BHUBANESWAR, India (Thomson Reuters Foundation) - Two people were killed and more than 30 injured when villagers protesting the loss of their homes to a power plant clashed with police in eastern India, in violence highlighting the disputed nature of land use in the country.
Police opened fire late on Monday in Gola in Jharkhand state after hundreds of villagers demanding more jobs and better compensation from Inland Power Ltd. threw stones and ransacked the company’s offices, a senior police official said.
“A meeting between the displaced persons and the management was going on when some people rushed into the premises and vandalized the property,” said Inspector General M.S. Bhatia.
“Some of them also fired at the police,” he said.
Inland Power’s deputy general manager Sailendra Nath Sinha said the clashes were unrelated to any land issue.
“We purchased and acquired lands by individual negotiations from the land owners,” Sinha told the Thomson Reuters Foundation, adding that a few people with “vested interests” were responsible for the unrest.
Conflicts over land in India have increased as the world’s fastest growing large economy expands quickly and more land is sought for industrial use and development projects.
While several laws have been introduced in the past decade to protect the rights of farmers and indigenous people, some laws have been diluted in their implementation and not always helped the vulnerable, activists say.
Between 1950 and 2005, about 65 million people were displaced in India by dams, highways, mines and airports, according to the Internal Displacement Monitoring Centre. Less than a fifth of them have been resettled.
In a separate development, activists who fought for a decade to prevent Vedanta Ltd. from mining bauxite in Odisha state’s Niyamgiri hills are again battling efforts by the company to source bauxite from a new site.
State officials have said that state-owned Odisha Mining Corporation (OMC), which has a license for Kodingamali in Odisha, would provide bauxite to Vedanta.
But activists say the plan circumvents the Forest Rights Act of 2006, which is aimed at protecting tribal communities and gives them rights over the resources of the land they live on.
“It is a protected area and the tribals have ownership of its materials. They have to follow the procedures,” Prafulla Samantray, who had petitioned against the Niyamgiri project, told the Thomson Reuters Foundation.
However, a senior state official said the state had determined that the rights of the people have been settled, so OMC did not have to seek permission of the village councils as previously required.
“We are following all the required procedures,” said Odisha mines minister P.K. Mallik.
Vedanta Chairman Anil Agarwal, who met Odisha Chief Minister Naveen Patnaik in the state capital Bhubaneswar on Tuesday to discuss the project, confirmed Vedanta had a deal with the government to provide it with bauxite.
The state has promised to supply the company with bauxite by March 2017, Agarwal said.
Writing by Rina Chandran @rinachandran, Editing by Katie Nguyen. Please credit the Thomson Reuters Foundation, the charitable arm of Thomson Reuters, that covers humanitarian news, women's rights, trafficking, corruption and climate change. Visit news.trust.org to see more stories.