Armed tribals protest Arcelor Mittal plant in Jharkhand

Oct 20, 2008

Thousands of villagers marched in Jharkhand on Monday to protest against a proposed Arcelor Mittal steel plant, police said, the latest in a series of confrontations over industry on farmlands.

Armed with bows and sickles, the villagers, members of poor local tribes in Jharkhand, held banners that said: “We need food, not steel”.

They shouted slogans, swearing they would give up their lives but not their farmlands.

The world’s largest steelmaker is planning an $8.2 billion plant in the mineral-rich state, which it hopes to build over four years.

The company needs 11,000 acres (4,450 hectares) for the 12 million tonne plant and an industrial town.

But angry villagers say they will not give up land for the project. “We will not give an inch of land to Mittal steel,” Dayamani Barla, a protest leader, said.

“We will further intensify our agitation, if the Mittals make any effort to grab our land.”

A company official in Ranchi, the state capital, said they were trying to defuse the situation by talking to villagers.

The protest reflects a larger stand-off between industry and farmers unwilling to surrender land in a country where two-thirds of the population depends on agriculture for a living.

Experts say state governments and companies will have to pay more attention to the needs of farmers in a country where industrialisation pressures are mounting.

Violent protests by farmers and political opposition forced India’s Tata Motors Ltd to move the factory for its low-cost Nano car out of West Bengal earlier this month.

The communist government also had to abort plans to set up a Special Economic Zone for a chemicals complex in the state last year.

Angry protests by farmers have delayed construction of a steel plant in Orissa by South Korean steel firm POSCO, which could be India’s single biggest foreign investment to date.

An alumina refinery by Vedanta Resources PLC in Orissa has also been delayed due to tribal protests.

The villagers in Jharkhand opposing the Mittal project distributed 15,000 fliers in dozens of villages around the proposed plant site, urging people not to part with their land.