Preparations on for Tuesday’s foundation stone laying ceremony of a new Assembly building at Kute on the outskirts of Ranchi on Monday. Picture by Prashant Mitra
The state government appears to be heading for a confrontation with villagers opposing the construction of a new Assembly building with politicians joining their agitation on Monday, the day before a foundation stone laying ceremony.
More than 500 villagers from Jagannathpur, Tiril, Labed and other neighbourhoods gathered at Kute, 15km from the state capital, demanding that the state government return land acquired but not used for setting up Heavy Engineering Corporation (HEC) in the ’60s.
The villagers were joined by local Congress MP Subodh Kant Sahay, Ajsu MLA Naveen Jaiswal, former deputy mayor Ajay Nath Shahdeo, besides leaders of several other political parties, including BJP and JVM.
By the looks of it, the villagers seemed to be prepared for a long-drawn protest. They were cooking meals for themselves at the venue, vowing to continue their dharna till the state government agreed to their demands.
Their primary demand is centred around land acquired by the state for the establishment of HEC. Now, the villagers have staked claim to portions of land that is lying unused.
Ratan Tirkey, the president of Jankalyan Samiti Ratan Tirkey, explained their position.
“The government had acquired around 7,800 acre from villagers in the ’60s for HEC but used barely 2,400 acre. Though it should return the unused land to its owner, it has started selling unused land like a real estate manager,” he alleged at the dharna site.
The proposed site of the core-capital, he added, was within the unused land and villagers wanted the land back. “After they get the land, they will decide whether a core-capital should come up there or not,” he said.
Tirkey said they resorted to the dharna as talks with chief minister Hemant Soren failed on January 16.
“After the villagers’ protest on January 15, Hemant called a meeting. But the meeting did not yield any result. Our dharna will continue till the issue is resolved,” he maintained.
The state government plans to set up the Assembly premises across 39 acre in Kute village. A blueprint is ready for the three-storied building.
But, oblivious of the protests, the state government seems to be going ahead with Tuesday’s function.
“There is no change in the schedule for laying the foundation stone for the core capital tomorrow,” chief minister’s advisor Himanshu Shekhar said.
HEC land has always been a matter of contentious debate. As a part of a deal to help HEC come out of the red, the Centre waived tax to the tune of Rs 1,100 crore while the state has waived power and water costs.
As per the terms of a revival package, HEC would have to surrender 2,342 acre vacant land. HEC has so far surrendered 1,936 acre. The remaining 406 acre is under illegal occupation.
The state has so far paid HEC Rs 139 crore of the promised Rs 250 crore. It would release the balance Rs 111 crore after the remaining land was freed of encroachments and returned to the state.
HEC has been a profit-making company since 2006.
Legal opinion puts the state on strong wicket. Arwind Kumar Lal, an advocate at Ranchi civil court, said once land was acquired and compensation paid, it could not be returned to the owner.
“Land Acquisition Act does not provide for it. Land ownership is a legal, not a fundamental right. After 50 years, transferring land to its original owner is difficult as over the years original owners have died and the state finds it difficult to decide upon the rightful legal owner because of multiple claimants,” he explained.