Villagers’ Agitation in Sindhudurg Against Land Acquisition by State Govt for Mining

By Angad Patwardhan

INTRODUCTION

On Tuesday, June 23, four of us from Lokayat left for the town of Banda in Sindhudurg district at night. The plan was to visit Kalne village from there. It was in the news that a full State Cabinet meeting was to be conducted in the district the following day. With limited information we set out to fathom what the situation really was and why the good villagers were opposed to a “development” project of the government.

We arrived at Banda on the morning of June 24 where we understood that the Cabinet meeting was scheduled to take place at another town, Oras and not at Kalne as we had presumed. There was a lot of police activity on the highway and a steady stream of police vehicles kept flowing through the town! From there we left for Kalne village.

Kalne is a beautiful village located on the slopes of a hill. The people there are extremely friendly. We all felt totally at ease while interacting with them. When we arrived, they were about to start their bhajan satyagraha which they’d been carrying out for the past 3 days. Some young villagers, many of them women, were seated on a stage and had been fasting since June 22 as a mark of their protests against the Cabinet meeting. We joined in the bhajan satyagraha also sung some songs of our own relating to peoples’ struggles. This was a sort-of ice-breaking process, though it was unnecessary with these people.

BACKGROUND

As we started interacting with the villagers, a lot of information started flowing out. Most of the villagers grow cashew-nuts which they sell as dry fruit and to make feni, a popular drink. The major sales occur in the months of May-June. However, they are content with whatever they get from the produce. They also grow their own grain and vegetables. Apart from this, the hill on which the village is based and the near-by river are held to be sacred by the village-folk.

The Maharshtra govt. is interested in setting up a mine in and around Kalne, along with a Mumbai-based company, Minerals & Metals Ltd. This means that all the people living there will have to be moved out. Also, their farms and orchards will be destroyed in the process, and the river heavily polluted. For these reasons, they do not want to sell their lands under any circumstances. They have been agitating since August 2008 when the government’s proposal first came up. A gram sabha resolution was also passed to that extent with only 2 dissenting votes. As per the government’s own regulation, no resolution passed in a gram sabha can be overturned by the Central/State governments. With total disregard to this fact, the state govt is aggressively perusing the development of this project.

In December 2008, one of the dissenters secretly sold off his land to the company without informing even his own family members who were against the acquisition. They also had stakes in the land which he had sold and hence applied for a stay on the deal in Bombay High Court. The case is underway currently.

However, on the dawn of March 19, 2009, the company started making inroads into the “acquired” plot by trespassing through other plots. They had got all their road-making equipment along with private security personnel from Mumbai. when the villagers got wind of this, they rushed to the spot and staged a rasta-roko andolan. There was a heated argument between the villagers and company officials. Sensing the growing discomfiture of the villagers, the company officials and security guards started climbing into their vehicles and zooming away. At this juncture, one of the security guards fell off a vehicle that he was holding onto and injured his head severely. His colleagues took him to a near-by hospital, then to hospitals at Sawantwadi and Goa, where he finally succumbed to his injuries at about 11 pm the same day.

Immediately, the police applied Section 302(Murder) of the Indian Penal Code(IPC) and set out to arrest 16 villagers, who fled the village. They also arrested 200 villagers, including 40 women under Section 144(Unlawful Gathering of More than 5 Persons). These were granted bail later.

Police used to enter the village daily and harass the villagers as to the whereabouts of the 16 absconding men. Hence, on April 9, they surrendered themselves and were put in prison at Sawantwadi. Their bail pleas were rejected by the District Court and hence they moved the Bombay High Court. 12 persons were granted bail after 35 days, while 4 are in police custody till date. The High Court has demanded that the police file charge sheets against the 4 accused as a pre-requisite to granting them bail, which has still not been done, even after 3 months of keeping them in prison. As these 4 villagers were at the fore-front of the “anti-land acquisition” agitation, it is clear that they’re being forcibly kept in prison by the government.

In the afternoon of June 24, while the bhajan satyagraha was on, a delegation including the sarpanch and upsarpanch of Kalne left for a meeting with the State Cabinet at Oras, where they presented their demands to the Cabinet. A full question-answer session followed in the presence of media from various leading newspapers as well as news channels. However, as is expected, there was no news of the same in the following days. Instead, the leading newspapers have described how Narayan Rane is all out for the “development” of Sindhudurg by spending crores of citizens’ money on building memorials and halls at various places in the district!

WHAT WE LEARNT

We returned the same day and reached Pune on the morning of June 25. The trip has been an enriching experience for all of us. I saw first-hand for the first time what a people’s agitation is like, and how people come together in times of distress to fight for their cause. It also taught me how to interact with people and make ourselves be counted as their own. This trip was an eye-opener to the heinous acts being committed by our governments in various parts of the country in the name of “development”, and how the truth never even reaches us, as the media goes hand-in-hand with them!

We urge our like-minded fellow citizens to go and witness such agitations wherever and whenever they can, as well as extend their support and solidarity to the movements along with spreading awareness about the same, where they reside!

Jai Hind!

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