June 4: First, the project was held hostage for three months by local people demanding jobs. Then there was a clamour for higher compensation. And now, an agitation to throw open a gate at the plant site threatens to stall work again.
Protests have become a regular feature at the Damodar Valley Corporation’s under-construction thermal power plant in Purulia’s Raghunathpur despite the Bengal government’s assurance of extending all co-operation for the Rs 10,000-crore project.
Since Monday, around 200 residents of Bhaldubi village have been staging a dharna outside the main gate of the plant site demanding unrestricted access to the premises. The authorities shut the western gate of the complex following theft of construction materials.
DVC sources said the same protesters had taken part in the agitation demanding jobs.
“Access has been restricted to curb pilferage from the construction site. But that led to a dharna. When was the last time anyone heard of protests by villagers because of a company’s decision to guard its plant better?” a DVC sources said.
The dharna has brought work on the second phase — two 660MW units — to a standstill again, weeks after construction resumed.
“They have shut the gates without any reason. Those of us who work there as contract labourers have to walk 6km every day to enter the site through the main gate. Had they kept the western gate open, we could have reached the site in minutes,” a protester said.
Although Purulia zilla parishad chief Srishtidhar Mahato of Trinamul tried to persuade the protesters to lift the dharna by holding a meeting last night, it was not clear if the agitators would budge, DVC sources said. Today was a holiday because of Jamai Sashthi.
“This project is crucial to the region’s development. Such agitations are slowing down work,” Mahato said.
Last year, some DVC officials had spoken of plans to relocate the project to Jharkhand after villagers stopped work on a 10.5km water pipeline. Around 700 of the 1,600 landlosers had demanded permanent jobs besides compensation. In November, the agitation was lifted following Partha Chatterjee’s intervention.
“The pipeline is yet to be completed because of frequent stoppage of work by agitators. The first 600MW unit was supposed to start generation in November last year. If everything goes well, generation might begin later this month,” the DVC source said.