Raipur: The tribal leaders in Chhattisgarh’s Bastar are planning to join forces to protest the privatisation plans of the under-construction NMDC Iron and Steel Plant at Nagarnar, days after Chief Minister Bhupesh Baghel wrote to the Centre asking it to reconsider the move.
The tribal leaders have said any move to privatise the Nagarnar steel plant will be strictly opposed, adding that private companies like Tata and Essar that had tried to enter Bastar earlier couldn’t do so. They said the same will happen in the future too.
“We do not want to let any big corporate houses to enter the Bastar region… In this regard, we will very soon convene a meeting of Sarv Adivasi Samaj (All Tribal Societies) and will then decide about the outline of protests and movement to be launched in days to come,” said All India Tribal Federation president Manish Kunjam.
Veteran tribal leader and former Union minister Arvind Netam said the tribal community didn’t oppose the plant in the past as it was a public sector enterprise.
“The interest of all sections of society is preserved under this kind of enterprise. The local Gram Sabha had also given its assent due public sector’s involvement, which is still well documented in the government’s record… No matter how much preparation is done, protests and agitations are imminent,” he said.
“The Nagarnar plant cannot be allowed to be handed over to the private sector. This will lead to further exploitation of the tribals,” added Netam.
The comments come after CM Baghel wrote to the Narendra Modi government to drop the plan to privatise the plant that has been built at a cost of Rs 20,000 crore.
▶️ नगरनार स्टील प्लांट को निजी हाथों में सौंपने का निर्णय छत्तीसगढ़ के लिए दुर्भाग्यपूर्ण
▶️ मुख्यमंत्री श्री भूपेश बघेल ने प्रधानमंत्री को लिखा पत्र: नगरनार स्टील प्लांट के निजीकरण के निर्णय पर पुनर्विचार का किया आग्रह pic.twitter.com/adJgyG0zWX
— CMO Chhattisgarh (@ChhattisgarhCMO) August 27, 2020
In his letter dated 26 August, Baghel said the move will hurt the tribal community’s expectations at a time when the state has been successful in curbing Maoist activities.
On 27 August, Centre-owned NMDC demerged the three-million-tonne plant – which is located about 16 km from the district headquarters and is nearing commission – in what could be the first step towards privatisation.
Such plans have been in the works since 2016, when the government received a green signal from the NITI Aayog, but had to drop the idea in the face of heavy opposition.
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What Congress and BJP say
Lakeshwar Baghel, Congress MLA from Bastar, said a plant is being set up in the area for the first time since Independence.
“People of Bastar have posed their faith in it. But now as the privatisation is being carried out, this trust will be lost,” he said.
“The entire tribal society of Bastar as well as other Bastar residents will jointly organise a big movement against this, due to which the Central government might have to face a lot of damages. It will not be possible to set up industries or even small plants in the future too,” he added.
Ramvichar Netam, Rajya Sabha MP and national president of the BJP’s Scheduled Tribes unit, defended the Modi government, assuring that it won’t take any decision that will be detrimental to the interests of Bastar’s people.
“Nagarnar Steel Plant is an extremely sensitive and burning issue for the people of the state and especially those of Bastar, which was raised earlier too. A delegation of BJP MPs had met the Union Steel Minister In this regard during the previous government’s tenure and at that time it was deduced that the government has no such policy,” he said.
“Some people raise the bogey of privatisation time and again. It had happened before the 2018 assembly elections too. But all this was beyond reality,” he added.
A BJP tribal leader, however, said on condition of anonymity: “We have our government in the Centre and that is why we need to publically side with its decision. However, if the privatisation of Nagarnar Steel Plant indeed takes place then all tribal leaders will have to align themselves with the public.”
He added, “The plant might be shut down but no private company can operate in Bastar.”
Corporate troubles and state role
In the past, the Essar Group had plans to set up a three-million-tonne plant at Bailadila while Tata Steels wanted a similar 3-million-tonne plant at Lohandiguda.
But Essar couldn’t even acquire the land due to opposition by the tribals while the Baghel government returned the land acquired by Tata Steel to the tribals after coming to power in 2018.
Kunjam said if CM Baghel is serious about his request to the Centre, he should seek the reins of the plant. “The state government should also come forward for takeover of this plant. The tribal society will pressure the state government for this,” said Kunjam, who is also a CPI leader.
Reacting to this, Congress MLA Lakeshwar said, “If the Centre provides some support and it (the steel plant) is officially handed over to the state, then our government can acquire the Nagarnar steel plant.”
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