Essar project in Durgapur runs into Trinamool led land protest

Trinamool led protest by villagers of Akandara village near Durgapur under Kanksa police station lead to work being hampered at the Essar Oil’s much talked about Coal Bed Methane project.

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Villagers digging up the road to Essar project near Durgapur

Yesterday (7th October 2013) a group of Trinamool supporters dug up a moram road (kancha road) used by Essar Oil in Burdwan’s Kanksa to transport effluents from its pits, claiming the company was yet to compensate them for constructing the road on their land. The villagers, armed with shovel, spade came out of their houses to dig the road link to the project.

The group of around 20 agitators said that portions of the land on which the company built the road and laid a pipeline underneath belonged to them.

Essar officials however denied having used the villagers’ land for the road. Plots needn’t be acquired for underground pipes but can be used against a fee.

Production work at the Essar pits was however not completely stalled today as they are fully mechanised. Officials, however, could not go to the pits for inspection because of the dug-up road, which also prevented tankers from transporting the effluents and disposing them. The villager’s stir stranded the vehicles carrying materials for excavation yesterday.

“The road was constructed on portions of land owned by 23 villagers. We have been telling Essar to estimate the price and pay us the amount for the past year but nothing has been done yet. We had no alternative but to dig up the road today,” said Sheikh Safik, 27, a local Trinamool worker who led the villagers today.

Essar said “the land on which the road has been constructed was acquired from the government following all procedures”.

“But the villagers are now claiming that some portion of their land belongs to them and we should compensate them. The matter would be sorted out soon through discussions,” said Rabin Ghosh, a corporate communications officer of Essar in Mumbai.

Essar, which has already invested around Rs 1,500 crore in Kanksa, is exploring and producing coal-bed methane in several areas in and around Durgapur, like, Laodoha, Andal and Pandaveswar blocks. The company supplies green fuel to several factories in and around Durgapur and to the upcoming Matix fertiliser plant in Panagarh.

An Essar official in Kanksa said the villagers were trying to extort money from the company with the Pujas round the corner.

“It is surprising that the villagers who never raised the issue earlier today came with axes and spades and dug up the road demanding compensation. It is just a way to extort money before the Pujas,” an Essar official said.

Trinamool insiders said today’s agitation was the fallout of factional feud. According to sources, one faction was helping the company acquire land in the villages while the other was protesting it.

Asked about the feud, Kanksa Trinamool block president Debdas Bakshi said: “There is no faction in our party. We will not allow anybody to hamper work here.”

Work at Essar Oil has been hampered several times since January this year because of agitation over jobs and renovation of village roads. The string of protests had also prompted industries minister Partha Chatterjee to hold a meeting with company officials and villagers this August.

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