Bhangar farmers prepare for fresh land movement as leaders get bail | kolkata | Hindustan Times
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Bhangar farmers prepare for fresh land movement as leaders get bail

With all leaders of the anti- land acquisition movement released on bail, Bhangar likely to become a headache for the Mamata Banerjee government all over again.

kolkata Updated: Jul 28, 2017 17:39 IST
Snigdhendu Bhattacharya
Bhangar grabbed headlines in 2016 after violent protests broke out against a power project and roads were blocked by villagers.
Bhangar grabbed headlines in 2016 after violent protests broke out against a power project and roads were blocked by villagers.(Samir Jana/HT PHOTO)

The land agitation at Bhangar in the South 24 Parganas district received a shot in the arm on Thursday when the Calcutta high court granted bail to two top leaders of the movement. They were booked under different sections of the Unlawful Activities (Prevention) Act (UA(P)A) which was brought into force by the Centre to curb disruptive activities and terror.

Justice Joymalya Bagchi granted bail to Pradip Singh Thakur and Sharmistha Chowdhury two days after two other senior leaders, Shankar Das and Kushal Debnath (also booked under UA(P)A ), got bail from a court in the South 24-Parganas.

Das and Debnath, who spent 100 days in jail, were released on Wednesday. Thakur and Chowdhury were lodged in jail since February.

Read: Mamata govt transfers Maoists to Kolkata high-security jail after Bhangar agitation

“This is a major victory for farmers who are opposed to acquisition of land for a power project. The Mamata Banerjee government tried to crush a democratic movement by slapping anti-terror law against peaceful agitators. We also hope to get the sections of UA(P)A quashed from the charges,” said Bikash Ranjan Bhattacharya, a senior advocate and CPI(M) leader who defended the accused. The UA(P)A is usually used against banned outfits.

With its leaders released on bail, the movement is likely to become a headache for the government all over again. Last week, the district administration said it was ready to hold talks with permanent residents of Bhangar but would not speak to ‘outsiders,’ indicating that the government was keen to isolate political parties and human rights organisations supporting the movement. Incidentally, only a handful of villagers turned up for the talks.

Villagers pass by damaged police vehicle after a clash in Bhangar (HT File Photo)

“The movement continued even after the leaders were arrested. With all of them back, the agitation will surely intensify,” Alik Chakraborty, the only leader who managed to evade arrest, told HT over phone.

Villagers who stalled completion of the Power Grid Corporation India Ltd (PGCIL) project citing suspected environmental and health hazard will organise a meeting on July 30. All the leaders are likely to address the gathering.

The Bhangar agitation was launched last year. It was initially spearheaded by Jomi, Jibika, Poribesh O Bastutantra Raksha Committee (JJPOBRC) a body formed to protect land, livelihood, environment and ecosystem. It is the only major land agitation that started after Trinamool Congress came to power.

Read: Mamata’s men enforce ‘unwritten blockade’ on 12 Bengal villages to crush protests

Villagers have alleged that the government concealed information about the project while acquiring land in 2013-14. The power grid uses the SF6 gas insulated switchgear (GIS) technology.

JJPOBRC was formed by Naxalite outfit CPI(ML)(Red Star) but the movement received support from the CPI(M)-led Left Front, Naxalite party CPI(ML)(Liberation), Majdoor Kranti Parishad and Association for Protection of Democratic Rights (APDR).

Work at the power grid stopped in January this year after two villagers fell to bullets fired by unidentified people. Villagers alleged that Trinamool Congress-backed goons opened fire on unarmed people.

Bhangar villagers display police uniforms that were abandoned by “unidentified people” who shot dead two villagers in January. (HT File Photo)

A solidarity committee is now leading the movement. The police have stopped entering 12 villages where people prevented the authorities from installing towers that connect high-tension electricity cables. Most of the leaders and activists were arrested when they ventured out of Bhangar.

Read: Bhangar’s Naxalite movement hits Kolkata roads with Left support

Speaking to HT, agitators from Bhangar expressed their concern over increasing attacks by “Trinamool-backed goons”. “Three local organisers, Abdul Mamun, Ahad Ali and Shekh Azam were assaulted by Trinamool-backed goons on Thursday,” said Mirza Hasan, spokesperson of JJPOBRC.

Former Trinamool MLA from Bhangar, Arabul Islam, brushed aside the charges. “We have not attacked anyone. On the contrary, the agitators are attacking our party workers,” Islam told HT. Incidentally, he has been accused of intimidating local farmers from the very day the movement started.

Chief minister Mamata Banerjee has entrusted Kolkata Mayor and environment minister Sovan Chatterjee with the task of solving the crisis.