One student dies in violent clashes at anti-power station stir in Bhangar
BHANGAR, Jan 18: Land agitation made a violent comeback to Bengal’s political landscape on Tuesday , with a college student succumbing to bullet injuries he picked up during an antipower station stir that spiralled out of control in Bhangar, less than 40km from the city.
Mafizul Khan of Rajarhat died at SSKM Hospital and another villager, Akbar Ali Mollah, was being treated for bullet injuries at R G Kar Hospital as the agitation boiled over after simmering anger for the last few days. Villagers went berserk, felling trees to block police vans and then setting some of them on fire, bringing back memories of the Singur-Nandigram land stirs a decade ago that led to the unravelling of the Buddhadeb Bhattacharjee government and catapulted the Mamata Banerjee-led Trinamool Congress to office.
The government, till late in the evening, did not confirm whether there was police firing even as Trinamool leaders said it was “not yet clear” whether police opened fire. The development prompted the CM to convene a meeting with chief secretary Basudeb Banerjee, home secretary Malay De and IG (law and order) Anuj Sharma. She later tweeted that the government was ready to put off the power project, meant to serve the Bhangar-Rajarhat belt, and shift it elsewhere if villagers did not want it there. “Manush na chaile jor kore jomi adhigrahan kora hobe na, darkar hole power grid anya kothao kora hobe,” the tweet read.Significantly , the tweet was recalled an hour later. But it was not enough to pacify the villagers, who said they wanted the government to scrap the Power Grid Corporation of India Limited (PGCIL) project and return of land.
Trinamool leaders, however, saw in the violent protests the presence of “outsiders” -Maoists and Jadavpur University students -who were stoking the embers. The state government sent a Kolkata Police team to Bhangar to identify the “outsiders”. A Khamarait villager admitted that “outsiders” -scientists, environmentalists, students from Jadavpur University , and Left-leaning parties -were supporting them.
The entire area has been on the boil since December 2016, when farmers spread over Khamarait, Machhi Bhanga, Tona, Gazipur (within Polerhat-II Gram Panchayat in Bhangar assembly constituency) opposed the construction of a PGCIL 440 220KV power substation at Natunhat. They wanted the TMC government to scrap the project and return the 16-acre multi-crop land, purchased in 2013, to its owners. The tension reached a flashpoint on Tuesday after villagers accused police of ransacking some agitators’ houses on Monday night.”They (police) ransacked my relative’s shop and didn’t spare me,” Trinamool gram panchayat member Rabeya Begum said.
The CM, after getting to know of the violence, called minister and local MLA Abdur Rezzak Molla and told him to visit the spot and submit a report. “I have asked for support from the administration.I was against forcible land acquisition and I stick to it even today . I am against using force on the villagers,” the minister said. Trinamool leader Mukul Roy joined him but latest reports said they could not reach the area.
Samsul Haq, one of the organizers of the Jomi, Jibika, Paribesh O Bastutantra Raksha Committee, said villagers were adamant. “There’s no go ing back. Our movement will continue till the project is scrapped,” Haq said.
Another farmer, Samsuddin Shiekh, said: “Poor farmers from Haroa and Deganga have taken up our cause. The government has misled the people. They told us about setting up a power substation but now we find this is only a part of the mega project to take high-voltage transmission lines to faraway places.We are not going to surrender our fertile land,” he said.
CPM leader Sujan Chakrabarty said: “The government has declared war against farmers. We want it to scrap the project and return the land immediately though I am not sure of the environment hazards. This part of Bhangar has the most fertile land in the district. Acres of such fertile land have been grabbed by TMC leader Arabul Islam. The PGCIL project has become the focus of the movement. But hundreds of acres have changed hands for housing and other private projects in Sikharpur, Bhojerhat, Kashipur,” Chakraborty said.