A Struggle to Save Their Land, Water and Culture Adivasis Impose Janta Curfew

The villagers of Potka village in Jharkhand were shouting slogans in Hindi like: Loha nahi, anaj chahiye (not iron, need food grains), Hume Karkhana nahi, Gaon ka vikas chahiye (Don’t want factory, want development of village), na jaan denge, na jamin denge (will neither give life nor land), Jal, Jangal, Jamin ki Lut, nahi kisi ko iski chhut (No one is allowed to loot water, forest and land), Bhushan company Potka Chhodo (Bhushan company, Leave Potka), Inqilab Zindabad (Long Live Revolution), Hul Johar. The villagers believe that the land has been taken in violation of the Chotanagpur Tenancy Act (CNT) and Fifth Schedule of the Constitution. They have submitted petitions to the Commissioner and Governor informing them about the categorical opposition of the villagers of Potka block against the establishment of Bhushan’s factory. It notes that the Bhushan Company is involved in the coal block allocation scandal. People of this area believe that government officials have become loyal to the company and betrayed the Adivasi villagers. They also allege that a few Mukhiyas and officials have been bribed. Left alone to deal with the situation, the villagers are now struggling to save their land, water and culture.
An MoU was signed the between Jharkhand Government and Bhushan Power and Steel Ltd. for 3 million tonne per annum (MTPA) capacity steel plant-cum-900 MW captive power plant (CPP). As per a letter dated September 17, 2012 from the Commissioner’s Office, East Singhbhum, Jamshedpur reference no. 206/Land Revenue, it is stated that at present M/S Bhushan Power & Steel Ltd. has not done acquisition of land, District Land Revenue Branch which does the acquisition at present has not done land acquisition for the company. The affected villages are-Roladih, Potka, Juri, Khariasai and Tangrasai. It also states that the process for conducting the Gram Sabha is underway. But when Bhushan Company started construction on the site, it enraged the villagers. No doubt, construction of the gigantic wall of around 1 km in length is illegal.
It is noteworthy that the Bhushan Power & Steel Ltd. (BPSL) water requirement for the proposed plant will be 6610 cubic meter/hour. This requirement is proposed to be met from the River Swaranrekha 29 km from the plant site. Its tributary, Kharkai river is also likely to be exploited as the water extraction is planned from the meeting point of Swarnrekha and Kharkai river. The Kharkai meets the Subarnarekha at Sonari, a neighbourhood of Jamshedpur.
The 470 km long Subarnarekha, a rain-fed river has been the lifeline of tribal communities inhabiting the Chhotanagpur region. There is an urgent need to undertake a cumulative impact assessment of industrial projects on the Subarnarekha river to protect its continued existence. The BPSL’s project along with the Subarnarekha multipurpose project which envisage the construction of two dams, one at Chandil across the Subarnarekha and the other across the Kharkai at Icha near Chaibasa, two barrages at Galudih across the Subarnarekha and the other across the Kharkai at Ganjia near Adityapur and a network of canals from these, pose a life threatening impact on the river. Geologists have underlined that Subarnarekha is drying up. Subarnarekha flows through Paschim Medinipur district in West Bengal for 83 kilometres and in Balasore district of Odisha for 79 km and joins the Bay of Bengal near Talsari. State governments ought to examine the health of the river and make appropriate recommendations to save the river from further exploitation by factoring in the cumulative impact assessment study. Until this is done, there should be a moratorium on industrial projects dependent on the river.
Villagers who have been protesting since 2007, wrote a letter to the Governor of Jharkhand from Gram Sabha Roladih through its President on September 13, 2012, letter no. 11/GS/2012 with a ‘Request for immediate cancellation of the Public Hearing scheduled to be held at Potka, East Singbhum on 24th September 2012’. The letter expressed the resentment of the villages, members of local Gram Sabha and local social organisations stating the following:
8 The boundary wall was illegally constructed at Potka by M/S Bhushan Power & Steel Ltd. and has not got any NOC by local Gram Sabha and is without any Notification by the Jharkhand State Pollution Control Board, Ranchi.

