Chhattisgarh villagers tell Vedanta to give up project

Taraimar (Chhattisgarh), Jan 31 (IANS) Villagers broke down at a public hearing held here Monday while urging the Vedanta Resources officials to 'kill us now rather than trying to acquire our land forcibly'.

The mandatory public hearing was held by authorities to get the consent of the Taraimar villagers to grant environment clearance to mine the 70.12 million tonnes coal reserves in the region.

The reserves are spread out over 1070 hectare in Taraimar area under Dharmajaygarh block in Chhattisgarh's Raigarh district, some 300 km from the state capital Raipur.

The coal reserves are targeted for the 800 MW captive power plant of Bharat Aluminium Company (BALCO), which is controlled by Vedanta Resources and in which the Indian government holds 49 percent stake.

BALCO is based in Korba town, some 80 km away from the public hearing site in Taraimar.

The video-recorded public hearing was held at the primary school ground here amid heavy security arrangements with about 400 policemen deployed, fearing protests.

The villagers unanimously told the authorities that 'Vedanta must not be allowed here'.

Rakesh, a village youth, said at the hearing: 'The Vedanta project will kill us, it will destroy our forest, land and will pollute the water. Wherever they (Vedanta) went, they killed people over generations through pollution.'

'They (Vedanta) are killers,' a 55-year-old woman who belongs to the Bengali settlers' colony here, said at the hearing, amid slogans of 'Vedanta go back.'

Listing out her problems if the coal mine was allowed, the woman burst into years. POinting towards the bench where Vedanta officials were seated, she said: 'They are killers. Better to kill us now rather than being killed by pollution and by your agents.'

Sajal Kumar, another youth, told the hearing: 'Please tell the Indian government we are dead against the Vedanta coal mine project. If the government allows companies to take over our forests and lands ignoring our pleas, no one will live peacefully in India, a civil war will break out.'

Another villager, Vinay Kumar Pal asked the authorities to show mercy and force Vedanta to give up the project in Taraimar.

Sukumari Mandal, another woman, wept inconsolably before her comments were recorded at the hearing.

'With folded hands I appeal to everyone here to leave the site. You just want to kill the people living in forests to plunder the country's natural resources.'

The Vedanta officials appeared to be nervous when the villagers turned up one by one, strongly opposing the project and terming Vedanta 'a company that believes in systematically wiping out generations at its project areas by ignoring the local people and causing pollution'.

The hearing was also often disrupted by anti-Vedanta slogans.

Villagers assaulted some persons near the public hearing ground, alleging them to be Vedanta agents who were distributing 'consent papers' and advising the villagers to hand over the papers to the officials.

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