Protesting industrial projects during separate public hearings for industrial development on Monday, residents of Chirga village in Chhattisgarh’s Sarguja district held an officer captive, while in Bastar’s Chapka village the protesters chased out an MLA.
Villagers in both tribal-dominated districts stopped the hearings.
At Chirga, 365 km from state capital Raipur, district officials called the hearing regarding Alumina Refinery & 3×10 MW Captive Cogeneration Power Plant proposed for the village. The hearing in Chapka was for the Rs 490-crore Mini Integrated Steel Plant, which will produce over 3.35 lakh TPA sponge iron.
At Chirga, villagers opposed to the project, who have written to several government departments against allowing it, started protesting about the public hearing being held despite increasing Covid-19 cases. “The district is under Section 144, Covid-19 cases are rising, and we are told to follow distancing norms. What was so urgent that the meeting had to be held even as several districts have gone under lockdown,” asked Lilavati Painkra, a zila panchayat member from Chirga.
The villagers then chased away the officials and government representatives, which was recorded on camera by local journalists. One officer who was left behind was chastised by the protestors and he fled later, local residents said.
Chirga residents there said they are protesting against the project not just for themselves but the entire district. Gangaram Painkra, a resident and convenor of Chhattisgarh Van Adhikar Manch, said: “The refinery is going to come up in catchment areas of the dam that supplies water to Ambikapur district. If the plant is built, there won’t be water to drink for all of us.”
In Bastar’s Chapka village, a similar protest against a proposed sponge iron project was registered in the public hearing. One villager said, “The plant will obstruct the path of a tributary of Indravati, leading to flooding in our village. We will lose our land, which we anyway don’t want to give for the company.”
At Chapka, 42 km from district headquarters Jagdalpur, MLA Chandan Kashyap, who had joined the hearing, was chased away by the villagers. Stray incidents of stone-pelting were also reported.
Bastar collector Rajat Bansal said, “An FIR is being lodged against miscreants who, in the guise of villagers, pelted stones. Some of them have been identified and they were possibly inebriated at the time.”
Chapka residents, however, said they were only reacting to threats of one of the proponents of the project. “A few anti-social elements started threatening us and wouldn’t let the villagers state their point. Some villagers then started objecting,” one attendee said.
Alok Shukla, convenor of Chhattisgarh Bachao Andolan, said: “Sponge iron units are one of the heaviest polluting industries. While the previous government was against it, the present Congress government is encouraging these plants. In both incidents, the villages come under the Fifth Schedule, where one cannot go against wishes of the villagers. Why then would a public hearing be called in the middle of a pandemic?”