A group of villagers of Harinsinga, which is part of Birbhum’s proposed Deocha-Pachami coal mine site, on Thursday organised a meeting among its tribal residents and announced that they would not give their land as they were against having the project in the area.
This is the first time since the announcement of the state government’s compensation package that a section of the tribal populace within the project area has come out openly against the proposed coal mine. Thursday’s meeting was led by the head of tribals in Harinsinga village.
The government wants to start mining adjacent to two tribal hamlets — Harinsingha and Dewanganj.
“As head of the village (tribal hamlet), I called the meeting to understand the mind of local people about the proposed coalmine. At the meeting, all participants unanimously decided that we don’t want any coal mine in the area. We want to live here as we are living now. No one even agreed to discuss the package,” said Joseph Marandi, the village head of Harinsingha.
Asked about the reason for their opposition to the project and the refusal to consider the rehabilitation package, Marandi said: “Here we live in a free environment. We have houses, open ground and forests that we don’t want to leave.”
In tribal communities the village head plays an important role in any type of decision making.
Despite the response of Harinsinga villagers, Birbhum district magistrate Bidhan Ray said the government would listen to them and would try to address their concerns regarding the project and government's package.
“We have heard that villagers had sat with the package to discuss it among themselves. There may be a few who have some objections but we will hold discussions with them. We are very hopeful that people will help us to set up the coal mine here," said Ray.
The Deocha-Pachami coal mine is the largest coal block in the state and has a stock of around 2.2 billion tonnes of coal underneath the stone layer.
Chief minister Mamata Banerjee on November 9 announced the rehabilitation package for those who will be affected by the mega project. It offered details of the government’s land rates and government job of junior constable to a member of each affected family, among others. On November 19, senior district officials headed by Ray had handed over copies of the rehabilitation package among the tribal village heads in three languages, including one in Ol-chiki script.
The development on Thursday in the proposed coal mine zone has raised eyebrows of many officials who suspect that some groups were inciting the refusal to derail the project.
“We suspect there are some people or owners of illegal mines who have a hand in instigating villagers to take such a decision. As per our information, a large number of villagers did not attend the meeting. We are also trying to identify whether anyone from the area is involved in instigating the tribal people,” said an official.
Rabin Soren, a leader of Birbhum Adivasi Gaonta—a tribal outfit in the area, however, said the villagers sat among them personally and it was their spontaneous reaction.
“It is a spontaneous decision of the villagers. There is much confusion among the villagers with the package. We expect things to iron out through discussions,” said Soren.
The state government’s land department had started to hold camps in gram panchayat areas of Deocha- Pachami to rectify the land records of the villagers. A camp in Hinglow gram panchayat office was held on Thursday where 50 villagers submitted their land related papers.
“The camp office will help correct land related issues like mutation,” said a senior officer.