PATNA: Two days after Prime Minister Narendra Modi laid the foundation stone of the North Koel Reservoir project in Jharkhand, thousands of people, who had been forcibly stopped by the police and were not allowed to take out a march to hand over a memorandum to the PM, demanding compensation against their likely displacement, have decided to intensify their agitation.
Sukiya Devi and Mangru Singh, two among those who were part of the 60-km foot march from Mandal Dam to Chiyanki air strip in Palamu, said the police action against a peaceful march was an “act to suppress the genuine voice of people and an example of the anti-people move” of the Bharatiya Janata Party-led Jharkhand government.
“We were on foot march to demand our right to compensation for land, which is likely to be completely submerged due to the project, and a resettlement package for the families to be displaced from the dam submergence area. But we were not allowed to protest", Sukiya said.
Sukiya expressed her displeasure over likely displacement, saying “our land is like a piece of Kashmir, we will not sit silent and protest till the government provides us proper compensation and a job to each affected family member.”
Mangru supported her stand and said their struggle was not only for compensation and resettlement of likely displaced villagers. “We want first right of local people over water from the project. Water should be made available for irrigation of land in Jharkhand and not only for neighbouring Bihar. People will fight for it”, he added.
Sukiya and Mangru represent two among hundreds of villagers who are upset after they were not allowed to put forward their demands as a right before PM Modi.” “We will not allow work on the project if the government agencies concerned do not fulfill our demands. Mere promises will not work. It is part of an old game” Mangru said.
Ranjeet Kumar, a tribal leader, said it was unfortunate that “our own government treated us badly when the police stopped our foot march and villagers were forced to spent a night under the open sky in the cold on Friday. We were treated like violators of law.”
He said they had sent the memorandum to the Chief Minister and would wait for a reply from them, and then take a decision on the next move.
According to Ranjeet, more than 1,600 families from 15 villages of Palamu and neighbouring districts would be displaced by the construction of the project. “Look, hundreds of families would be displaced and would face livelihood struggles due to this project”.
The march was led by a Congress leader and former MLA KN Tripathi who, along with his supporters, mostly party workers, were detained by the police.
However, Tripathi said he was not against the project, and what he wanted was proper compensation and resettlement of likely displaced villagers, as well as water for irrigation to Palamu region.” Local people have the first right over water as they will sacrifice their land and villages for it,” he said.
Tripathi also threatened the authorities that local people would not allow even a single drop of water to Bihar if adequate water was not ensured for the parched fields of Palamu that has witnessed recurrent droughts for long.
According to the North Koel River Project report, it will help irrigate 1,24,270 hectares of agricultural land in Bihar and Jharkhand. Most of the benefits would go to Bihar’s Aurangabad district, which will receive water for 1,11,800 hectares of parched agricultural land. In Jharkhand, about 12,470 hectares, about a tenth of the total area, will be irrigated from water of the project. Besides, a 24 MW hydropower plant is also a major component of the project.
The project will inundate almost half of the 1,000 sq km Palamau Tiger Reserve. The tiger population in the reserve is already dwindling.