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Armed protest for steel plant jobs

- 500 displaced try to gherao CEO, held

Bokaro was on the brink of a major flare-up on Monday when more than 500 displaced villagers, armed with swords, sickles, axes, bow and arrows, tried to lay siege to the residence of Bokaro Steel Limited’s CEO, but were arrested in the nick of time.

The protesters, owing allegiance to a splinter group called Majdoor Sangathan Morcha, were pressing for an 11-point charter of demands, the major ones being jobs in Bokaro Steel, panchayat elections in 19 villages that have come within a 5km periphery of the steel major after displacement, constant supply of water and power, medical facilities and better payment to contractual labourers.

A few days earlier, they had warned of a major agitation and gherao of CEO Anutosh Maitra’s residence on NH-23, prompting the police to clamp Section 144 of the CrPC (bar on assembly of more than five people) in the area on Sunday.

But the villagers, led by Morcha leaders Mukesh Kumar, Arvind Kumar, Rita Devi and Meera Devi, ignored the prohibitory orders and started marching to the CEO’s residence at 10am, only to run into a heavy contingent of more than 300 armed district policemen just 200 metres away.

The police team, led by SP Jitendra Singh and Chas SDO S.N Ram, stopped the protesters and took them to a makeshift jail camp at Sector II’s Kala Mandir.

However, they were released after 30 minutes and started a fresh march towards the CEO’s residence, but were again stopped by policemen.

At one of time, the situation appeared to spill out of control with the protesters almost coming to blows with the policemen. “But seniors intervened and a flare-up was prevented. Later, additional collector of Bokaro Sanjay Singh called upon Mukesh Kumar and others to come for talks at the deputy commissioner’s office,” said a police officer.

SDO Ram and city DSP Sahdeo Sah spoke to them after which it was decided that a high-level tripartite meeting would be held in the last week of July to solve the dispute. Thereafter, the villagers called off their protest.

“We arrested the villagers as they violated Section 144. However, the arrested have been released after the displaced agreed to withdraw the agitation,” Ram said.

Speaking to The Telegraph, leader of the displaced Mukesh said they decided to withdraw the agitation temporarily to set the stage for tripartite talks. “We have given time till August 2 to the authorities to convene the meeting. If no agreement is reached next time, we will come back in thousands and not allow the CEO and other Bokaro Steel officers to move out of their houses. This is the final warning to the company to give jobs and other facilities to the displaced,” he added.

At the time of its establishment in early ’60s, Bokaro Steel had given jobs to 6,019 families, who had to part with their land. But descendants of the original land owners raised demands for jobs.

The Supreme Court intervened in 2008 and ordered jobs for more 7,290 people. Till date, the steel major has absorbed more than 16,000. Yet, the villagers are not happy and are seeking fresh 15,000 jobs.