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Land Acquisition by Coal Companies in Jharkhand


Issn 0012-9976

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Land Acquisition by Coal Companies in Jharkhand

untala Lahiri-Dutt and others (“Land Acquisition and Dispossession: Private Coal Companies in Jharkhand”, EPW, 11 February 2012), touch on several important issues, but with a sophistication which is expected from academics. The piece, however, portrays only the tip of the iceberg; the grass-roots situation is much more serious and tense. Land acquisition by privately-owned coal mining companies has assumed very sinister proportions. This letter is to bring some more examples to the attention of EPW readers.

Early this February Mohit Ram went to the District Record Room to get a copy of his land kathiyan. He was told there that the papers of the old records had disintegrated, and that now nothing could be done to get them. Sometime later he was approached by a local person, well known in the area, who showed him this, his very kathiyan, and offered to buy the land from him. This man, it turned out on enquiry, had been given the document by the company, which wants to mine the Moitra coal block. Apparently, this company had already procured from the same District Record Room, at a price, all the kathiyans of the area they wanted to mine, and had then distributed them among various middlemen. These middlemen now track down the owners of the land, and persuade the owners to sell to them. These middlemen then, in turn sell to the company and receive many hundred times more than what they give the original owner. And the company gets their land. And the administration?

On 15 February a few days after the publication of Lahiri-Dutt’s article, there was a public hearing in Hazaribagh Town Hall for environmental clearance of Tenughat-Empta Coal Mining, to mine Gondalpura and Badam coal blocks in Karanpura Valley of Hazaribagh district. There were two parties, one, those who were ready to give their land, mainly landowners who had their residence outside the mining area, and, two, those living in the to-be-mined area, who

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would lose their fields and be displaced. The latter were very apprehensive, because to date the company has not been able to say anything about its plans for either their resettlement or livelihood rehabilitation.

The administration set the venue as Hazaribagh Town Hall, 40 km from the affected site, not at a site convenient for the people, in contravention of the norms of public hearings. The press reported that the venue was like a police cantonment, gates open wide enough for only for one person at a time, who had to stoop below a chest high bamboo staff to enter. The party in favour of the company came wearing white gamchas for clear recognition. They had spent the night before in a local hotel courtesy the company so that they would be on hand for an early start. They were easily admitted; those who came from the affected villages arrived later, and a large number were denied admission.

Early in the proceedings, in the venue hall, a scuffle broke out between the two parties, some went on to the stage and damaged the mike and furniture, there was a police lathi charge, and some moments of chaos. The anti-displacement group claim they did not recognise any of those doing this damage, and that it was a set-up by goondas booked for the occasion to discredit them. The superintendent of police soon took control, and after this violence the district commissioner (DC), also present, took charge and conducted the proceedings. A private videographer whom the anti- displacement people had engaged to video shoot the proceedings for them was challenged, and his video camera confiscated by the police. In a quieter atmosphere the DC asked various persons of his choice what they thought and if they were in favour of or against the mines. Only one person suggested to the DC that he was asking the wrong question, that this was meant to be an environmental enquiry.

Environmental issues, as suggested in Lahiri-Dutt’s article, were not raised. After the hearing, the private videographer and his assistant, and about 12 other persons were charged under

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Economic & Political Weekly


various sections of the Indian Penal Code, bail having been refused at the time of writing. The offi cial videographer continued his work; his video will be sent to the Ministry of Environment and Forests as evidence of this impartial and fruitful environmental hearing.

However, it is not the public hearings, manipulated or not, which are the main issue. Only in Karanpura Valley, we have 23 coal mining blocks, given to a variety of companies, both public sector undertakings and privately-owned.

