April 2, 2018 4:38:20 am
Police lobbed tear-gas shells, resorted to mild lathicharge and detained 50 farmers as they resisted reported attempt of Gujarat Power Corporation Limited (GPCL) company to take possession of land and start mining lignite in 12 villages of Ghogha taluka of Bhavnagar district on Sunday.
Hundreds of farmers had assembled at Padva and Badi villages in coastal Ghogha taluka to protest against the state government-owned GPCL’s move to take possession of the land which the company had acquired from farmers two decades ago.
The company had acquired 1,414 hectare of land, spread over more than a dozen villages of Ghogha and Bhavnagar talukas and owned by 1,114 farmers between 1997 and 2005 for developing three lignite mining sites — Ghogha-Surka, Khadsaliya-I and Khadsaliya-II— to exploit 3.5 million metric tonnes (MMT) of lignite per year and supply it to Bhavanagar Electricity Company (BECL) for generating electricity.
However, 20 years after the land was acquired by the GPCL, farmers claim that the possession of the land continues to be with them. Farmers had moved Gujarat High Court in December last year pleading that the land acquisition by the GPCL had been rendered ineffective as the company had not taken possession of the land. The matter is still pending in the High Court.
In September last year, the state government appointed mine-developer-cum operator (MD) for the mining sites, and accordingly, the GPCL awarded the work to the said MDO. However, farmers are refusing to part with their land.
The MDO had declared that it will start the mine developing activity from April 1 and had sought police protection. But hundreds of farmers gathered at Padva-Badi villages and clashed with police as the agency mobilised earth-moving machinery. As the protesters refused to disperse after being warned, police lobbed 40 shells of tear gas.
“We also had to resort to mild lathicharge and physically remove some women from the site to ensure that the mining work was not obstructed. Two persons, including a woman sustained minor injuries in the process. We also detained 51 persons but they were released later on,” Bhavnagar SP Pravin Mal told The Indian Express.
While GPCL chairman Sujit Gulati refused to comment, Bhavnagar district collector Harshad Patel held a press conference and said that farmers’ protests was unfounded. “GPCL and BECL are government companies and the lignite proposed to be mined from the said site is to be used by BECL plant for generating electricity… So, the projects are for larger public good and they will also generate employment opportunities. So far the issue of land is concerned, the GPCL had done demarcation, prepared map and thus had already taken possession of land. It was only that the company had allowed some people to continue to stay on the land till the time actual mining activity started. But this does not mean it had not claimed possession of land,” said Patel.
He said that since the lignite from the proposed site is to be supplied to BECL plant, the GPCL did not develop mine before the plant was ready.
“Around 92 per cent of land was acquired through consent of their original owners while only around eight per cent was acquired through regular award. Farmers were paid Rs 2.5 lakh per hectare for non-irrigated land and Rs 2.75 lakh per hectare for irrigated land. The farmers had also moved the Supreme Court seeking stay on mining activities but the honourable court had rejected their petition last month. Therefore, there is not any court injunction against starting mining,” the Collector further said, adding that the government was approaching the issue “very sympathetically”.
However, farmers said all they wanted was that the GPCL to wait till the High Court disposes of the matter.
“The Gujarat High Court is seized of the matter. The company did not start mining in last 20 years. Why this hurry all of a sudden? All we want from the company is that it wait till the HC decides our petition,” said Kanaksinh Gohil, a resident of Badi village and who is leading the protesting farmers.
He said that the company stopped its machines after the farmers protests and GPCL officers had offered to meet farmer leaders on Monday.
Congress slams govt
Meanwhile, senior Congress leader and spokesperson Shaktisinh Gohil hit out at the BJP over the police action on the protesting farmers. “When farmers demand their rights, the BJP beats them with sticks… This government full of arrogance does not speak to farmers. Their slogan is, “mare kisan, mare jawaan (let farmers die, let soldiers die),” he tweeted.
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