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Bhangar land agitators demand plebiscite

Trinamool Congress leaders told HT a debate will be held in the area soon on the merits and demerits of the power grid project.

kolkata Updated: Sep 06, 2017 13:53 IST
Snigdhendu Bhattacharya
Snigdhendu Bhattacharya
Hindustan Times
File picture of Naxalite leader Alik Chakraborty addressing a public meeting in Bhangar. He is facing UA(P)A charges. (HT Photo)

The land agitators at Bhangar in Bengal have proposed a plebiscite in the area as a first step to resolve the impasse arising out of the movement over the past 10 months in about a dozen villages over a power grid project.

It is the most prominent land agitation in the state after Mamata Banerjee came in power in May 2011. Initially spearheaded by a committee, the reins of the movement passed on to a little known Naxalite outfit CPI(ML)(Red Star). Later the agitators got support from CPI(M), Naxalite party CPI(ML)(Liberation), Majdoor Kranti Parishad and Association for Protection of Democratic Rights (APDR).

Read: Bhangar farmers prepare for fresh land movement as leaders get bail

Trinamool Congress leader Kaiser Ahmed, who has been entrusted by the party to hold talks with the agitators, told HT that on September 12 there will be a meeting between him, the district police superintendent and agitating leaders. “I have assured them that they won’t be arrested,” added Ahmed.

File picture of agitators erecting roadblocks in Bhangar earlier this year. ( Samir Jana )

He also said the meeting will also decide on a date this month to debate whether the project is harmful at all.

Right now there is an impasse arising out of the state government’s stand that they can hold discussions only with local residents and the agitating leaders insisting that the villagers reserve the right to nominate who will represent them in the negotiation.

“If the state government wants to feel the pulse of the villagers, the administration can go for a plebiscite. But the government is not moving in that direction. Therefore, we have decided to hold a referendum in the area to understand the mind of the locals properly,” said Alik Chakraborty in a statement. A leader of CPI(ML)(Red Star), Chakraborty is the spokesperson of Jomi, Jibika, Poribesh O Bastutantra Raksha Committee (JJPOBRC), a body formed to protect land, livelihood, environment and ecosystem.

Read: Bhangar children guard villages after sundown, can’t attend school

“We request for cooperation from all so that before the plebiscite, the villagers can participate in discussion and debates for and against the power grid project, and the common people can participate in the referendum in a free and fair manner,” Chakraborty further said in the statement.

Roadblocks like this one dotted the highway in the area in January. ( Samir Jana )

“They are free to demand referendum. But already we are in a dialogue with them, where we have given assurance that if the project causes any harm, it won’t come up,” Kaiser Ahmed, the most prominent Trinamool Congress leader of the area, told HT.

On August 31, a meeting was held between the agitators and Kaiser Ahmed to explore ways of restoring peace and paving the way for a few ruling party supporters to return to their homes.

Bhangar presents a headache as well as an embarrassment for the ruling party since some of its leaders still cannot enter the area comprising more than a dozen villages that are about 30 km of Kolkata.

The land agitation at Bhangar in South 24 Parganas district received a shot in the arm in the last week of July when Calcutta high court granted bail to Pradip Singh Thakur and Sharmistha Chowdhury, two leaders of the movement. They were booked under different sections of the Unlawful Activities (Prevention) Act which was brought into force by the Centre to curb disruptive activities and terror.

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

Villagers stalled completion of the Power Grid Corporation India Ltd project citing suspected environmental and health hazard. They have alleged that the government concealed information about the project while acquiring land in 2013-14.

Work at the power grid stopped in January this year after two villagers fell to bullets fired by unidentified people.

First Published: Sep 06, 2017 13:53 IST