PUCL Bulletin, May 2002

Nagarnar Steel Plant:
Police terror on villagers protesting acquisition of their land. By -- Dr Binayak Sen, State Convener

Report of Chhattisgarh PUCL Team To Jagdalpur and Nagarnar on 15th and 16th March 2002

The PUCL got news on 10th March that a meeting of village people in Nagarnar had been Lathi charged and numerous men and women had been taken into custody. Subsequently, we received further information that wide spread arrest of men and women, destruction of property, breaking into houses had taken place in Maganpur, Ammaguda, and Kasturi villages around Nagarnar. These incidents continued till well past midnight and also on the subsequent day according to our information. On 11th afternoon Dr. Binayak Sen of PUCL met the Governor Mr. Dinesh Nana Sahay and handed him a letter of which a copy is attached. In this we mentioned that the people of the 4 villages had already entered into productive negotiations with senior Government officials including the Commissioner of Bastar in the matter of land acquisition for the proposed Nagarnar Steel Plant, when the aforementioned events took place.

The Police and Administration in Nagarnar let loose a veritable reign of terror after the 11th March. A large deployment of Police was mobilized and village people have consistently reported that in numerous incidents they have been forced to accept compensation cheques against land acquisition after being severely beaten at gunpoint. At the same time there were reports that about 250 men and women had been jailed. Considering the total adult population of the 4 villages this constituted a significant portion of total population. All of these people have been arrested under preventive detention laws. The question remains as to what these arrests were designed to prevent.

As reports of continued terror by NMDC officials, state machinery, and plant supporter vigilantes, continued to come in through the press and those opposing the land acquisition in Nagarnar, a PUCL team was constituted to visit the area; accordingly a team was set up and it spent the 15th and 16th of March in the area.

On 15th March 2002, the team members met with four of those detained in Jagdalpur jail. This group of four included three women. All of them had signs of having been beaten with a blunt object, and had swellings on their hands and feet. We were not able to examine them in detail under the circumstances of a jail meeting. Subsequently, since it was reported that 85 out of the 250 detainees were to be produced in court that day, the team went to the district court. The group of 85 persons was brought to court in a bus and in handcuffs at about 1pm, and kept sitting in that condition in the bus until 7.30 pm. The warrants for their arrest could only be prepared by 7.30 p.m., and the warrants were served just outside the bus. The signatures/thumb impressions of the accused were taken under the streetlight, and no effort was made to explain the charges to them. The PUCL team was witness to this entire process.
On 16th March 2002 the PUCL team comprising of Dr. Binayak Sen, Ms. Sandhya Khare and Mr. Akshay Sail visited Nagarnar and the adjoining villages where wide spread arrest of men and women, destruction of property and breaking into houses had taken place by the Police and the administration.

The PUCL team first visited Nagarnar, Kasturi, Maganpur and Ammaguda. In all the villages people who were involved with movement and were opposing the Nagarnar Steel Plant were no where to be found. It was very difficult to talk to anybody as most of the people had either fled the village or were arrested. Those who remained in the village were so frightened that they were afraid to talk and the matters were not helped by the constant roaming of the police officials and the supporters of the plant trying to further terrorize the villagers, in addition, a police jeep that was attached by the government to our team. Very soon some young people on motorcycles and a jeep also started following us everywhere we went.

About 250 people have been placed under arrest and have been jailed. Those who haven't been jailed have fled their houses leaving behind their children, houses and animals. Most of the people have been arrested under section 151 and in some cases under 107/16. The villagers confirmed the reports that the police severely beat up everyone including women, minors and in once case even a blind man. Mr. Neelaram who is blind since birth was so badly beaten up by the police that he fainted. He still has injury marks on his body. In another incident Mr. Bhagwan Din who is 81 years old was also severely beaten up by the police

Most the affected villagers have been forced to accept the compensation cheque as they were left with no choice. They are being given post-dated cheques of October 2002.

Mr. Balram Sethia of Maganpur village is really saddened by the fact that the villagers have been treated as local criminals and dacoits while they were fighting for their land which feeds them and their families. No amount of compensation can give them peace.

In the basti of Ammaguda village, where we were waiting to meet the villagers Mr. Banmaali Naag along with another person came to meet us and told us that we should leave the village and go back as our investigation was not welcome. Seeing Mr. Banmaali Naag the villagers also didn't come out of their houses hence we had to leave without meeting anyone. While on our way back we were stopped by the young men who had been following us for a very long time. Their numbers had increased. The Police including the TI Mr. Khan was also present. The young men started slogans in favour of the Steel Plant and only allowed us to pass through when the police intervened. The two young boys who had accompanied us from Maganpur were terrified not only of the local young men but also of the Police. When we were about to reach the National Highway we were once again stopped by the young men. The young men then proceeded to manhandle Dr. Binayak Sen and the young boys from Maganpur in the presence of the police. It was after sometime that the police reacted and restrained the hoodlums. After the incident when the PUCL team was returning a Commander Jeep full of Hoodlums chased them.

The PUCL team found in conclusion that there was clear evidence that the land acquisition process had been conducted under conditions of force and fear, that village people had been sent to prison indiscriminately, and that compensation cheques in many cases were handed over by force. The due process of law had not been followed with regard to land acquisition. An atmosphere of terror had been let loose on the project (to be) affected villages by plant supporters, and that forces of law and order, including the police, is collaborating in this. Such a situation held extremely dangerous portents for a democratic dialogue on development issues.

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