Monday, June 18, 2007

People protest against land acquisition in Asansol

Clash for land cash and jobs
- Battle breaks out in Asansol over plots acquired 18 years ago

Burnpur (Asansol) June 17: The rumbles of Nandigram and Singur were felt in Asansol today when hundreds of villagers fought police from behind women and children, trying to stop takeover of plots acquired 18 years ago.

The sticks-and-stones battle at Purushottampur was over 240 acres of non-farm land, earmarked in 1989 for modernising the IISCO Steel Plant (ISP). Unlike Nandigram, the villagers are ready to give up the land but post-Singur, want bigger compensation and a job in the plant for each of the 350 families.

With every land takeover dispute now ready to be politicised, the Congress and Trinamul Congress waded into the row. Their activists blocked roads in Asansol and Burnpur towns and ransacked Asansol (South) police station demanding the police release the 80 men and 46 women they had arrested.

The land-losers had lost their case in Calcutta High Court last week and were expecting today’s police action after turning down the administration’s request to vacate the land at a meeting last night.

The 800 personnel were enough to handle the 700 protesters, but the 50 policewomen were too few for the 300 women and children who formed the human shield. The policemen lent their co-workers a hand by dragging women protesters to waiting buses, while some women took off their saris and lay down to avert arrest.

There were molestation charges later. “We were agitating peacefully but the police attacked us with lathis and tried to molest our women. They abused us and threatened to kill us,” said Chanakya Roy, a protester.

The steel plant hadn’t earlier taken possession of the land because it didn’t have the money to start modernising. But last year, the Prime Minister announced a Rs 10,000-crore package with a 2009 deadline and the project sprang back to life.

The state started paying the land-losers last year. The Congress claimed the villagers had been offered only Rs 5.6 lakh an acre although ISP had paid the government over Rs 13 lakh an acre.

Chief Minister Buddhadeb Bhattacharjee refused to comment on the charge but said the problem “would be over soon”.

ISP has said it paid Rs 40 crore for the 305 acres in the Purushottampur, Nagrasoda and Hirapur mouzas, about 260 km from Calcutta. Nagrasoda and Hirapur, where 65 acres of the site lie, accepted the cheques but Purushottampur, with 240 acres, held out.

The villagers are encouraged by the job offer from the Jindals to land-losers at the site of their planned Salboni steel plant. Real estate company DLF and electronics major Videocon, too, have promised jobs to the displaced.

The Asansol administration has clamped Section 144 to prevent gatherings at the village, but the protesters have vowed to fight on.

They stoned the police, hitting deputy magistrate Soumya Bhattacharya in the chest and injuring five policemen, including the additional superintendent. A lathi-charge left a dozen villagers injured.

“The police kicked me in the abdomen though I told them I was pregnant. I lay bleeding till my husband rescued me,” said Parbati Roy, wife of Dukhomoy, a daily labourer.

In Nandigram, bombs and bullets continued to fly across the Talpatti canal that separates CPM and Opposition areas.