After waiving farmers’ loan, Congress-led Chhattisgarh government will soon begin the process of returning Baster land acquired from tribal farmers for a Tata steel project. According to news agency ANI, Chhattisgarh Chief Minister Bhupesh Baghel has directed officials to submit an action plan before the next Cabinet meeting. In 2005, the then BJP government had signed a Rs 19,500-crore deal with Tata Steel for setting up an integrated steel plant in Lohandiguda area of Bastar district. Three years after signing the MoU, the government had acquired around 1,764 hectares land from 10 villages of Lohandiguda. However, even after 13 years of signing the MoU, the project failed to see the light of the day.
The move to return the land is in line with the Congress party’s promises made in their election manifesto for Chhattisgarh. In its manifesto, the Congress had promised that if elected to power, it will return the acquired land to its owners where projects fail to take off within five years of acquisition. The same promise was reiterated by Congress president Rahul Gandhi during his rallies in the Chhattisgarh.
In 2016, Tata Steel had announced to pull out of the project citing various reasons which included farmers’ protests, procedural delays, and Maoist threat in the area. After this, the Congress party had demanded the government to return the land to its owners, but the demand was declined by the then Raman Singh government. The government had said that the acquired land would be used for industrial purposes and may be handed over NMDC.
Chief Minister Bhupesh Baghel’s media advisor Ruchir Garg was quoted by The Indian Express as saying that the move is a signal of the newly formed Congress government’s pro-people policies to tackle the issue of Naxalism.
“If you look at the history of land struggles in India, this has rarely happened, whether it is Singur or Bhatta Parsaul. Even in Bastar, there was strong opposition to this acquisition and reports that many youths got disenchanted with the government because of this. This shows the empathy of the Congress government towards the farmer, and will send a strong pro-farmer message, not just to Chhattisgarh but to the rest of the country,” the English daily quoted a senior Congress leader as saying.
According to reports, the Cabinet meeting will be held after the swearing-in of new ministers on Tuesday and officials are learned to have worked overtime to complete the modalities of the process.