Section 144 has been imposed in Badkagaon, Hazaribagh after serious casualties occurred in police firing on a local protest against forest land being acquired for coal-mining.
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Hazaribagh, Jharkhand: Four people were left dead and as many as 40 were injured after police opened fire on a protest this morning, according to sources in the Chirudih village near Hazaribagh.
Residents have been protesting the acquisition of land by the NTPC (formerly, the National Thermal Power Corporation Ltd) for their coal mines. The public-sector firm had proposed to start mining coal in the Karanpura valley, in the east Singhbhum district of Jharkhand, over an area of 47 square kilometers.
The land acquisition for the project began in 2004, though slow progress was made on the proposed mines in what is claimed to be one of the largest coal blocks of Asia.
Residents and farmers have resisted the acquisition of their land in an agriculturally rich zone, which has three annual crop harvests, employing the villagers throughout the year, and generated agricultural revenue upwards of Rs 300 crore.
NTPC only broke ground this year, after successfully acquiring about 2,500 acres of land from the forest department, out of a proposed 17,000 acres. The Forest Rights Act, 2006, however, requires approval from 70% of gram sabha members in order to acquire forest land.
On May 31, villagers in the area initiated a Chita Satyagraha opposing the land acquisition without their consent. Government officials intervened and promised to resolve the matter, asking them to dismiss the satyagraha. On September 15, the villagers began a Kafan (Shroud) Satyagraha, demanding that the district collector investigate whether the NTPC had obtained the approval of the gram sabha, as required by law.
“More than a thousand villagers had been sleeping at the protest site, where five companies of police and one company of the Rapid Action Force were deployed today morning,” said Birendra Kumar, from the Ekta Parishad coalition. “At 4 am, the CO [circle officer] and other members of the force started pushing protesters to ask them to vacate the path ahead of NTPC’s heavy machinery. On resisting, the women who were sitting at the head of the group started to be dragged by their hair by the police. [Congress MLA] Nirmala Devi, who was leading the protest, was arrested in the morning also.”
“The news that women were being beaten was relayed to nearby villages, and more villagers poured into the site. To diffuse the crowd, the police first fired tear gas,” Kumar said. “When tear gas too didn’t control the crowd, the police opened fire on these protesters. Three people died on the spot, and over 40 are injured. Reports of more deaths are coming in from the Sadar Hospital, Hazaribagh.”
An additional superintendent of police and a circle officer were also reportedly hurt. A Jharkhand police spokesperson said the police only opened fire in self-defence. “The enraged villagers did charge at the police, but there were no serious injuries,” Kumar said.
Section 144 is in effect in Hazaribagh while villagers scramble for information about those who have been injured and carried to the hospitals. The beginning of Navratri has been a bloody one in the villages of Barkagaon block, Hazaribagh and villagers anger towards NTPC is peaking.
Note: This report was updated at 6:20 pm on October 4 to change the death toll from six to four as two deaths still remain unconfirmed.