Patna: Protests against the ongoing construction work of the Patna metro rail project in Bihar are growing, with hundreds of local people taking to the streets fearing forced displacement and loss of homes. The much-awaited project, widely seen as a new lifeline in the crowded and congested smart city of Patna, is likely to face more protests in the coming days as people are unwilling to sacrifice their land and homes for it.
The first protest started last Tuesday as people opposed their forced eviction, followed by a protest against land acquisition for the metro depot on Thursday and Friday.
Protests in the Malahi Pakri area erupted after authorities carried out an anti-encroachment drive three days ago, leading to the forced eviction of dozens of low-income families.
The anger of the locals increased when a seriously injured protestor Rajesh Thakur, in his late 30s, died during treatment at a hospital on late Tuesday night. He was injured during police action to contain the protests against the anti-encroachment drive.
Supported by the Left parties, including CPI, CPI(M) and CPI (ML), people blocked the main roads for hours on Wednesday, demanding compensation, a government job for the next of kin of Thakur and rehabilitation of people whose huts and shops were demolished by the authorities.
According to Manoj Kumar, a CPI(M) leader, Thakur and several others were injured in police lathicharge when they refused to leave their huts built on the government land. "Thakur died due to injuries sustained during police action against their Gandhian protest to resist the demolition of their huts."
The CPI(M) leader said that the government has been acting against poor people in the name of Patna smart city and suppressing them for the metro rail project. "How can the government evict its people and demolish their huts without making any alternative arrangement for them?"
Mehboob Alam, a CPI-ML MLA who staged a dharna at Malahi Pakri demanding compensation for Thakur's family, said that his party would continue to stand with people facing forced evictions for the metro project. "The government should first provide land to all those, mainly poorest of the poor, who are likely to be evicted for the metro project."
The CPI-ML leader said the government should stop building smart cities on the bodies of poor people. "It appears that the NDA-led Nitish Kumar government is hell-bent on creating terror among the poor in the name of the encroachment-free drive, as exposed by Thakur's death. The party will agitate against it."
Patna police have registered an FIR against 50 unidentified people allegedly involved in the protest against forcible eviction and demolition of huts at Malahi Pakri. As per police, protesters created ruckus and pelted stones at the police team during the anti-encroachment drive.
On Thursday, a delegation of Patna Jhuggi Jhopri Sangh, CPI, CPI(M) and CPI (ML met the Patna district magistrate and submitted a memorandum demanding compensation and resettlement.
Meanwhile, locals continue to speak against the government plans for land acquisition for the project. The Patna Metro Rail Corporation (PMRC) identified 76 acres of land for its depot at Ranipur and Pahari area. A metro project officer said there is an encroachment of the land in a few places on the elevated route of the metro, and government officials have assured to free them from encroachment one by one.
"How can we remain silent when more than 70-80 houses are standing on the land identified for the metro depot at Pahari? Similarly, there are dozens of houses on the land identified for the metro depot at Ranipur," B.S. Mandal, a resident, said.
Mandal said hundreds of people, including women staged protests on the streets against the government move to acquire their land for the metro project.
Another resident Satnarayan Singh said, "If they take our land and houses for the metro project, where would we go? We will become homeless. We are protesting against it and would intensify the protest after Durga Puja."
According to officials associated with the project, they have completed less than 10% of the work. The ongoing construction work that started a year ago is slow due to delays in land acquisition and the non-availability of funds.
The Patna metro rail project is likely to get funds from Japan International Cooperation Agency (JICA) if it gets land acquisition for metro depot and other infrastructures. The JICA will contribute 60% of the total cost of the metro rail project as a loan, while the Centre and the state each will bear 20% of its cost. The state government has sanctioned around Rs 1,000 crore to the Patna district administration to acquire land for the metro depot.