Seven persons, including two women, have been staging an agitation from a 275-metre high chimney of the Chandrapur Super Thermal Power Station (CSTPS) for the past seven days, to seek a “permanent” job with state power company Mahagenco.
The protesters have perched themselves on the gallery located at the 140-metre-level of the chimney and have reportedly gone without food for the past at least three days.
All attempts to convince them to come down, including a meeting with state Energy Minister Nitin Raut, have failed. On Tuesday, an attempt by Chandrapur police commandos to bring them down also failed after the agitationists threatened to jump down the chimney.
The seven protesters — Paresh Bhagat, Pramod Gharmade, Prashant Dhawad, Sunil Wankhede, Mangesh Khobragade, Vidya Zade and Pinki Nikhade — are among hundreds of those whose family’s agricultural land was acquired in the early 1980s for the power project.
Mahadev Dodure, a member of another group of protesters that has been fighting the battle from the ground, told The Indian Express, “Land from 52 villages was taken for the project in 1980 and there are about 650 claimants for jobs. We were promised that one or two members from each family would be given permanent jobs. That didn’t happen. Most of us were given jobs on honorarium basis, which was about Rs 6,000-8,000 till last Assembly elections. Now, we are getting Rs 16,000 without any provident fund and other facilities like medical expenses, etc.”
“Also, they make us appear for a written exam for a permanent job. The exam is… for those who have been trained in ITIs. The papers are very difficult. So, most of us fail in the exam. Even those who pass continue to wait for the job,” he said.
“Our demand is that the earlier system of straight employment without any exam should be continued,” said Dodure, who has studied in ITI but failed the exam.
He said his father’s land in Gunjala village was acquired for the project in 1980, when Dodure was two years old. “My father didn’t want to do the job, so I got it five years ago,” said Dodure, who is now 42 years old.
According to the protesters, earlier, then MSEB had given the evacuees permanent jobs without any conditions. “But from around 2010, they have started giving work with only an honorarium,” they claimed.
Dodure said, “The seven persons were provided food and water for four days by us when we were sitting below. Later, they evicted us from there. So we haven’t been able to help them since three days.”
Chief Engineer of CSTPS, Raju Ghuge, said, “The decision to conduct the exam is as per a 2009 direction of the Aurangabad bench of the Bombay High Court. During initial land acquisition between 1977 and 1990, MSEB had given permanent jobs to over 2,800 people. Subsequently, however, some from the families that hadn’t taken the job offer kept coming for jobs. They were taken on the basis of a subsistence allowance. Now, they want permanent jobs without taking the exam.”
“The job offer is open only up to the age of 45. After that, the government has given them three options — take Rs 5 lakh and leave the job claim, give their claims to someone else in the family or accept subsistence allowance of Rs 15,000 per month for a non-permanent job for 18 years,” said Ghuge.
He added, “The Energy Minister said in the meeting with the representatives that he was ready to talk if the protesters come down from the chimney, but they refused. We are trying to convince them.”
Asked how the protesters managed to scale the chimney in the high-security area, Ghuge said, “They work in CSTPS and have passes to enter the premises. The security is at the entrance, not at the chimney.”