Protest against high voltage transmission lines in Bhangar, West Bengal, India

Violent protest against construction of a substation and high voltage transmission lines in West Bengal, along the lines of Singur and Nandigram.


Description

On the morning of 17 January, 2017 Mofijul Khan (26) and Alam Mollah (22), died of gunshot wounds during a protest organized by the villagers which turned violent. The villagers of Polehat II panchayat of Bhangar in the South 24 districts in West Bengal have been protesting for many months now against the construction of a sub-station and the high voltage transmission lines.  The story starts in 2013, when the Trinamool Congress, the ruling party in the state of West Bengal since 2011, forcibly acquired 13 acres of agricultural land in Khamarait for construction of the power project by Power Grid Corporation of India Limited (PGCIL). PGCIL is a central government organization which had planned to set up the substation of 440/220KV for transmission of electricity [1]. The substation would have an insulation of sulphur hexafluoride (SF6) and along with an associated 953 Km (480 Km passing through West Bengal) length of 400KV double circuit, 450MW Transmission lines for transmitting power between West Bengal and Purnia in Bihar would cost about Rs.1200 crores. The power for the substation will be provided from the NTPC power projects at Farraka in West Bengal and Kahalgoan in Bihar [2]. The villagers were informed that the power would be used to electricify nearby areas, and the normal transmission lines would be constructed along the road sides [2]. However, in early 2016, when the sub-station was nearly completed and the transmission lines were starting to be installed, the villagers found out that the transmission towers were being constructed in their fertile fields, without their permission. This made the villagers suspicious. The villagers were also not informed of the number of transmission towers which were to be constructed. There was a clear lack of transparency in the dealings of the state authorities with the villagers [2].  The protests gained momentum in October 2016 as the villagers became more aware of the consequences of the sulphur hexafluoride insulated substation and the high voltage transmission lines through their fields. According to Nisha Biswas, a scientist who has joined the movement, “High tension lines create strong electromagnetic fields (EMF). The EMF can extend to about 300 meters and is the strongest directly under the power lines, and gradually fades away with increasing distance. Many have experienced mild electric shocks while walking under lines while walking with an umbrella even on a clear day. The field is so high that if one places florescent tube under the current carrying high voltage wire, it lights itself without any electric connection.” [3] With the help of the CPI(ML) Red Star, the villagers started an independent committee called Jomi, Jeebika, Vaasthuthahntro, O Parivesh Raksha Committee (Committee for Protection of Land, Livelihood, Biodiversity and Environment) to demand this project to be shut down.

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Basic Data
NameProtest against high voltage transmission lines in Bhangar, West Bengal, India
CountryIndia
ProvinceSouth 24 Parganas district in West Bengal
SiteBhangar
Accuracy of LocationHIGH local level
Source of Conflict
Type of Conflict (1st level)Biomass and Land Conflicts (Forests, Agriculture, Fisheries and Livestock Management)
Type of Conflict (2nd level)Land acquisition conflicts
Other
Specific CommoditiesLand
Electricity
Project Details and Actors
Project DetailsPower Grid Corporation of India Limited (PGCIL) is a central government organization which had planned to set up the substation of 440/220KV for transmission of electricity [1]. The substation would have an insulation of sulphur hexafluoride (SF6) and along with an associated 953 Km (480 Km passing through West Bengal) length of 400KV double circuit, 450MW Transmission lines for transmitting power between West Bengal and Purnia in Bihar would cost about Rs.1200 crores. The power for the substation will be provided from the NTPC power projects at Farraka in West Bengal and Kahalgoan in Bihar [2].
Level of Investment (in USD)185,844,840.00
Type of PopulationRural
Start Date2013
Company Names or State EnterprisesPower Grid Corporation of India Limited (POWERGRID) from India
Relevant government actorsState Government of West Bengal- All India Trinamool Congress

Communist Party of India (Marxist-Leninist) Red Star
Environmental justice organisations and other supportersJomi, Jeebika, Vaasthuthahntro, O Parivesh Raksha Committee (Committee for Protection of Land, Livelihood, Biodiversity and Environment)
The Conflict and the Mobilization
Intensity of Conflict (at highest level)HIGH (widespread, mass mobilization, violence, arrests, etc...)
When did the mobilization beginIn REACTION to the implementation (during construction or operation)
Groups MobilizingFarmers
Local ejos
Local government/political parties
Neighbours/citizens/communities
Ethnically/racially discriminated groups
Local scientists/professionals
Religious groups
Forms of MobilizationDevelopment of a network/collective action
Property damage/arson
Public campaigns
Referendum other local consultations
Blockades
Refusal of compensation
Lawsuits, court cases, judicial activism
Sabotage
Media based activism/alternative media
Street protest/marches
Occupation of buildings/public spaces
Strikes
Official complaint letters and petitions
Threats to use arms
Impacts
Environmental ImpactsVisible: Soil contamination, Food insecurity (crop damage), Loss of landscape/aesthetic degradation
Potential: Fires
Health ImpactsPotential: Exposure to unknown or uncertain complex risks (radiation, etc…)
Socio-economic ImpactsVisible: Increase in violence and crime, Loss of livelihood, Militarization and increased police presence, Land dispossession
Outcome
Project StatusUnknown
Pathways for conflict outcome / responseCriminalization of activists
Deaths
Strengthening of participation
Violent targeting of activists
Project temporarily suspended
On the morning of 17 January, 2017 Mofijul Khan (26) and Alam Mollah (22), died of gunshot wounds during a protest organized by the villagers which turned violent.
Do you consider this as a success?No
Why? Explain briefly.The project is briefly suspended, but no clear statement has been issued about the future of the project. Instead the government has been issuing statements such as 'the villagers are being misled by naxalites' and labelling them as anti-development . Many villagers and protesters have also been criminalized.
Sources and Materials
Links

[1] Report about the violent clash of 17 January 2017
[click to view]

[7] More insights about the different stakeholders involved in the project
[click to view]

[3] Report about the involvement of CPI (ML) Red Star
[click to view]

[2] Scientific information about the harmful effects of the substation and high voltage transmission lines
[click to view]

[5] More details about the project
[click to view]

[4] Report of CPI (ML) Red Star about the Bhangar movement
[click to view]

[6] Statement of the state government about the protest
[click to view]

Media Links

A short video documenting the reason why people are protesting against the transmission lines in Bhangar in West Bengal.
[click to view]

Other Documents

Villagers protest by blocking the road in Bhangar http://www.cpiml.in/cms/index.php/statements/item/721-appeal-for-support-to-bhangar-movement
[click to view]

Angry villagers torch police vehicle http://indianexpress.com/article/india/west-bengal-bhangar-land-agitation-south-24-parganas-tmc-protest-4479494/
[click to view]

Protest rally in Kolkata condemning the killing in Bhangar https://www.thequint.com/opinion/2017/02/06/bhangar-violence-land-storm-threatens-mamata-banerjee-development-plans
[click to view]

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Last update11/04/2017
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