The mob torches vehicles and manhandles workers of J.K. Laxmi Cement in Malpuri-Khurd

More than 200 villagers entered the premises of J.K. Laxmi Cement factory in Malpuri-Khurd village of Durg district on Thursday, torched more than a dozen vehicles and equipments and manhandled workers. Police surrounded the campus and opened fire, which according to locals, resulted in injuries to “many.” At least five people were arrested, sources said.

The incident occurred after trivial altercation broke out between the factory workers and the villagers. The villagers then reportedly turned violent.

Malpuri-Khurd had been simmering for quite some time, local people told The-Hindu. Recently, a newly recruited contractual employee, Tarun Banjare, died in an accident inside the J.K. Laxmi plant. Mr. Banjare was buried alive when he and two others were digging several feet inside the earth. Normally, skilled workers are used for this kind of work. But J.K. Cement was using unskilled manpower, according to the workers present at the site who preferred to remain anonymous. The incident sparked a huge tension in the area earlier this week and the police were called to control the situation.

In fact, tension had been building ever since the J.K. Cement acquired the land to set up a factory a few years ago. This correspondent visited Malpuri-Khurd two months back and spoke to at least 50 villagers who had lost their land. The angry villagers told this correspondent that they had been duped. “My family sold 153 acres to Padam Singh, a big local farmer, for a few thousand rupees an acre. He sold the land at a huge profit to the company,” said a very old woman (name withheld). The villagers said they were told that the land was being acquired for a scientific farming project. “We were given to understand that we will work on the farm. But the land was diverted to the industry without consulting us,” said another villager.

In Chhattisgarh, like in many other States, land is bought at a very cheap rate from farmers by “middlemen” when a project is planned. Later, it is sold to companies at a higher rate denying farmers the compensation to which they would have otherwise been entitled. Eventually, as the factory is set up, land prices escalate and the farmers feel cheated.

In Malpuri, the villagers had been agitating intermittently demanding jobs in the factory. They said the company was planning an eight kilometre long conveyor belt through several villages, flouting environmental regulations.

The big farmer, Padam Singh, spoke to this correspondent two months back and said he did not sell his property to the company. “But I do not know if some of my family members sold their shares,” he said. J.K. Laxmi’s executives did not respond to an interview request by TheHindu.

In another incident at Kesda village near Raipur, farmers protested against the reopening of a sponge iron factory. The factory owned by Krishna Iron and Steel Power Limited was shut down years back following a dispute between the villagers and the management. A fresh move to restart the power plant was blocked by the villagers who said sponge iron factories “pollute the village and destroy farmland.”