Katni land acquisition row turned ugly on Tuesday (Diwali), with a woman fatally immolating herself after alleged threats from the administration to vacate her agricultural land to facilitate its acquisition for a thermal power plant in Katni district, more than 450 kilometres north east of Bhopal.
The villagers reportedly staged a dharna with the woman's body refusing to cremate it until the guilty are punished and land acquisition process cancelled.
The woman Suniya Bai, 40, wife of one Chhakka, a resident of Dokaria village set herself on fire at about 8 pm on Tuesday when her husband and sons were outside their house. She was rushed to Katni district hospital where she was declared brought dead.
Chhakka is one of about 150 farmers of Bujbuja and Dokaria villages, who have been protesting for about a year now against the acquisition of their land for Welspun Energy Madhya Pradesh Limited's proposed 1980 MW thermal power plant at the site. For the past couple of months, they have intensified their protest by setting up pyres in their fields and warning the government against the acquisition process.
Talking to the Hindustan Times on phone Chhakka alleged that on Monday a sub divisional magistrate (SDM), a tehsildar and some middlemen of the power company came to his house and threatened them to withdraw themselves from the agitation and also added that the land would anyway be acquired after Diwali."
"It was owing to the terror they caused that my wife ended her life," he added.
State president Janata Dal (U) Govind Yadav, who is one of the leaders spearheading the movement, said the district administration is using coercive methods to force the farmers to give up their land for the power plant. They would have succeeded in their design if Janata Dal (U) national president Sharad Yadav had not visited the villages and warned the administration and the government on November 9.
However, talking to the Hindustan Times Katni collector Ashok Kumar Singh said there is no evidence so far about the administration officials threatening the couple or anybody else. The circumstances leading to the woman's suicide would be known only after police investigation.
He said the administration officials had been visiting the villages daily from October 20 to avert any conflict between the villagers and the plant people, as the villagers are opposing the power plant's construction work on the land it possesses. The company requires 1300 acres of land and is in possession of 800 acres. The owners of remaining 500 acres have refused to accept the compensation. Some legal disputes too are involved.