Around 50 people, nearly half of them policemen, were injured as violence finally broke out on Wednesday in Singrauli, which has been on edge for the past three weeks with local villagers, mostly tribals, demanding better compensation for the land being taken from them for a 1,250 MW private power project.
This sleepy district on the Madhya Pradesh-Uttar Pradesh border thus joined the ranks of Singur and Nandigram in West Bengal — which too saw major agitations against land acquisition last year. Early in the morning, policemen lathi charged peaceful protesters, who had been on dharnasince December 14 at Bandhoura village — 48 km from Waidhan, the district headquarters — in a bid to clear the area. The latter retaliated by furiously pelting stones and shooting arrows, at which the police hit back by bursting tear gas shells and later firing in the air. Enraged villagers set fire to some vehicles as well.
“A large police force surrounded us and insisted that we move,” said Chandresh Jaiswal, one of the leaders of the Visthapan Virodhi Sanghash Samiti, which is leading the stir. “When no one did so the police lathi charged us. People were beaten mercilessly, including women and children.”
“The operation was undertaken to remove encroachments from government land,” said S.K. Raut, state director general of police told Hindustan Times. “A few blanks were fired, but no one was hurt.”
“The protesters were blocking access to government land,” said Vivek Pokhriyal, district collector of Singrauli. “There was planning and organisation behind their attack on us. The group included not only villagers, but also people with a distinct ideological bent, who are opposed to development.”
“People who attacked the police have been identified and strict action will be taken against them,” said R. S. Ueke, district superintendent of police. Both Pokhriyal and Ueke themselves sustained minor injuries.
The thermal power plant, being built by Essar requires 725 hectares of land of which only 245 hectares have been acquired so far. The locals are stoutly resisting parting with the rest, specially since some of them do not have registered deeds for the lands they have been tilling and are technically encroachers on government property.
All political parties came together to block road traffic for a couple of hours in the evening to condemn the incident.