Chhattisgarh govt to return over 1,700 hectares of land to Bastar tribals; proposal to be presented during first state cabinet meet

Keeping with the poll promise made by the Congress president Rahul Gandhi during his campaign in tribal region Bastar, the newly formed Congress government in Chhattisgarh announced on Monday that it will return more than 1,700 hectares of land to tribals and farmers, which was acquired by the previous Raman Singh government for an integrated steel plant in Bastar.

Chhattisgarh chief minister Bhupesh Baghel has instructed his officials to complete the formalities of returning the land to tribals in Bastar and bring the proposal for approval before the first cabinet meeting to be held after oath-taking ceremony of his ministers.

The previous BJP government had acquired 2,042 hectare of land including private, government and forest land for Tata Steel’s 5.5 million tonne per annum (MTPA) greenfield integrated steel plant at Lohandiguda in Bastar district, which turned into a Singur-like situation due to severe protests from locals and the project got shelved.

 Chhattisgarh govt to return over 1,700 hectares of land to Bastar tribals; proposal to be presented during first state cabinet meet

File image of Bhupesh Baghel. Twitter/@Bhupesh_Baghel

“It’s a historical decision of sorts. The chief minister has issued instructions to complete the formalities of returning the land to tribal farmers. It will be presented in the first cabinet meeting of the state government for final approval. The land was acquired by the previous government for Tata Steel plant, which couldn’t be materialised due to heavy protest by locals on land acquisition issue,” a senior official in Chhattisgarh government told Firstpost on condition of anonymity.

The Chhattisgarh Congress in its poll manifesto — Vachan Patra — had promised that if it came to power it would return the land acquired for Tata Steel project to tribal farmers.

"After formation of our government in Chhattisgarh, we will return the land acquired by the state government from tribals for Tata Steel project,” Rahul Gandhi had announced at Jagdalpur, district headquarters of Bastar in November during his election campaign.

Tata Steel had signed an MOU with the former BJP-led state government in 2005 for setting up of steel plant with a proposed investment of Rs 19,500 crore. The Raman Singh government saw it as an opportunity to generate employment and bring economic development in the Maoist-hit region, but due to massive protests and other multiple factors, the project failed to take off.

The company was allotted 2,500 hectares of iron ore mine at Bailadila in 2008 to supply raw material for the proposed steel plant. A prospecting license was issued to the company. Tata Steel, however, gave up the plan to construct the steel plant citing 'unfavourable local law and order situation'. The MOU ended in 2016.

According to the details accessed by Firstpost, out of the total 2,042 hectares of land, besides 173.03 hectares of revenue and 105.81 hectares of forest lands, 1,764.61 hectares of land was acquired from tribal farmers for the steel project.

Since Bastar region had been notified as a tribal area, the company couldn’t directly purchase land from the villagers. Instead, the state government acquired land in Lohandiguda and paid compensation to villagers. But the land acquisition led to a fierce protest.

"We had to fight a long battle against this land acquisition both outside and inside the court, which was forcefully done. Along with me, many others were jailed and faced police oppression. The Raman Singh government acquired tribal land for Tata Steel project at Lohandiguda and then transferred it to its land bank, which was illegal. We protested for a decade against the land acquisition, because what would tribal farmers do if their only source of income was snatched,” alleged former MLA and Communist Party of India (CPI) leader in Bastar, Manish Kunjam.

The Left parties along with tribal farmers and local villagers staged a series of fierce protests over land acquisition. Kunjam, who challenged the previous government’s decision in the court, was arrested along with several protestors and jailed.

The land acquisition at Lohandiguda had created a Singur-like situation in Chhattisgarh. In 2006, Tata Motor’s proposed Nano factory at Singur in West Bengal had generated massive farmer protests and controversy over land acquisition by the then Left government in the state.

"A large swathe of land across 10 villages was forcefully acquired (by the Chhattisgarh government) without taking proper permission of gram sabhas. There had been issues related to payment of compensation to farmers. According to the Land Acquisition Act, if (acquired) land isn’t used for more than five years, it has to be returned to the original landholder. But, the previous state government converted the acquired land for the Tata Steel into its land bank. Instead, the government should have identified the landholders and returned it to them. It's a good decision taken by the present government,” said CPM state secretary Sanjay Parate.

Updated Date: Dec 24, 2018 23:12:41 IST