K.N. Ramachandran is one of India's finest civil engineers. He was part of the team that designed the famous Farakka Barrage, which provides water to the Farakka thermal power station, West Bengal's largest.
The power station also provides power to Bangladesh, as per a treaty signed in 1996.
The barrage and power station were the brainchild of Dr Bidhan Chandra Roy, the second chief minister of West Bengal. However, Ramachandran, while working with the Farakka project, had kept his CPI (ML) membership a secret. He continued to be with the Farakka project from 1967 to 1972, until the death of the Naxal patriarch Charu Majumdar in police lock-up at Kolkata.
Ramachandran, who is now actively campaigning against the power grid project proposed by the Narendra Modi government at Bhangar in Bengal, spoke to THE WEEK.
You were part of the construction of Farakka Barrage in West Bengal.
Yes, I was part of the team which built the barrage. But, I resigned a day after Charu Majumdar was killed in Kolkata. I could not have continued, because he was my idol.
You are now creating hurdles before an ambitious power grid project in the same state.
That is because the project is being implemented by the Mamata Banerjee government without taking into consideration the adverse impact on ecology and health. Investigations by scientists worldwide have found that such projects have adverse impacts.
But, Mamata Banerjee has asked her ministers, and the party, to sort that out.
We are also asking for that. But, all along, the government has been refusing to do that.
Where is the space for consultation when you are working to make it a free zone?
Yes, this is a zone under the control of villagers. They have made it a free zone. It is their desire. We have four demands. Government should return the 14 acres acquired illegally, and it should stop the project. Pay compensation for damage to property, damage done to the mosque and to those who were injured. All illegal cases against villagers should be withdrawn, and action should be taken against the policemen who killed two villagers. We also demand compensation for families of the deceased.
But, there was no uproar when the land was acquired.
That was how the West Bengal government cheated the villagers. A day before the legislation of the new law on land acquisition in Parliament, she acquired land for the project. We want clarification from the chief minister. First, they acquired land illegally, and then started constructing in a highly populated area. The West Bengal government cannot justify this.
Are you against grid projects everywhere?
No, we are known for our objection to nuclear power plants as well. Both grid and nuclear power projects could spell doom for people living in the adjoining areas.
Did you halt the Kudankulam project?
No. We could not stop that because it was an old project. But, we have halted many proposed projects—Jaitapur in Maharashtra, East Midnapore and Sundarbans in West Bengal, Chutka in Madhya Pradesh and one in Haryana. The Konkan nuclear project did not see the light of day because of us. Now, we are successful in Bengal.
But, why did not you go to the state and Central governments before deciding on declaring a liberated zone?
We tried to approach everyone. Governments refused to act, and refused to even meet us. They wanted to implement (projects) at any cost. When we felt that they were desperate, our answer was to stop the project at any cost. It is as simple as this.
What are you going to do now? Will there be no way out?
We are going to have a convention of scientists, and we are getting intellectuals on a single platform. In states like Assam, Maharashtra and Tamil Nadu, we are forming a Bhangar solidarity committee. The Bhangar movement will not be localised; it will be an all-India movement.
What would happen, if the government tried to forcibly enter the zone and reclaim it?
Well, that is what the Left did in Nandigram. I think people in Bhangar are ready for sacrifice, however big it might be. We are, therefore, duty bound to motivate them and see it to the end. If the government tries to recapture the area, they would have to kill many. Our comrades are there, and it is an area under people’s control. There would be all-out war if the government tries to invade it. The gangs of Arabul Islam and Rezzak Mollah (both TMC leaders) would be defeated.
Are foreign environment bodies behind your movement?
Look, we are part of an international coordination against nuclear and other environmentally unfriendly power projects. So, we get their guidance. As far as alliance is concerned, Bhangar is an example of a unique alliance between Modi and Banerjee.
Are Maoists with you?
See, anybody can support us. But, we would not accept Maoists, unless they change their squad policy and killing tactics. They would have to take up mass movements, rather than kill people. Look how they destroyed such great movements like the Lalgarh movement in recent years by killing innocents. An alliance is possible only if they change their tactics.
But, you oppose operation against Maoists.
Yes, that is because they kill communists in the name of cracking down on Maoists. Do you know that 10,000 Adivasis are in jail today in the name of Maoist crackdown. How can we accept that?