Villagers in Bhangor in South 24 Parganas district of West Bengal have been waging a determined struggle against forcible land acquisition, since the last week of December 2016. Villages of Khamarait, Machhi Bhanga , Tona and Gazipur in the area have witnessed mass meetings and protest actions by thousands of villagers. People from neighbouring villages have been coming in to show their solidarity.
The people of Bhangor – mainly peasants and fisherfolk – have been resisting the acquisition of their agricultural land by the state government, for the setting up of a power plant by the Power Grid Corporation of India Ltd. (PGCIL), a central government project.
The land acquisition in Bhangor, which reportedly began about 2 years ago, was carried out according to the West Bengal government’s direct land purchase model. Under this model, projected as an alternative to land acquisition by the government, the state government had asked the PGCIL to directly buy the land (reported to be about 16 acres) required for the substation, according to officials of the West Bengal government.
Under the direct purchase model, panchayats and municipalities acquire land on behalf of the public or private agency implementing the project. The compensation offered is the market rate plus 50 per cent solatium. It has been reported that often local leaders of the panchayats and municipalities terrorise the villagers to force them to sell land at meagre prices.
Under the Central Land Acquisition act that came into effect in 2014, the compensation is three to four times the market rate and land is acquired after the government conducts a socio-economic survey. Land can be acquired only if 80 per cent of the people give their consent. The act also allows those who lose their land to record their grievances. The West Bengal government has not yet implemented the central act.
The people of Bhangor are protesting against the very low rates of compensation that they have been given under the direct purchase model. They are protesting against the terror and violence used by the local panchayat leaders and their goons to force them to sell their land. They are also greatly concerned about the effects of a power plant generating several lakh volts, on the health of the people living there and the environment. It has been reported that the livelihood of the fisherfolk of the area has already been adversely affected by severe pollution and clogging of the Bidyadhari river, which flows through the region and is their main source of fish.
The protestors have been brutally attacked by the police. Section 144 has been imposed on the area. Media reports indicate that women and men have been dragged out of their homes and beaten up, shops and houses destroyed. Several people have been arrested. Local goons employed by the leaders of the panchayats and municipalities, who have been instrumental in carrying out the forcible land acquisition, are reported to be spreading a reign of terror in the area, with the support of the police.
The struggle of the people of Bhangor, who stand to be displaced and dispossessed of their only source of livelihood, is entirely just. CGPI supports their struggle and condemns the brutal violence unleashed against them, by the police and local goons.