  •  The said Boundary wall is totally illegal as the same is not acquired. We the villages have cultivated for paddy inside the boundary.
  •  Potka area in East Singhbhum district is densely populated by Adivasis as such it is fully covered under 5th Schedule area and also CNT Act in the Constitution of India.
  •  We observe that our Constitution is fully violated by anti-Advasis like M/S Bhushan Power & Steel Ltd.

The letter said “We, therefore appeal to Your Honour, being the custodian and our guardian to pass an order of Cancellation of the said Public Hearing with immediate advice to local district authority i.e. Dy Commissioner, East Singhbhum and also intimation to Jharkhand state Pollution Control Board, Nagar Prasashan Bhawan, HEC Campus, Dhurva, Ranchi.

People of Potka village in Jharkhand believe that government officials have become loyal to the Bhushan Company (involved in the coal block allotment scandal ), and betrayed the Adivasi villagers. They also allege that a few Mukhiyas and officials have been bribed.  Left alone to deal with the situation, the villagers are now struggling to save their land, water and culture.

When no action was taken to stop the public hearing, Visthapan Virodhi Ekta Manch (Unity Forum Against Displacement) opposed and stopped the public hearing. The villagers imposed a 24 hour Janta Curfew from September 23, 2012. Some main roads to Potka were closed and the villagers used traditional tools to make the Janta Curfew a success. Around 10 o’ clock on 24 September, a rally of thousands of villagers opposing the proposed steel cum power plant reached the site of the public hearing. Initially, police stopped the rally at the main gate of the Pariyojana Balika Ucch Vidyalaya, Potka near Potka police station, East Singhbhum district. Villagers ignored the police and entered the venue to protest against the proposed plant. Taking account of the situation, the District Administration announced the closure of the public hearing and one by one the officials fled from the site.
Jharkhand’s Potka villagers are right in stating that Bhushan Power and Steel Ltd. company’s proposed project in the Fifth Schedule, CNT and Panchayat Extension to Scheduled Area (PESA) is illegal. According to the proposal the Plant will be completed within five years from the handing over of the land possession and necessary availability of raw material linkages for the project. The total capital investment in the project is expected to be around Rs 10500 crores. In addition to this the Company will develop Iron Ore, Coal and Manganese Mines for captive use. The investment for the development of these mines will be in addition to the investment of Rs 10500 crores. But the proposal is in violation of the PESA Act as per which the Gram Sabha’s consent is required. PESA extends Panchayat laws to areas that have been included under the Fifth Schedule of the Constitution. The PESA is aimed at safeguarding the traditional rights of the tribals to natural resources. The MoU violates those rights.
For land, the assurance by the State Government is in total disregard of the interest of the Adivasis, their land and livelihood for thousands of years. Villagers say that the MoU by the State Government and the complicity of the political parties is an assault not only on land and natural resources but also Adivasi society and culture. The Adivasi villagers are convinced that barring few most of the politicians are agents of the company. One of the villagers wondered to how to trust even an Adivasi Chief Minister if he has pledged his allegiance to the company instead of the Adivasis welfare. That is why these people are fighting their own battle. When the BPSL tried to lay the foundation stone for its project thousands of villagers of several villages barricaded all the roads leading to the village. The Gram Sabha has imposed a ban on the entry of surveyors in the village. This shows that what the State Government promises in the MoU is contrary to the interests of the Adivasi villagers.
It is ironical that a section of the print and electronic media has been publishing ‘paid news’ and are not reliable. If the newspapers and channels and seemingly complicit district and police administration want to face the truth, let them procure a copy of the Environmental Impact Assessment (EIA) report of BPSL’s proposed plant in Potka and present it for independent scrutiny. The complete EIA report and detailed EIA which prepares an Enviornmental Management Plan (EMP ) has not been shared with the villagers and is not available in public till date. It appears that it is being treated either as a classified document or the complete EIA/ EMP has not been prepared as yet. The fact of the matter is that in the MoU it is acknowledged that the 2700 acres of land within Plant boundary + 750 acres of land for township is Adivasi land which has Constitutional protection which is beyond statutory and non statutory clearances. The stoppage of illegal and un-constitutional public hearing by the Adivasi villagers has merit to implement the decision of the Gram Sabha of Roladih and Samorasai cannot be overlooked. The voices of the Adivasi villagers are facing the onslaught of company representatives and conniving and colluding officials.

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