Acquisition of land for a power project had instigated murmurs of protests in Bhangar area in West Bengal’s South 24 Parganas district for the past several days. On Tuesday, it exploded in the form of a fierce resistance in spite of the government’s assertion that the work on the power grid substation will remain suspended.
Bhangar, which is quite close to Kolkata, witnessed large scale violence and battles with the district police throughout the day, shaking up the entire administration and police force.
The problem started back in 2013 when Trinamool Congress strongman from Bhangar, Arabul Islam reportedly acquired 13 acres of land from farmers for the power project of Power Grid Corporation of India Limited (a central government enterprise) to set up a substation of 440/220KV to transmit power between West Bengal and Purnia in Bihar.
Since 2013, farmers and other villagers have been led in protest by Kalu Sheikh, who demanded work on the substation be suspended and land to be returned to them. On several occasions, Bhangar remained on the boil. However, the movement gained momentum last week when the work on the substation was almost over and it was on the verge of becoming functional.
The movement took a fierce turn on Monday night when Kalu Sheikh was allegedly picked up by police. Villagers of Machhidanga hit the streets demanding his immediate release. According to the villagers, within hours of witnessing clashes, Sheikh was released by the police after pressure mounted on them.
Villagers allege police excesses and claim that the police went on a rampage and barged into their houses and ransacked it on Monday night.
On Tuesday morning, clashes broke out between the police and villagers. The villagers were seen pelting stones at the police. In return, the police fired tear-gas shells and rubber bullets to disperse agitating protestors.
Meanwhile, the police have completely cordoned off the area in and around the main gate of the power grid substation and deployed RAF and a huge contingent of combat force.
The villagers are demanding the closure of the substation. State power minister Sovandeb Chattopadhyay said, “The work has been suspended. Why is the agitation on? We have agreed on their demand. I will have a dialogue with them.”
However, many see a resemblance to the Nandigram movement of 2007 in the Bhangar resistance.
The way the villagers blocked roads with uprooted trees to prevent police from entering the villages, the way they surrounded the police from three sides and pelted stones at them in an organised manner, reminded many of the Nandigram movement.
Political circles claim that this movement has been ‘hijacked’ and is not led by villagers. They also claim that movement is being led other powers, with some even seeing a Maoist hand behind it.
Meanwhile, the state administration has rushed two of its senior leaders, Abdur Rezzak Mollah and Mukul Roy, to the area to bring the situation under control.