Five farmers were killed and at least 15 were seriously injured in Jharkhand's Hazaribagh area on Saturday after police opened fire on them while they were protesting against land acquisition by the National Thermal Power Corporation for a coal mining project. The farmers said they were trying to stop the police from detaining local Congress MLA Nirmala Devi, who was participating in the protest in Barkagaon, 150 kilometres from the state capital Ranchi.
“We have been opposing coal mining here for several years because this will ruin very fertile land in 36 villages, where we grow wheat, gram, sugarcane and spices,” Deepak Das, an activist with Karanpura Bacao Samiti told Scroll.in on the phone from Hazaribagh. “Despite our protests, coal mining began in Chirudih village on May 17. So, we started a fresh protest “kafan satyagrah” under MLA Nirmala Devi two weeks ago, with 300-400 farmers sitting at the site 24 hours a day to halt the mining.”
The farmers said the police had arrived at 4 am and tried to disperse the protestors. Women who tried to stop the police were baton-charged, they said. They named those who died in the police firing as Ranjan Ravidas, Mahtab Alam, Rajesh Sau, Abhishek Rai, and Pawan Sau.
The Indian Express quoted Jharkhand Inspector General (Operations) MS Bhatia as saying that they had to resort to firing at the crowd after the protestors cornered and thrashed two officers. Both are seriously injured, they said.
The Pakri Barwadih coal block belongs to NTPC. With coal reserves estimated at 1.6 billion tonnes, it is the largest captive coal block allocated by the central government. NTPC had sub-contracted coal mining to two private firms, Thriveni Earthmovers and Sainik Coal, last year.
Farmers in the area have been opposing the projects for the past 10 years.
Saturday's clash was the third time the police has opened fire at the protesting farmers in the area. On August 14, 2015, the police had fired 22 rounds of bullets at the protestors, injuring six people including a journalist. On July 23, 2013, the police had shot at farmers in Pagar village when they tried to stop an NTPC contractor from starting the construction of an office. A 55-year-old farmer, Keshar Mahto, died on the spot, while three were injured.
The farmers have launched two koyla satyagrahas in the past two years – digging coal by hand, selling it to traders and paying royalty to the gram sabha, offering this as an alternative model of mining in the region.