Kolkata /Pachami: For Teresa Soren (45) or Shiblal Marandi (38), the fight to protect the Deucha Pachami area in Birbhum, where the state government wants to start a coal-mining project, is intrinsically related to their struggle for livelihood.
Their livelihood consisted of rearing ducks and hens in an open area, rearing goats for milk, and cultivating rabi crops. They also worked in the stone crushing units. However, since 2016 when the state government first announced it would usurp the land of their villages for making open cast coal mines, they have been threatened to be ousted from their livelihood and their lands. This is despite the chief minister assuring that the government would not forcibly acquire land.
On April 17, when a team of ruling TMC leaders along with government officials and police personnel tried to make inroads in the villages forcibly, the locals erupted in anger resulting in roadblocks on all the roads leading to Pachami.
The highway near Mathurapahari was blocked by the angry villagers who were armed with bows, arrows, and bamboo poles to ward off any forcible intrusion. Seeing their mood, the TMC bigwigs who had gathered there fled in the buses they had hired to come to Pachami.
Women have throughout given leadership in the anti-land acquisition mobilisation in Pachami. The fight is expected to get more intense in the coming days after the April 17 incident.
For Tersa Soren, a resident of Pachami, getting Rs 13 lakhs per bigha as the government offer is not enough as ir will rob them of their land. With that money, it would not be possible to buy even five cottas of land in the neighbouring hamlets, Soren told Newsclick.
Among the 10,000 to 12,000 residents of the area, those who have consented to give land to the government are mostly non-tribal absentee landlords. However, this has been termed a success by the state government. The state government has reportedly identified 784 families in more than 90 villages for resettlement.
On the other hand, the members of the livelihood protection committee of Pachami, under whose aegis this movement is taking place, told Newsclick, “We can believe in any political party, we can believe in any religion, but we won’t give our land in Pachami - is the motto of the movement participants in Pachami.”
Jagannath Tudu and Mithun Marandi said that vacating the area for a coal mine would be an act of cowardice under any circumstances. “So long we live, we won’t let it happen,” they said in unison.
In the Deucha Pachami region, women are ready for a fight in the villages such as Harinsingha, Barmeshia, Kendrapahari, Mathurapahari, Barpahari, or Sagarbandhi. “We won’t let the government take one spade equivalent of our soil from here,” they said.
Residents claim there have often been threatening, false cases lodged against the tribals of the area by TMC activists. When they rose in rebellion against these, Adivasi Gaota, a pro-TMC tribal organisation, members of which have amassed a huge fortune, was expelled from the Pachami area. Sunil Soren and Robin Soren, two of the prominent leaders of the Gaota now do not have the right to stay in their villages in Pachami because, in the last few years, they have been accused of playing with the tribals’ interests and amassing wealth.
From February 20, first, in Harinsingha Math, a protracted dharna programme was started and later, it was shifted to Barameshia village. During the dharna, on April 13, a 30-member delegation went to Kolkata at the call of Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee; nine delegates met with the CM and urged her to withdraw the project. However, before the Bengal Global Business Summit, in its eagerness to show off the success of the project before the industrialists, the administration tried to organise a camp in Dewanganj math on April 17, which was stopped by the tribals, as mentioned above.
Reacting to the fight of the tribals of Pachami, advocate and CPI(M) leader Bikashranjan Bhattacharya, who had visited the area on December 18 and had urged the women demonstrators to throw out the invaders, told Newsclick, “I am happy that the Tribal men and women have kept their word. The government is trying to hoodwink the simple tribals into a trap, which they should not fall in."
It should be noted that the Deaucha Panchami coal block – the newest coal mine in West Bengal – is situated in Deucha and Panchami areas under the Mohammad Bazar community development block. This coal mine is set to be excavated in an open-cast fashion and will displace over 10,000 people from 11 villages. It will also affect about 53 hamlets and 70,000 people in the surrounding area overall. Most of the land in this area belongs to the tribals, but it has been taken on lease by some Jharkhand-based or Bengal-based industrial groups for their stone crushing units.
The proposed mine will occupy over 11,222 acres. Of these, over 9,100 acres belong to the tribals. In September 2018, an agreement between the central government and the state government-owned West Bengal Power Development Corporation Limited (WBPDCL) allocated the land in question to the corporation. The state government has failed to start work on the ground for two years.