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Two killed in clashes over land for power station in eastern India

By Subrata Nagchoudhury

KOLKATA, India (Thomson Reuters Foundation) - Two people were killed and about a dozen wounded in eastern India when villagers protesting the takeover of their land for a power station clashed with police and government officials in the latest instance of violence over land use in the country.

Hundreds of villagers blocked roads and burned tires on Tuesday in Bhangar in West Bengal state to protest the construction of a substation by state-owned Power Grid Corporation of India Ltd.

Police fired tear gas and beat back crowds with batons. Two people died of gunshot wounds, although the police denied they had fired upon the protesters.

"The police showed restraint," said Sunil Chowdhury, the district police superintendent.

Several policemen were injured and their vehicles damaged by protesters, he told the Thomson Reuters Foundation. An investigation into the shootings is underway, he said.

A protester, who asked not to be named for fear of retaliation, said shots were fired by the police and officials who supported the project. Local media reported political factions opposed to the state chief minister may have been to blame.

Work on the substation, being built on about 6 hectares (16 acres) of land, was suspended last week after days of protests by villagers who objected to the transmission towers over their farmland and demanded more compensation.

Government and company officials had said they would hold talks with the villagers to resolve the situation.

"Work on the project will not resume if the villagers do not want it," said Mukul Roy, a member of the state's ruling Trinamool Congress party.

Conflicts related to land have risen in India as demand for land for industrial and development projects has grown.

Farmers reluctant to give up land have stalled major projects, putting billions of dollars of investment at risk, according to a recent report.

Several states have diluted laws to make land acquisitions easier for industrial and development projects as they try to boost growth and provide jobs.

Last year, India's top court said land acquired by West Bengal for a Tata Motors factory must be returned to farmers after a decade-long battle during which the factory was moved to a different state.

Mamata Banerjee, who led protests against the Tata land deal, was elected in 2011 to become the state's chief minister and has said her government will not forcefully acquire land.

(Writing by Rina Chandran @rinachandran, Editing by Alisa Tang. Please credit the Thomson Reuters Foundation, the charitable arm of Thomson Reuters, that covers humanitarian news, women's rights, trafficking, property rights, climate change and resilience. Visit news.trust.org to see more stories.)

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