India: Farmers vs corporate will

Root Cause: A fear of loss of livelihood accompanies anger in Charkudih and nearby villages

By Sudeep Chakravarti, LiveMint
[Photo of farmers agitating against the government’s land acquisition activities. Photo: Hindustan Times]
The rain has softened the dirt lanes in Charkudih. The slim strip of tar that brings me to this tiny village is cracked. In what passes for the village square, a child, too young to be in school, wails as he slips in a pool of muck and dung. Hens are more adroit. The surrounding green is compensatory: Lush fruit trees and knee-high paddy. A short walk away the Subarnarekha river marks the state border in this part of eastern Jharkhand. Across lies a stunning line of cloud-crested hills in Purulia, West Bengal.
This is usually a quiet time. But there is already much excitement in Charkudih and 14 neighbouring villages of Sonahatu block. A steel company—among India’s top five—wants much of their land. A document I possess marks the details of the plots to be acquired by the steel maker, totalling about 6,400 acres.
Embedded in the phrase “to be acquired” is obfuscation, confusion and apprehension far removed from lofty corporate pronouncements; even the ongoing government-and-business versus greens tug of war over land acquisition, resettlement and rehabilitation. This is a tiny story about some farmers’ initial encounter with corporate will.
About a dozen of us huddle in a tiny room of a resident that evidently doubles as Charkudih’s clubhouse. A card game is in abeyance. A grimy table fan awaits electricity. A battered black and white TV set is hooked up to a small battery, both dead. A calendar of a brick-making firm is turned to September.
Locals say there hasn’t been any public meeting to discuss the project. They first twigged on to it last year when some local land agents started visiting landowners—farmer-owners of tiny plots to landlords—with a simple message: jameen bech do (sell your land). The price: `5 lakh an acre. When villagers queried the purpose, they received evasive answers. A few have sold land to agents—villagers share their names—but when they queried the local revenue officer in whose names the purchased lands have been registered, they were shooed away. Continue reading