Protest against land grab at Chunar

Prashant Shukla

The recent events around the J.P. Cement factory at Chunar (Mirzapur District) show how the privatization of a PSU is initiated by Mulayam and later Mayawati’s government abuses state power to defend the new owners against the local population.
Ironically when Jaiprakash (JP) Associates bought the Chunar Cement Factory, they had promised to ‘adopt’ five villages surrounding it. These villages were promised uninterrupted supply of electricity, schools and health centre etc. Instead, the villages have been robbed of water, their fields polluted, denied access to the pathways in their own villages, and beaten up, branded as ‘gangsters’ and jailed when they protested! So much for ‘corporate social responsibility’!
The main demands of the agitating villagers were -1. The new management of the factory was employing contract labour brought from far off places. Employment should be provided to the locals whose land had been acquired for the factory. 2. The pollution from the factory and the newly constructed 38 MW coal based power plant was destroying the crops of the farmers as well as adversely affecting their health. Reckless exploitation of ground water was causing scarcity of drinking water for the villagers. They demanded a check on the pollution and compensation for the damaged crops and 3. A pathway passing through the factory and connecting the outskirts of a village to its centre had been closed by the management of the factory causing severe hardship to the locals. They demanded that it be opened for free transit.
On the morning of October 6, 2009, hundreds of villagers from the villages surrounding the factory started a procession towards the factory gate under the banner of ‘Jan Samasya Nivaran Samiti’, a local group spearheading the movement against the factory. Inspire of prior information to the district administration that the procession would culminate in a mass meeting in front of the factory gate where the police intercepted the procession about 3 kms before the factory gate. In the altercation that followed, the police started caning the villagers and even fired shots in the air. The police arrested 23 villagers and within the next 6 hours, all were booked under the Gangster act. Those booked included a 16 year old boy and five Dalits. None of those booked had a previous police record.
The response of various political parties exposed their true colours. The sitting MP is from Samajwadi Party while the local MLA is Om Prakash Singh, the ex-PWD minister in the erstwhile Rajnath Government and one of the most prominent BJP leaders in UP. Other than some press statements, there was little that these leaders dared to do. Such is the clout of JP Associates that not only the political parties but even the local government officials are hand in glove with them. And how could it be otherwise? After all, this is the same JP associates which was gifted the cement factory by the Mulayam Govt. and the contract for the infamous Ganga Expressway from his arch rival Mayawati.
The people of that area however, were in no mood to accept defeat. Since the leader of the movement was a lawyer, the lawyers of Mirzapur went on a strike against the imposition of Gangster Act on their colleague.
The CPI(ML) intervened in this movement and a dharna was organized against police atrocity on 21st October followed by a protest march to the district Head Quarter on the 26th Oct. To further pressurize the government for the release of the arrested, an indefinite Dharna and relay hunger fast was started from the 2nd November in Chunar under the banner of Uttar Pradesh Kisan Sabha. Ishwari Kushwaha, the State Convener of UPKS also joined the fast for 72 hours.
Under pressure from the movement, the arrested finally got bail. The judge while granting bail observed in his order that the entire actions of the state machinery had been carried out so as to benefit JP Associates. Subsequently, a meeting was held between the Mirzapur district administration, representatives of the party and Jan Samasya Nivaran Samiti on 21 November. The delegation was led by the UP State Secretary Sudhakar Yadav. Specific demands placed before the administration were - Repeal of Gangster Act on the 23 people; a check on the pollution being spread by the factory; ensuring that no passage for transit of locals is blocked by the factory; full payment to casual labourers working in the factory, who as of now are being paid Rs. 100/- per day while they are made to sign against a sum of Rs. 132/- by the labour contractor hired by the company.
The officials agreed to initiate a magisterial inquiry into the events that led to the imposition of Gangster Act on the innocent villagers. Also, a date for tripartite talks involving the party and villagers, administration and representatives of JP Associates has been fixed. The Kisan Sabha has decided to lift the dharna till the talks. It has been decided that if there is no fruitful outcome, the movement will be renewed again.