More than 50 Adivasi farmers, including women, were detained for over six hours on Tuesday at the Sundarpahari police station in Godda, a kilometre from the venue where President Pranab Mukherjee laid the foundation for a thermal power plant to be set up by Jindal Steel and Power Limited (JSPL).

Farmers from 11 villages in the Nimpaniya and Goiarijor blocks said they had gathered at Sundarpahari to oppose land acquisition by JSPL. At 10 a.m. they were detained by the police and kept on the station premises till evening.

“My family lives at Seemaldhap village in Chota Amarpur. More than 200 of us had gathered at Tiril Tola over the last two days because we planned to march to the venue but the police arrested us. I had rice with me for my little daughter but the police kept that away too,” Hopanmai Marandi told this reporter.

“We were already displaced when the Sunder Dam was built. We will not allow ourselves to be moved from our land again,” said another villager Mary Nisha Hasda.

As part of JSPL’s expansion plans in Jharkhand, it had announced the setting up of the 1,320-MW captive power plant in Godda at a cost of Rs. 8,500 crore. The plant will use coal from the Jitpur coal block and water from the Sunder Dam and the Gumani and Jalhara rivers.

JSPL, in a statement, said all land for its projects had been obtained “through the government acquisition route, with consent of the people,” a point the company director and MP Naveen Jindal reiterated at the inauguration ceremony attended by Governor Syed Ahmed, Nishikant Dubey, MP (Godda), and political leaders, including Subodh Kant Sahai, Hemlal Murmu, Devidhan Besra, MP (Rajmahal), senior State officials and pradhans and mukhiyas from seven villages.

Superintendent of Police Ajay Linda, however, denied anyone had been detained. “There was overcrowding at the venue because so many villagers wanted to attend the inauguration function. Then some of them stayed back at the police station which is only a km away,” he said on the phone.

Away from the police station, hundreds of policemen and home guards carrying sticks walked around villages. “Only the families in Bangali Tola agreed to sell land to the company, the rest of us have refused. The police have been coming to the village regularly now. All land around this village is my land. Its yield lasts us the whole year; we will not give up this land,” said a woman in Kalhajhar’s Charai Tola.

“My father is in the Nimpaniya panchayat samiti. My family and other 30-35 families from my village are ready to sell our land. How else will we move to cities?” said Sujit Kumar, who is home during a break from his training at an industrial training institute.

Godda lies in the Santhal Pargana region of Jharkhand. All land transactions are governed by the Santhal Pargana Tenancy Act (SPTA) and most of the land is non-transferable and non-saleable, whether owned by tribals or non-tribals. “Because of the Santhal rebellion against the British in 1855 in which 30,000 Santhals died fighting to protect their land, only land classified as Gair Majurwa Khaas (GMK) or land listed as non-agricultural land owned by the government can be transferred. The rest of the transfers — except those made as gifts to relatives etc. — are illegal. It is not possible that a power plant will be built only on GMK land. Despite these norms, officials continue to alienate tribals from land,” said Ramesh Sharan, economist at Ranchi University.

Foundation laid

President Pranab Mukherjee, on Tuesday, laid the foundation for Jindal Steel and Power’s (JSPL) 1,320 -MW thermal power plant at Godda district. The captive power plant, with an estimated cost of Rs.8,500 crore, will use coal from the Jitpur coal block and water from the Sunder Dam, Gumani and Jalhara river. It will be the first mega power project in Santhal Pargana region in the state’s eastern region, and is expected to provide direct and indirect employment to 20,000 people.

“I expect this power plant will meet the electricity needs of rural areas that face a shortage of 33 per cent. This is a coal-producing region and the needs of the villagers from around here must be met on priority,” said Mr. Mukherjee addressing the public after laying the foundation

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