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Watch: From Singur To Bhangar, Land Struggles Continue

Two weeks after clashes in West Bengal’s Bhangar over land acquisition for a power grid, the stand-off between the state and the people continues.

Bhangar, West Bengal: In South 24 Parganas of Bhangar in West Bengal, villagers have been protesting against a power grid project being built by Power Grid Corporation of India (PGCIL).

After a tumultuous two weeks, an uneasy calm has set in Bhangar II block of South 24 Parganas district. Residents of several villages of Polerhat II panchayat of Bhangar II have been protesting against a power grid project being built by PGCIL. The project proposes to build transmission lines from NTPC in Farakka and Kahalgaon to the Purnia district in Bihar.

The protests, which had been brewing for the past six months, further escalated on January 17. Two young locals, Alamgir Mollah and Mofizul Khan, were shot in clashes between the police and the villagers and both succumbed to their injuries the same day. Some villagers allege that Mollah and Khan were fired at one of Arabul Islam’s men, who is a local Trinamool Congress strongman. It has also been alleged that in 2013, Islam helped acquire 40 bighas of land to set up the power sub-station. Sunil Chowdhury, South 24 Parganas superintendent of police, said the investigation into the deaths of Mollah and Khan is ongoing.

About six months ago, the locals were joined by some leaders of CPI(ML) Red Star organisation and a committee was formed to take the protest forward. The villagers claim that the only information given to them at the onset of the project was that a power substation will be built and that they knew nothing about the transmission lines. Apart from being miffed by the lack of transparency in the implementation of the whole project, locals are also concerned about the hazardous consequences of having such high power lines being transmitted over their fields and homes.

After the incidents of January 17, work at the power grid has been stalled and there is a regular presence of heavy police force on the main road of Polerhat II panchayat, on both sides of which the affected villages lie. According to P.B. Salim, the district magistrate of South 24 Parganas, the villagers are being “misled by some outsiders”.

“High tension wires have been in our country for the past 20-40 years. There is nothing new in that,” Salim added.

Even though the West Bengal chief minister Mamata Banerjee said in her statement that no land will be acquired and the power grid will be relocated, the locals of Bhangar are still cynical and want written assurance from the government.

Meanwhile, the protest rallies and sabhas continue to take place in South 24 Parganas and Kolkata.

Can this land struggle in Bhangar be another Singur or Nandigram in the making?

Manira Chaudhary is a multimedia journalist based in New Delhi.