April 29: After waiting for two years for the state government to acquire land for its 12-million tonne greenfield project at Tontoposhi, Tata Steel today took the first tentative step to deal directly with the villagers.
The meeting at Gamharia turned out to be an anti-climax and left company officials beaming.
Apprehensive executives were prepared for angry protests and violent opposition. There was, therefore, adequate police arrangements to keep demonstrators at bay.
But the 200 villagers, who gathered at the Tayo Rolls recreation Club, caught them by surprise when they accused Tata Steel of not being serious about the project.
“Isn’t it just a stunt to keep away Arcelor-Mittal'” asked a villager bluntly while a fellow participant wondered if the company is ready with a detailed project report. What is the time-frame, asked a third one and the questions poured in for two hours.
No reply was provided though. Head of Tata Steel’s Jharkhand project J.P. Singh told the gathering that while he is in a position to answer some of the questions, at this meeting he would prefer to just listen to their doubts.
Every time a question was asked, it was written down and stuck on the wall with cellotape for everyone to see, some of the questions leaving executives to squirm in their seats.
Villagers inquired after the rate at which the company is ready to buy land for the project. They asked probing questions about the rehabilitation plan for the displaced.
Kedar Acharya actually quoted a price. The going rate of land in the area, he claimed, is Rs 85,000 to Rs 100,000 for 2.5 decimals of land. With 100 decimals making an acre, at Rs 40,000 per decimal, an acre of land would cost Rs 40 lakh, he said amid clapping.
A question that embarrassed officials asked if the company is aware that some of its own officers are instigating a section of the villagers to oppose the proposed steel plant.
Extending an invitation to company officials to negotiate directly with family heads, Rabindra Nath Mahto declared, “ We are not Naxalites. Come to our villages, no one will oppose you.”
The meeting, admitted officials, came to them as a pleasant surprise. Another meeting, they said, would be organised soon.