Chhattisgarh Chief Minister Bhupesh Baghel announced on Monday that the land acquired from tribal farmers in Bastar for a Tata Steel project will be returned.
Chhattisgarh’s Directorate of Public Relations said in a statement, “The land of farmers, acquired for Tata Steel Plant in tribal-dominated Lohandiguda area of Bastar, will be returned soon. Chief Minister Bhupesh Baghel has instructed officials to bring a proposal regarding this issue in the next cabinet meeting.”
This decision by the Congress, which returned to power in Chhattisgarh after 15 years, may impact other conflict-ridden projects in the country.
In 2005, Tata Steel had signed a memorandum of understanding with the then BJP government to set up a 5.5 million tonne per annum Green Field Integrated Steel plant in Bastar which involved an investment of over Rs 19000 crore.
The government had acquired 1,764 hectares of land from 10 village of the Lohandiguda block of Bastar for this project. However, local tribals and activists had strongly protested against this project, forcing Tata Steel to withdraw from this area in 2016.
The Raman Singh led BJP government had decided to put this land in the land bank.
“Raman Singh (former Chhattisgarh CM) should have returned this land to the actual owners after the withdrawal of Tata Steel but they put this land in the land bank. The decision, taken by the Congress government, is an important decision. The Land Aquisition Act of 2013 says that if the land acquired for any project is lying unused for five years then it should be returned to the original owners. But Raman Singh did not do that. There were continuous protests against this move of the BJP government. The Congress party had made a promise that they will return this land if they come to power. This is the first example in the country where any government has proactively returned the land to farmers,” social activist and convenor of Chhattisgarh Bachao Andolan Alok Shukla said while reacting to the Bhupesh Baghel government’s decision.
The Tata Steel project had created a sense of unease among local residents of Lohandiguda, an area which did not see many Maoist activities despite being close to Maoist insurgency-hit Dantewada district.
However, with the announcement of this project the villagers had begun writing slogans on the walls of their houses asking Maoists to come and save them from displacement.
“Farmers and local residents had opposed this project since the very beginning. But the authorities obtained consent for land acquisition by threats and coercion. The meetings of Gram Sabhas were organized under heavy security cover and the Gram Sabhas were coerced into giving their consent for this project,” Shukla claimed.
A close aide of Baghel informed that this decision will have long-term implications and will be a guiding light for land disputes like Bhatta Parsaul.