Playground 'hijack' sparks fury

Around 40 Sitaramdera residents submitted a petition on Friday at East Singhbhum deputy commissioner's office against a proposed government housing project on their neighbourhood playground.

The civic protest, unusual in a climate of sab chalta hai, had participants comprising residents, Aam Aadmi Party workers and GEL Church and Adivasi Association Hall functionaries.

The group unanimously said the three-acre plot had for over 80 years served as an open space for children, adults, senior citizens and outfits alike and could not arbitrarily be taken to erect a government building.

Trouble started brewing since Thursday afternoon when government officials from the public works department (PWD) started to earmark zones with measuring tapes. When resident Surjeet Singh, enquired why, he was told that the government land was being measured for state labour department staff quarters.

Singh immediately spread the news in the neighbourhood. Amid mounting anger and chaos, residents held a meeting early on Friday morning and joined by functionaries of GEL Church and Adivasi Association Hall, they decided to personally speak to deputy commissioner Himani Pande. As she was not in office, the group left a petition demanding immediate cancellation of the housing project.

When The Telegraph contacted the newly appointed deputy labour commissioner Shyam Sundar Pathak, he claimed he was ignorant of the project.

However, PWD (building construction) officials confirmed they were the implementing agency of the project mooted by the labour department in Ranchi.

Executive engineer, building construction (Jamshedpur division) office Sushil Kumar Hansda gave out details.

"The state labour department has decided to set up D and E type residential quarters for its staff on the Sitaramdera grounds. The tender process for the project is on," Hansda told The Telegraph.

"We are just the executing agency for building construction. It is the labour department's baby," he added.

With the matter becoming public now, protests are likely to intensify.

The grounds have been used for activities ranging from cricket and morning walks to socio-cultural events and even for parking during functions hosted by Adivasi Association and GEL Church.

James Tigga, a member of GEL Church, said the labour department had embarked on an "anti-public step, which must be prevented".

Protester Samarjeet Singh said the grounds were free for public use since 80 years. "Generations of children have grown up playing here. There basketball and volleyball courts, too. There is no playground left due to mushrooming of buildings in Sitaramdera. What's more, people use the space for parking when any social, religious or cultural function is held," said Singh.

Rahul Pathak, a resident, added they would not take this lying down. "We are very upset. If the administration does not intervene and stop the labour department, people of this area will fight tooth and nail," he said.

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