Now, Chhattisgarh farmers oppose Tata Steel project

By Sujeet Kumar, IANS,

Lohandiguda (Chhattisgarh) : Tata Steel, which ran into land acquisition problems in Orissa’s Kalinga Nagar district, now faces farmers’ ire over a proposed Rs.100-billion (Rs.10,000-crore) steel plant in Chhattisgarh.

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In June 2005, the steel major signed an agreement with the state government to set up the plant, with an annual manufacturing capacity of five million tonnes, in Bastar, one of India’s most impoverished districts.

However, four years on, the Chhattisgarh government is yet to complete the land acquisition process.

“Everybody wants the Tata project in Bastar except some CPI (Communist Party of India) fellows, who have misguided a few innocent farmers,” Chief Minister Raman Singh, who holds the industry portfolio, told IANS.

“The Tata plant is a must for development of the backward Bastar region. I want to see the project sail through as early as possible. It has already been delayed,” he added.

On its part, the steel major says it is committed to the project. “Tata Steel is committed to setting up the steel plant as per the MoU (memorandum of understanding) signed with Chhattisgarh,” the company’s corporate communications chief Sanjay Choudhry told IANS from Jamshedpur.

According to the agreement, “the plant will be set up after land, iron ore, etc. are provided to the company”, he added.

The chief minister said he was “sure the land takeover will be over soon”, but that seems unlikely in the immediate future, especially after renewed protests spearheaded by Adivasi Mahasabha, the umbrella organisation of tribal people in the region.

The government has acquired nearly 80 percent of the 2,063.06 hectares identified for the project across 10 villages in the Lohandiguda block. The problem is that 86.5 percent of the required land is privately held.

Officials said farmers of Sirisaguda, Takraguda and Dhuragaon villages have refused to accept Tata Steel’s compensation package – Rs.100,000 per acre for barren land, Rs.150,000 per acre for single-crop land and Rs.200,000 per acre for multi-crop land.

The company is also offering one job per affected family.

Additionally, the steel major has promised land, one acre to 2.47 acres, under the ‘land for land compensation’ scheme for those who lose more than 75 percent of their holding.

The state government has already paid nearly Rs.368.3 million (Rs.36.83 crore), provided by Tata Steel, to 1,064 farmers out of the 1,707 plot holders.

However, villagers said the land was being forcibly acquired, and that it was not totally voluntary.

“The state government is forcibly acquiring land and the local police are acting as the agents of Tata Steel. We are being constantly harassed by the police for protesting against the proposed plant,” said Dhuragaon village head Mahguram.

Added Tokaram, a farmer: “Most farmers don’t want to sell their ancestral land. It’s a crime in our tribal culture.”

When government officials visit the villages, agitating farmers raise slogans, saying they would rather be killed than hand over their land.

Said Adivasi Mahasabha president Manish Kunjam, a former CPI legislator: “We fully back the protesters. If they don’t want the Tata plant why is the government insisting?”

(Sujeet Kumar can be contacted at [email protected])