Essar Energy downplays 'hostage' report, govt to help settle issue

Land Row 10 officials were 'taken hostage by villagers', but company terms it as minor incident.

The state government as well as ESSAR Energy on Tuesday downplayed the Monday's incident when villagers of Kaksa in Burdwan district allegedly held ten officials of the energy firm hostage over land compensation issue. Both the government and the company termed the incident a "minor one" which will be "settled shortly".

The officials of the company, which has six Coal Bed Methane (CBM) wells in Jathgoria, about 15 kilometres from the industrial town of Durgapur, were allegedly taken hostage by some villagers over a five-year old land-related dispute when they were on their way to the project site on Monday.

The government has now decided to intervene into the dispute by deciding to identify the actual landlosers who will be compensated by the company.

The state government's decision to take up the responsibility of identifying the actual landlosers, according to some officials, might invite trouble in future as they apprehend that if the government intervenes into a dispute involving a private owner and land losers, it would set a precedence. If the state government takes up the onus of identifying the land losers, it will have to intervene into similar disputes in other places too, a section of officials feel.

A team of ESSAR Energy officials led by Project Director Apurba Ranjan and Resident Director of the company's exploration and production division, Manabendra Guha Roy, met Chief Secretary Sanjay Mitra and Industry Minister Partha Chatterjee at the Writers' Buildings and discussed the issue.

Apurba Ranjan later told the mediapersons: "Yesterday's incident was a minor one for which no FIR was lodged. None of our colleagues were held hostage. There are some compensation-related issues, which will be resolved shortly. We had been in touch with the administration and we are still in touch with the officials. There is no major problem. There is a road leading to the project site and some plots are there on the road. The plot owners demanded compensation," he said.

When asked what prompted them to come to the Writers', if there was no major problem, the officials said the meeting was a routine one. "We have just updated them about the project and issues involving it. This is just a follow-up meeting," Ranjan said, adding: "There are few people who are demanding compensation and we have requested the state authorities to identify the landlosers." Asked if they sought additional security, the officials said the company "always demand security" from the state government.

Meanwhile, Partha Chatterjee said every industrial house must involve villagers where they operate industries. "The project was taken up during the Left regime and there are allegations that patta land were sold without informing the state government. As far as the yesterday's incident is concerned, the company officials do not have anything to say about law and order issue. Only four landlosers have not received compensation. When the project was taken up, these four landlosers were identified but compensation were not awarded. We will verify whether the four identified persons are the actual landlosers."

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