Hazaribagh: Anti-land acquisition protests in Jharkhand's Hazaribagh has united the opposition in the state with both the Congress and the Rashtriya Janata Dal demanding that the state government re-look the award of land for mining to energy major National Thermal Power Corporation. The Pakri-Barwadih coal block is estimated to have 1.6 billion tonnes of coal reserves.
At the centre of the anti-land campaign is Dandi Kala village, where four people died last week in police firing. The villagers are demanding compensation according to the Land Acquisition Act, 2013 and jobs for locals in the NTPC project.
The opposition claims that the government is using police to suppress the legitimate demands of the locals. Accusing the police of high-handedness, local Congress legislator Nirmala Devi - who is in hiding - said that the police were misusing their power.
"I was beaten and abused by the police on Saturday (last week when she was briefly arrested) but I will continue to fight for the rights of the people. We are only demanding what is right under the constitution," she told NDTV in a recorded message.
"Rahul Gandhi is with the people, unlike Narendra Modi who wanted to change the law (Land Acquisition Act) when he entered office," said senior Congress leader Subodh Kant Sahay.
Jharkhand RJD president Gautam Rana points to the massive paramilitary presence in the area to allege that the government is trying to force the people in parting with their lands.
"Why do you need five companies of the paramilitary here? If you are doing the right thing then people would give the land themselves," he said.
Villagers claim they have been protesting for long, but successive governments did little to acknowledge their claims.
"We were protesting peacefully since 2000, but we intensified out protests this year after the NTPC started hastening its project," said Lakhendra Thakur, a local farmer.
The government has however denied all charges saying that due process was followed in fixing the compensation for villagers. Union minister and BJP legislator Jayant Sinha instead blamed the Congress for the stand-off.
"Nirmala Devi and her husband (former legislator Yogendra Saw) are protesting because they were denied special benefits from the NTPC project. They have been benefiting from illegal mining in the area for years," he said.
A letter, purportedly written by Yogendra Saw, is being circulated as proof that he did indeed ask for contracts for his son Ankit Raj. The latter has however denied the charges.
"Why would we do such a thing? If we wanted benefits why would be agitating? We are fighting for the local farmers. The letter is forged and part of a BJP conspiracy," he told NDTV.