Other States

Tribals to heighten protest over Ajodhya Hills hydel project

Tribals opposed to a proposed hydel power project in the remote Ajodhya Hills in West Bengal have threatened to heighten their protests. Villagers across two gram panchayat areas in the hills — Baghmundi and Ajodhya — said that even after securing a legal victory in the Calcutta High Court against the proposed 1,000 MW Turga Pumped Storage Project in July 2019, the State government had challenged the order before a Division Bench.

Sushil Murmu, a petitioner in the case and a resident of one of the villages that will be affected by the proposed power plant, said that lakhs of trees will be cut down because of the project, which will impact the lives of those depending on forest produce. “We do not want this project at any cost,” Mr. Murmu, who was in Kolkata for a hearing of the matter, told The Hindu .

The case is being heard before the Division Bench of Justices Sanjib Banerjee and Kaushik Chandra.

Several irregularities

Justice Debangshu Basak, in the order of July 2019, had “quashed” the permissions granted by the State government for the implementation of the project by the gram sabha. The order has cited a number of irregularities in connection with the permission obtained by the State government for going ahead with the project.

Referring to the two resolutions filed by the gram sabha, on the basis of which the State government went ahead with the project, Justice Basak stated in his order that “none of them satisfies the tests laid down under the Act of 2006”. The Act in the order refers to Scheduled Tribes and Other Traditional Forest Dwellers (Recognition of Forest Rights) Act, 2006.

“One of the resolutions is unsigned by any villager. The other resolution shows an attendance and does not discuss the number of adults available in the village for the Gram Sabha convened. Requisite notice for convening the Gram Sabha are absent on record,” the order stated.

Forest Rights Act

According to the Forest Rights Act, 2006 if a forest land has to be acquired, then at least 50% of the affected population dependent on the land has to give consent in gram sabha, and a third of the villagers have to be women.

In the order, Justice Basak pointed put that in the absence of the “requisite materials being produced by the State despite opportunities given to the State to do so, the irresistible inference is that, appropriate procedure laid down under the Act of 2006 was not followed for the purpose of convening any meeting of any gram sabha of any village affected by the project”.

Rajen Tudu, a tribal leader from Purulia district said that the people who will be affected by the project are speaking to tribals from other parts of the State, and whatever be the fate of the legal case, the villagers would oppose the project.

Nakul Baske, another villager, said that the hydel power project on the river Tunga will affect 17 mouza s (a revenue collection unit) and more than 60 villages in the region. Mr. Baske said that the villagers have formed the Ajodia Buru Banchao Andolan Sanhati Mancha to protest against the power plant.

Livelihoods lost

The villagers protesting against the project refer to the 900 MW Purulia Pumped Storage Project (PPSP) that came up at Ajodhya Hills in the Baghmundi block of Purulia district around a decade ago. The villagers allege that it lead to massive loss of vegetation and hundreds of tribals lost their livelihoods.

The proposed project is to be implemented by the West Bengal State Electricity Distribution Company Limited, which comes under the State government’s Department of Power. Despite attempts to reach Power Minister Sovandeb Chattopadhyay, no response could be ascertained from his end on the subject.

“The situation in this case is not only unfortunate, because instead of following the law and engaging as well taking proper consent of the people, which is a must under the Forest Rights Act, the state is manufacturing evidence of consent,” Santanu Chacraverti, an environmental activist concerned with the matter said.

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Printable version | Jun 17, 2022 12:30:08 pm | https://www.thehindu.com/news/national/other-states/tribals-to-heighten-protest-over-ajodhya-hills-hydel-project/article30935944.ece