Land protests heat up as Indian states clamp down

States in eastern India are cracking down on villagers who refuse to give up land for industry, protesters say, as officials speed up projects that are key to economic growth.

In the state of Jharkhand, a months-long protest has intensified over a proposed 1,600 megawatt power plant in Godda district, about 300 km (186 miles) from the capital of Ranchi.

The police were heavy-handed and arrested a protester under false charges, said Babulal Marandi, a former chief minister who is leading the protest.

“People are not willing to give up their land. The government is acquiring it forcibly,” he said.

A district official denied they had used excessive force.

“The majority of landowners have given their consent for the project. We are doing everything as per the law,” said Deputy Commissioner Bhuvnesh Pratap Singh.

In neighbouring Odisha state, at least 500 policemen were deployed this week at the construction site of a power plant extension, outnumbering protesting villagers.

Many villagers in Tilia, about 350 km from the capital Bhubaneswar, were resettled there years ago to make way for the Hirakud dam. They say the compensation offered is inadequate, and they do not want to move again.

“Why should we be displaced again without adequate benefits? We would rather die protesting,” protest leader Murali Pradhan told the Thomson Reuters Foundation.

Officials said most villagers had agreed to the compensation, and that a police presence was a necessary precaution. “The protesters were violent earlier,” district chief Bibhuti Bhusan Patnaik said.

As demand for land heats up in India’s fast growing economy, conflicts related to territory have also risen, stalling industrial and development projects worth billions of dollars, a recent study showed.

In their rush to speed up projects, several states have diluted a 2013 law that aimed to protect the rights of poor farmers by giving support to those displaced, and compensation of up to four times the market value of their land.

That law must be amended to make it easier to buy land for key projects to spur growth and provide jobs, a senior government official has said.

Report: Jatindra Dash, Photograph: Parivartan Sharma
©Thomson Reuters Foundation

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