Tribals have resumed their agitation against land acquisition for open-cast coal mines by Eastern Coalfields Limited (ECL), a Coal India Limited (CIL) subsidiary, in Boarijore block of Jharkhand's Godda district.
Nearly 200 tribals staged a protest in front of the Mahagama sub-divisional officer (SDO) on Monday and have planned to take out a "march for justice" in different blocks of Godda and adjoining Sahebganj district making tribals aware of the alleged attempt by ECL to acquire agriculture lands without the consent of the gram sabha.
“On January 8, 2021, and even in January last year, the ECL officials, in the presence of district administration, had assured that they would not be acquiring agriculture lands for their coal projects without the permission of gram sabha as this falls under scheduled areas. But now they have started doing the same again. The administration is providing them support by arresting activists who protest against land acquisition and also by imposing Section 144 of CrPC,” said Mary Nisha Hansda, a member of Jharkhand Janadhikar Mahasabha and a resident of Godda.
“We have decided that we will not allow the ECL officials to enter our land and we are prepared to lay down our life. We are not going to be frightened by the threat of arrests. A nyaya yatra (march for justice) would be taken out in tribal areas in different blocks of Godda and Sahebganj to make villagers aware of a violation of tribal rights by the ECL with support from district administration,” added Mary.
Mary alleged that false cases of violation of Section 144 are being lodged even against village heads. “The administration is persuading the villagers to part with their land and the ECL management is trying to sow seeds of mistrust between villagers by spreading rumours that most of the villagers have given lands and also taken compensation. Even village heads are being arrested on false charges of violating Section 144 and lodged in jail,” said Mary.
Taljhari village in Boarijor block of Godda district in north-eastern Jharkhand is next to the Rajmahal Opencast Coal Project (OCP), an ECL venture. To ensure a sufficient supply of coal to two power generation units of NTPC Limited, ECL has been trying to expand its operations by acquiring 121.40 hectares from this village since 2018.
However, opposition from tribal villagers has kept the plan on hold.
Coal from the Rajmahal OCP is supplied mainly to NTPC power-generating stations in Bengal's Farakka and Bihar's Kahalgaon. Together, the plants require 60,000 tonnes of coal per day, which means approximately 22 million tonnes (MT) annually.
Godda deputy commissioner Zeeshan Qamar confirmed the agitation. “The lands had been vested to ECL as per Coal Bearing Act and compensation has been paid following conducts of gram sabha. But the villagers are protesting over some local issues. It would be better if you speak to the ECL officials,” said Qamar.
Several calls to the contact number of ECL chief manager (personal) Arpan Ghosh, who looks after media relations, went unanswered.