Essar’s Durgapur project under fresh trouble

Agitating farmers at Essar's Durgapur project

The industrial town of Durgapur hit news headlines due to agitation by villagers under the leadership of local Trinamool Congress leaders. News report says that 500 villagers led by Trinamool Congress leaders stalled work at six pits of Essar Oil’s coal-bed methane (CBM) project in Dhabani near Durgapur, yesterday. A similar situation also erupted on 28th January this year, when villagers of neighboring Jathgoria village under Trinamool leadership detained some officials protesting a delay in paying compensation to land losers. However, Sunday’s blockade was lifted after Laudoha police station OC Sandip Chattoraj spoke to the agitators.

CBM project of Essar at Durgapur’s Laudoha

Dhaboni and Nachan are the two villages in Laudoha near Durgapur from where the Mumbai-based company extracts coal-bed methane (CBM). About 400 villagers and the local Trinamool leaders blocked the Pratappur-Kantaberia Road for more than six hours with four main demands. The blockade prevented officials from working at the pits, which forced suspension of work temporarily in six pits of Essar.
The villagers’ first demand was that the company must hire guards from among the villagers and land losers as was earlier assured by the company. Their second demand was that the company must pay compensation to those landowners as well who have virtually lost their land due to laying of gas carrying pipeline by the company over their land. Their third demand was that the company must ensure proper disposal of the chemical waste from the pits as they are damaging farm lands and ponds in the area. Their fourth demand was that the company must repair the road which has been severely damaged by the heavy vehicles used by the company.
Subrata Chatterjee, a member of Trinamool village committee of Dhabani, alleged that the Mumbai based company had failed to fulfill the promises it made. “Instead of recruiting locals, they have been taking ex-servicemen as security guards. Our ponds and wells have dried up due to their pit excavation and even irrigation water has been polluted by their poisonous effluents. We demand proper compensation and jobs for locals,” he said.
The villagers of Laudoha, led by local Trinamool leaders, organized an eight-hour sit-in from around 7am, yesterday. The agitating villagers marked their protest by obstructing the road and raising slogans against the company’s bid throughout the day. The demonstration was lifted at around 3 pm when the officer in charge of Laudoha police station, Sandip Chattaraj, assured the villagers that the company would hear their grievances tomorrow. “If Monday’s meeting remains inconclusive, we’ll stop the CBM project in Dhabani,” Subrata Chatterjee threatened.
Trinamool leaders of Laudoha block however tried to distance itself from the agitation, saying the movement “is not party-sponsored”. “The agitating villagers are our supporters, but it is not a party-sponsored movement. The villagers are agitating about their own issues,” said the Laudoha block president of Trinamool, Sujit Mukherjee.
Hiral Vohra, PRO and spokesperson of Essar said in the evening, “Today, some of our employees were temporarily prevented from discharging their duties. The work has since resumed and there is no impact on supplies. We continue to engage with the community on a long lasting and symbiotic relationship and are hopeful of quick resolution to all pending issues. We are thankful to the government and administration for the support and guidance it is providing.”
Mr. Debjit Kar, Manager, Corporate Affairs, told reporters that company officials will discuss the matter with farmers tomorrow and is hopeful of a permanent solution.
Essar workers however said that such protests to put pressure on the company have become a practice in the area. “Such protests have become a practice here. Villagers disrupt work over fresh demands. This is ridiculous,” said an engineer from Gujarat working at the pit.
An Essar official in Durgapur, who termed the protest “pointless”, said the company had already recruited the six guards it needed for each of the five pits. “But the villagers are demanding that we increase the slots. We have refused to do that. As for the chemical waste, we first store them in pits and then take the treated material away in tankers.
Pandebeswar MLA Gouranga Chatterjee and CPM district secretary Amal Halder both expressed concern over the fate of the project. “If the project gets stalled, it’ll affect the fertilizer plant in Panagarh,” warned Mr. Chatterjee. Mr. Halder said the agitation was politically motivated since the projects were planned by the Left government. “Trinamool wants to destroy these mega projects.”

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