here is because of McCluskieganj’s clean environment and unparalleled academic ambience. Once a coal siding starts, our students will breathe dust, smoke and ash. This is why I decided to join the movement. We will stand united till we succeed in our mission.”
History has it that this town came into existence in the 1930s when a Calcutta-based real estate agent, E.T. McCluskie, bought 10,000 acres of land from the Ratu family to set up a Utopia for retired people. Gradually, many Anglo-Indian families started turning up. A few decades ago, there were over 200 such families, besides indigenous tribes, who lived in harmony.
Today, McCluskieganj has 12-odd Anglo-Indian families left. However, the charm of yesteryear remains with the bungalows untouched, the verdant greens virgin and the serenity uncompromising. The town is a great winter attraction for tourists from the east, particularly Bengal.
The town also has literary and cinematic history. Popular Bengali fiction writer Buddhadeb Guha and actor-director Aparna Sen are among many others who have preferred McCluskieganj to other locations for their books and films.
“Successive state governments have done precious little to conserve this place, but still it remains a big draw. While on the one hand, the town has been announced a part of a tourist circuit, on the other, a coal siding project has been proposed to sound the death knell for everything McCluskieganj stands for,” said Sukumani Kumari, a zilla parishad member.
East Central Railway AGM Ajay Shukla denied any knowledge of protest against the project. “Primarily, it is not our project, but the CCL’s. We are just vendors for transportation,” he said.
CCL CMD Gopal Singh’s phone remained switched off and his officials refused to speak on the issue.