Alok Gupta=They were not informed about the hearing which was organized in officers’ club, far from Bharat Coking Coal Limited’s project site
Tribal people from 14 villages of Jharkhand’s Dhanbad district wore black ribbons around their foreheads for the public hearing of the proposed coal mining project of Bharat Coking Coal Limited (BCCL, a subsidiary of public sector undertaking Coal India Limted) at Karpuria block. Their loud protests led to the public hearing being cancelled within an hour of its start on Tuesday morning.
Angry tribals of Kanchanpur, Karpuria, Rampur, Domogora, Devagam, Novadih, Malkera, Dubrajpur, Chainpur, Patrakuli, Diyagoda, Bohdih, Rudi and Olidih demanded immediate cancellation of public hearing despite repeated requests of officials to stay calm.
The protesters asked the panel of BCCL and district administration officials why the villagers were not informed about the public hearing. Officials clarified that an advertisement was placed in the local dailies about the time and venue of the hearing.
The response angered the villagers. “Have you studied the literacy rate in the 14 villages? And have you ever studied the number of newspaper subscribers in the proposed mining area?” they demanded to know.
The poverty-ridden residents have minimal money to buy food. In such circumstances would a poor tribal buy a newspaper? the protesters asked.
Irate over the casual attitude of officials, the people charged towards the dais, chanting anti-BCCL slogans. Armed policemen stopped them.
BCCL general manager, AK Dutta, tried to placate the residents by announcing free sops like distribution of food grains and development if the public hearing goes in favour of the proposed project. “Coal will bring money and development in the area,” Dutta said.
Offer of sops irks protesters
The offer of sops made people angrier. “You want coal and you are not interested in welfare of poor villagers,” they said.
The public hearing was to get the consent of village residents for a 3.12 million tonne per annum (cluster XII) underground coal mining project, spread over 809.6 hectares in Karpuria. Ramesh Jerai, working secretary of Johar, a non-profit said there are numerous projects of BCCL in which tribal lands were acquired and no development work was done.
“Villagers have been repeatedly protesting against Karpuria coal mines,” he said.
Ashok Singh, additional district magistrate of Dhanbad, asked the protesters to unanimously register their rejection about the public hearing. Tribals countered by asking some more questions. “Why is this public hearing held in Munidih, that too in an officer’s club? Why it is not held in the villages that would be affected by the proposed project?”
Taken unawares, officials of BCCL and district administration honored the demand of the villages and cancelled the public hearing.
Residents warned that the next public hearing should be held in Devagram village, the centre point of the project site.