Villagers, including children, protest with sticks, swords and other traditional weapons near Electrosteel plant gates at Siyaljori, near Bokaro, on Thursday. Picture by Pankaj Kumar
Bokaro, Feb. 13. The Electrosteel plant in Siyaljori near Bokaro today resembled a fortress under siege as 800 workers stayed trapped inside for the fourth day running, while protesting crowds outside the main gate swelled to over 2,500, brandishing swords and shouting slogans.
On the fourth day of the politically backed economic blockade, protesters took turns at the mike at the makeshift pandal, shouting “Siyaljori ko Singur bana denge”, drawing parallels with rural resentment over land acquisition that forced Tata Motors to fold up their Nano project from Bengal’s Singur in 2008.
Protesting men apart, even children and women were armed with swords, sticks, bows and arrows.
This morning, when Electrosteel director R.S. Singh launched his own peace march to support captive employees, Bokaro district bosses pleaded with him to halt and prevent a clash.
Bokaro deputy commissioner Uma Shankar Singh, Chas SDO Sanjay Singh and Chas DSP R.N. Sharma personally asked Singh and 700 others to not provoke thousands of protesters into violence.
“I can’t allow Bokaro to turn into a battleground. The situation is very volatile. We will hold another high-level meeting late in the night at the confidential cell of my office,” DC Uma Shankar Singh told The Telegraph in the evening.
Since 2012, disgruntled Siyaljori land-losers have been accusing Electrosteel of not giving them their due.
They claimed they lost their land due to the steel plant at prices much below the market rate and even those who got jobs in the company received a pittance as salary.
The protesters claimed 524 of the 1,800 land losers got permanent jobs, but with salaries lower than that offered by SAIL or Coal India Limited.
“The few displaced who did get jobs in the company get Rs 6,500 per month while land-losers working at Bokaro steel plant (under SAIL) get over Rs 16,000,” said a protester.
Now, the protest movement, which had the support of Nirsa MLA of the MCC Arup Chatterjee from the start, is attracting JMM heavyweights such as Dumri MLA Jagannath Mahto, Tundi (Dhanbad) MLA Mathura Prasad Mahto, party secretary Santosh Rajwar and others.
“Our support is rising as our demands are genuine,” Nirsa MLA Chatterjee said.
Electrosteel chief of communications Rohit Singh told The Telegraph that no one was bothered about the 800 trapped employees.
“Who cares about their suffering? There is no food left inside the plant premises now,” he said.
The district administration and police have not succeeded in even implementing section 144 in the area.
But Electrosteel, which has not managed to extract assistance from the Hemant Soren government, is in no position to throw its weight.
The Calcutta headquartered company, a market leader in DI pipes, pumped in Rs 12,000 crore for its steel plant that was likely to produce 3mtpa metal. So far, it managed trial runs of a few tonnes per week.
“The Electrosteel management has been directed to be friendly and not complicate issues by bringing out marches. The focus is on getting protesters on the negotiation table for a long-term settlement,” a company source said.