Jharkhand bandh: Police foil Opposition's protests against land acquisition bill; detain thousands, including key leaders

Ranchi: The day-long Jharkhand bandh on Thursday saw almost 19,000 protesters, including Opposition leaders, being rounded up and taken into preventive detention by late evening. The police were swift in action and declared the strike to be peaceful throughout the state.

The figure stood at over 16,000 detainees by 4 pm, according to Ashish Batra, Jharkhand Police spokesperson, who added that the number was expected to touch 20,000 by the end of the day.

Called by the state's united Opposition in protest against amendments to the Land Acquisition Act, 2013, made through a Bill passed in the state Assembly in 2017, the bandh evoked a mixed response, with people anticipating violence and staying off the roads while multiplexes and markets remained partially open in major urban centres.

According to a list released by the police, 447 people were taken into preventive detention in Ranchi and 2,304 in Jamshedpur till 2.30 pm, and held in camp jails set up for the purpose. Similar arrests were reported from Dhanbad, Bokaro, Palamu, Chauparan and Dumka.

 Jharkhand bandh: Police foil Oppositions protests against land acquisition bill; detain thousands, including key leaders

List of detainees released by Jharkhand police by 2.30pm.

Anatomy of the protest

The BJP-led state government was well-prepared for the bandh, deploying a large police force to manage the situation. Schools in Ranchi and Jamshedpur remained shut and bus services were curtailed. Autorickshaws were, however, seen operating in the two major cities.

Jharkhand Vikas Morcha (JVM) supremo and the state's first chief minister Babulal Marandi was the first to hit the road along with almost 300 supporters around 10.30 am. He was arrested from Sujata Chowk in Ranchi by DSP Rajkumar Mehta after being denied permission to move towards Albert Ekka Chowk.

The JVM was supported in the shutdown by the Congress, Jharkhand Vikas Morcha (Prajatantrik) and Left parties.

"Raghubar Das (chief minister) is drunk on power and his dictatorial attitude will no longer be tolerated by the public. The government had an inkling that people are fed up of his empty promises and will support the bandh, which is why heavy police arrangement was made to harass peaceful protesters,” alleged Marandi.

Former Union minister and Congress MP Subodh Kant Sahay, state Congress president Ajoy Kumar and CPM leaders courted arrest at Albert Ekka Chowk, from where they were sent to a camp jail at Birsa Munda football stadium.

Former chief minister and Jharkhand Mukti Morcha president Hemant Soren was the last to reach Albert Ekka Chowk along with his supporters, from where he was duly arrested and sent to the camp jail.

Meanwhile, Chief Minister Das dubbed the united bandh a complete failure at a press conference at Project Bhawan. "Where is the unity among the Opposition parties when even their leaders fail to assemble at one spot?" he asked.

Jharkhand Chief Minister Raghubar Das addresses a press conference at state secretariat in Ranchi. Image courtesy: Mukesh Kumar Bhatt/ 101Reporters

Jharkhand Chief Minister Raghubar Das addresses a press conference at state secretariat in Ranchi. Image courtesy: Mukesh Kumar Bhatt/ 101Reporters

Targeting the Congress, Das took a potshot at alleged differences between Sahay and Ajoy Kumar who reached Albert Ekka Chowk separately.

"A party which is unable to keep its own flock together is talking about a mahagathbandhan. This is another example of the dirty politics of the Congress, which is trying to fool the innocent public. The bandh was completely unnecessary, against development and I am happy that this time people realised that the Opposition parties are taking them for a ride," Das said.

Hinterland hit

The bandh seems to have been successful in the hinterland, with daily life coming to a standstill in districts such as Godda, Sahebganj, Chatra and Jamtara. In Deoghar, workers of JVM, JMM, Congress, RJD and CPM held a protest at Tower Chowk.

The parties are up in arms against amendments in the Bill to do away with social impact assessment for land acquisition for 10 government-related development projects. The Bill reportedly got presidential assent recently, though it hasn't been confirmed officially despite the Opposition demanding so.

Badal Patralekh, Congress MLA from Jarmundi, led the protest in Dumka and alleged that the state government was working with corporates to hoodwink innocent tribals off their land. "The BJP government is acting on behalf of the likes of Ambani and Adani who want to grab the mineral-rich land of tribals for a pittance," he said.

Godda saw a complete shutdown, with the cadre of Opposition parties staging a protest at Kargil Chowk. The region was in the news recently for a 1,600 MW coal-fired thermal power plant being built by Adani Power. Local villagers have been protesting against the 1,214-acre project citing the Santhal Parganas Tenancy Act, which bars acquisition, transfer, lease or sale of agricultural land.

"The amendment amounts to disenfranchising the tribals of rights and the mahagathbandhan aims to fight against it until the end," Soren said.

Barring stray incidents of violence, the bandh remained largely peaceful across the state. A local JVM leader, Kartik Rajak, was arrested along with his supporters in Karmatand in Jamtara district after a heated argument with local circle officer Gulzar Anjum.

Movement of passenger and goods trains was hit in Pakur and Sahebganj districts when activists of Adivasi Chhatra Sangh blocked tracks. Services were restored after a police team arrested the agitating students. The protesters also tried to stop the Rajdhani Express in Bokaro but were thwarted by alert police forces.

Police personnel's detain party workers and supporters after protest during 24 hours Jharkhand bandh called by all opposition parties over the land acquisition bill passed by state government, in Ranchi. Image Courtesy: Mukesh Kumar Bhatt/ 101 Reporters

Police personnel's detain party workers and supporters after protest during 24 hours Jharkhand bandh called by all opposition parties over the land acquisition bill passed by state government, in Ranchi. Image Courtesy: Mukesh Kumar Bhatt/ 101 Reporters

Swift action

The government had mounted an unprecedented drive to deter the protesters, with a heavy posse of police officers deployed at major intersections in Ranchi, Jamshedpur, Hazaribagh, Dhanbad and Bokaro. Across the state, over 5,000 security personnel, including 10 companies of Rapid Action Force, 3,100 homeguards and Jharkhand Armed Police officers, were stationed with 500 magistrates.

As many as 170 CCTV cameras and six drones were deployed to record activities. District administrations took out flag marches on the eve of the bandh and tribal hostels in various cities were vacated. "It has been seen that students have actively participated in previous bandhs, so we decided to get the hostels vacated this time,” said Ranchi SP Aman Kumar.

(Manmohan Singh is a Lucknow-based freelance writer and a member of 101Reporters.com, a pan-India network of grassroots reporters)

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Updated Date: Jul 06, 2018 11:11:33 IST