Old relocation row surfaces in Chandmoni

Siliguri, April 23: An announcement to relocate former workers of Chandmoni Tea Estate to Uttarayon Township triggered a protest, leaving a local Citu leader and his henchmen to face the brunt.

The alleged assault on Rambahadur, the Citu leader, and the arrests that followed has brought back memories of the 2002 police firing in which two workers, part of a protesting group unwilling to give up the land, were killed. This time, around 550 families living on 200 acres of the remaining garden land near the STPI earth station, are not ready to shift to Uttarayon under a rehabilitation package.

Rambahadur and his supporters had enrolled with the Siliguri Jalpaiguri Development Authority (SJDA) to get the relocation benefits. On Monday, when a recorded message played over a loudspeaker in an auto-rickshaw, escorted by a police jeep, urged people to enrol within the next four days, the women of the area first forced the vehicles to leave.

“They then went to Rambahadur’s house, accusing him of conspiring with the government. He got scared and fled the spot. Later, he lodged a complaint against four of our members, accusing them of assaulting him,” said Anil Munda, the secretary of the Jami Bachao (save land) Committee that was formed in 2002. The four were arrested.

“In 2002, the SJDA officials had said permanent workers who took voluntary retirement would be given Rs 2 lakh, 2.5 cottah plots and another Rs 75,000 to build houses on the land,” claimed Abhijit Majumdar, the Darjeeling district secretary of the CPI-ML (Liberation).

When the save-land committee asked the SJDA to show the plot for relocation, it allegedly failed to do so. Most workers then constructed houses on the garden land, spending a portion of the compensation. “Now, after six years they are proposing a relocation, where we have to shell out money,” said Munda.

The SJDA has proposed to build the new houses for Rs 1 lakh. “While Rs 64,000 would be given by the Centre, the beneficiaries would have to pay the remaining Rs 36,000,” said Majumdar.

Bengal urban development minister Asok Bhattacharya, who is the chairman of SJDA, said plans for the relocation had been finalised when the Uttarayon deal was inked. “We needed time and funds to develop the infrastructure. We are not asking them to shift immediately, but enrol to avail of the relocation package.”

About the houses that the workers have already built, the minister said: “Why did they do it? They knew about the relocation plan.”