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Turf war on wasteland called Dumka

Kathikund (Dumka), April 23: Dumka’s Lok Sabha election tomorrow is billed as the acid test for regional heavyweights Shibu Soren and Babulal Marandi, but residents of the state’s so-called second capital have been suffering a corrosive lack of development and industrialisation from one poll to another.

Every major industrial initiative in tribal heartland Santhal Pargana subdivision — of which Dumka district and parliamentary seat is best-known — seems jinxed, a resentment that BJP’s prime ministerial pick Narendra Modi, the party’s MP hopeful in Dumka Sunil Soren as well as Shibu Soren and Marandi have addressed in campaigns.

But on the ground, big-ticket schemes biting dust is the norm. Calcutta Electric Supply Corporation (CESC) thermal power project, conceived in 2006-07, was supposed to come up in Kathikund area of Dumka constituency, but violent protests climaxing on December 6, 2008, which saw two villagers killed in police firing, forced the plan to shift to Ramgarh.

The power plant of Jindal Steel & Power Limited (JSPL) was envisaged early last year in Sundarpahari of neighbouring Godda constituency. Both projects, supposed to change the face of Dumka and Godda, are “at a nascent stage”, an euphemism for “nothing doing”.

Local CESC officials said the company now aims to set up a 600MW thermal power plant in Ramgarh (in Dumka district) in the first phase to start with. The company has been allocated Mahuagarhi block for extraction of coal. But the pace of work is too slow to have any impact right now.

JSPL’s Godda project — inaugurated in April 2013 by President Pranab Mukherjee with much fanfare — has also been a non-starter.

Chairman-cum-managing director of JSPL Naveen Jindal, Congress MP from Kurukshetra, recently expressed hope that the company would soon get started on construction work in Godda but admitted acquiring land for the project was a hurdle.

Residents seesaw between hope and helplessness.

Munni Hasdah, tribal activist who led the agitation against the CESC plant in Dumka, is now the zilla parishad member of the district. Her hopes of contesting the Lok Sabha polls on a TMC ticket this time dashed by one Babulal Soren, who apparently got hold of TMC’s Ranchi nominee Bandhi Tirkey and wrangled the party ticket, she defends her decision to agitate against the CESC power plant.

In her early 40s, Munni who continues to staunchly support TMC chief and Bengal chief minister Mamata Banerjee — her small drawing room has two Didi portraits — said her protest was the outcome of villagers’ wishes.

“CESC officials could not convince us how the project would benefit us. The role of the JMM politicians and local administration was dubious. Four cases were lodged against me. I had been in jail for quite some time. No one thinks of the poor,” she said.

Munni says she is open to development but it should be holistic. “My husband Daniel Murmu is a government school teacher while my daughter Anupama has completed her engineering from BIT-Sindri. We also want a better quality life but for everyone,” she says.

Also, Kathikund can’t shrug off its Maoist tag. As recently as on July 2, 2013, Maoists killed Pakur SP Amarjit Balihar and five constables accompanying his convoy on Dumka-Pakur road, 5km from Kathikund police station.

Foot patrol by CRPF personnel in Kathikund is a grim reminder of the attack.

Islam Ansari and Sunder Ansari, two elderly residents of Amgachhi village in Dumka where the CESC project was to come up, hint that no one can say anything to invite the ire of Maoists.

Jo hua accha hua (Whatever happened was good),” said Islam about the CESC power project standing on the very ground the plant was proposed and then shelved.

But young Kamruddin Ansari, a dropout after Class VIII, has a different take.

Chaubis ghante mein du-tin ghanta bijli rahta hai. Bitey teen din se gayab tha, abhi aya. Hospital kabhi nahi khulta, inter-college yahan se aath kilometre dur hai” (Power comes for two-three hours a day, we were without electricity for last three days. The hospital never opens. The plus two college is 8km from here),” he said.

“This is our quality of life 30km from Dumka, the state’s second capital,” he added wryly.

Both former chief ministers, Shibu Soren and Marandi, are making big claims.

Are people buying them? Saylen Marandi, a Santhal youth of village Daldali in Kathikund who claims to have a degree in journalism from the BHU, enigmatically said: “Shibu Soren bhi achha hai, Babulal bhi achha hai. Par loktantra mein change hote rehna chahiye (Both Shibu and Babulal are good and in democracy change is necessary).”

Saylen sports a torn tee and shorts. Earlier a stringer for a vernacular newspaper, he is now virtually unemployed and ekes out a living by practising herbal medicine and working in the paddy field. His father Rameshwar Marandi is a retired primary schoolteacher and the family runs on his pension.

Asked about the CESC project, Saylen said: “Don’t know the price of development. The water level would have gone down, many villages would have submerged had the proposed dam been constructed. But these are conjectures now as the power plant has shifted to neighbouring block Ramgarh.”


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