Police lobbed teargas shells and resorted to lathicharge as protests by farmers of 12 villages opposing acquisition of their land for lignite mining turned violent at Surka village in Bhavnagar district on Sunday.
This was third incident of violent protest in the area since April 1 when a state government-owned company, Gujarat Power Corporation Limited (GPCL), claimed possession of around 1,414 hectares of land for mining lignite. On Sunday morning, hundreds of farmers gathered at Surka, the village adjoining Badi and Padva villages where activities for developing lignite mine has been going on for the last one month under heavy security deployment.
When police asked the protesters to disperse, citing prohibitory order in place, the farmers refused to leave. “The farmers refused, and instead started pelting stones on the police. Therefore, we had to use teargas and resort to lathicharge to control the situation,” Pravin Mal, Superintendent of Police (Bhavnagar), told The Indian Express.
According to the SP, around 1,000 villagers had gathered at the mining site to protest against land acquisition.
The SP said that police had prior information about the protests by the farmers, and therefore sufficient police deployment had been made in the area.
“Police lobbed 62 teargas shells to control the rioters. Some protesters are still occupying the area and are sitting under trees there. But the situation is under control now. Nobody has been injured in the incident,” Mal added.
“We are in the process of registering an FIR against them on rioting charge,” the SP added. According to the PTI, police rounded up five persons during the clash.
The protesting farmers, on the other hand, accused the police of pelting stones at them. “We were staging a peaceful sit-in when the police started hurling teargas shells and stones. It is possible some of the protesters may have thrown some stones back. But the police first pelted stones on the protesters,” said Kanaksinh Gohil, who has been leading the farmers’ agitation.
They alleged that the police did not even spare women and children who were part of the march. “We were protesting peacefully at the mining site when we were brutally attacked by the police who lobbed several teargas shells. Several women and children were also injured in the incident,” PTI quoted Narendrasinh Gohil, a member of the Gujarat Khedut Samaj, a farmers’ body that had organised the march, as saying.
Since April 1, when the GPCL claimed possession of around 1,414 hectares of land from 12 villages of Ghogha and Bhavnagar talukas, there has been tension in the area. The company had acquired the land between 1997 and 2005 and already paid compensation to farmers. However, farmers have moved the court arguing that the GPCL did not claim possession of the land for all these years, and therefore, the acquisition should be declared null and void, and the farmers should be allowed to have the possession of the land. The matter is pending in the Gujarat High Court.
“We are protesting against the forceful eviction of farmers by the GPCL and the state government. They are trying to take possession of our land despite the land acquisition having lapsed in pursuance to the new Land Acquisition Act, 2013, which requires the company to initiate the acquisition process afresh,” said Narendrasinh Gohil.
The farmers had recently written to President Ram Nath Kovind and Prime Minister Narendra Modi seeking permission to end their lives, saying they will be left with no source of livelihood if their lands are taken away. The GPCL plans to develop three lignite mines — Ghogha-Suraka, Khadsaliya-I and Khadsaliya-III — in the area to extract 3.5 million metric tonnes of lignite. Lignite mined from these sites will be supplied to Bhavnagar Energy Company Limited (BECL), another state government-owned enterprise that has set up a 500 MW thermal power plant at Padva village.
— With PTI inputs