The key issue is that although given out separately, these coal blocks are all next to one another, even overlapping. The core area of one is the buffer zone of another. However, each company presents its project as “this one only”, with a separate Environmental Impact Assesment (EIA) and public hearing for each. At best, this is misleading, at worst, deceitful, and potentially courting disaster. The social and environmental impact is compounded by multiple projects. The local river can carry the run-off from any one mine, there is no way it can carry the run-off from all the mines. This stream is the source of water for bathing, for washing, water for animals, water for agriculture

– for inhabitants all along its course, downstream as well. Yet its destruction as a viable source of water is not mentioned in any public hearing, or in any one EIA. This combined impact is hidden, ultimately the people bear the cost.

The second important issue is that the administration can resettle and rehabilitate the displaced of any one project, there is no way they will be able to do so for all those to be displaced in the 210 villages. There are tens of thousands of people in the Karanpura Valley, maybe many can be resettled in colonies on

0.05 ha of land, but there is no way they can all be economically rehabilitated, even with the best of good intentions, even with the best of rehabilitation policies, and even with full implementation (which is yet to be seen in any place). The present policy is to give monetary compensation, but that leaves large numbers of people without anything. Where do they go?

As we write this, Hindustan Times reports that the Border Security Force is

Economic & Political Weekly

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to raise four new battalions and is recruiting a further 1,200 for its training centre at Hazaribagh, this in order to boost the centre’s anti-Naxalite operations. In view of predictable future social turmoil in the area, they will probably need many more than that.

Nirmal Mahato


Tarring the Koodankulam Movement

e are dismayed and pained at the government’s campaign of vilifi cation of the sustained popular movement against the Koodankulam nuclear plant, which has raised vital issues of atomic safety. These issues have assumed pivotal importance worldwide after the Fukushima disaster, the world’s fi rst multiple-reactor meltdown. Prime Minister Manmohan Singh has trivialised the movement, and the fi ve monthslong relay fast by thousands of people, by attributing it to “the foreign hand”, or western non-governmental organisations, without citing even remotely credible evidence.

This is part of a growing, dangerous tendency to delegitimise dissent. If we reduce genuine differences and disagreements with official positions to mere plots of “subversion” by “the foreign hand”, there can be no real engagement with ideas, and no democratic debate through which divergences can be reconciled. Absence of debate on nuclear safety, itself a life-and-death matter, can only impoverish the public discourse and our democracy. The “foreign hand” charge sounds especially bizarre because the government has staked all on installing foreign-origin reactors and tried to

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dilute the Nuclear Liability Act under foreign pressure.

The claim that all is well with our expansion-oriented nuclear power programme sounds hollow in the absence of an independent, thorough, transparent review by a broadly representative body, which includes non-Department of Atomic Energy personnel and civil society representatives. Some of us called for this 10 months ago. But the government ignored our plea. Its attitude to nuclear hazards is worrisome given its abysmal and persistent failure to protect Indian citizens’ lives and rights in the Bhopal gas disaster.

We urge the government to cease harassment and persecution of activists of the anti-nuclear movements in Koodankulam and other sites, to drop concocted charges against them, and instead to resume dialogue. Until people’s fears and concerns are allayed, all nuclear power plant construction must be halted. There must be no use of force – categorically, and regardless of the circumstances. Ramming nuclear plants down the throats of unwilling people will usher in a police state. A Gopalakrishnan, Alaka Basu, Amar Jesani, Amit Bhaduri, Amita Baviskar, Anuradha Chenoy, Arundhati Roy, Ashis Nandy, Deepa Dhanraj, Deepak Nayyar, Dipankar Gupta, EAS Sharma, Gabriele Dietrich, Harsh Mander, Justice B G Kolse-Patil, Justice H Suresh, Kumkum Roy, Admiral L Ramdas, Maj Gen S G Vombatkere, Mary John, Mukul Kesavan, Mukul Sharma, Nandini Gooptu, Nirupam Sen, Nandini Sundar, P M Bhargava, Prashant Bhushan, Ramchandra Guha, Romila Thapar, S P Shukla, Shabnam Hashmi, Sumit Sarkar, Uma V Chandru, Vineeta Bal, Admiral Vishnu Bhagwat, Zoya Hasan and a number of others

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