India: People who gave up land for energy deserted
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India: People who gave up land for energy deserted

The villagers here are employed at the nearby mines as labourers. The daily wage fixed by the government is Rs 156, yet the contractor rarely pays them Rs 100. Anyone who raises the issue with either the contractor or company officials gets himself blacklisted from the roll.

The village in question is Chilika Daad in the Sonebhadra district of coal-rich Singrauli region in India’s Uttar Pradesh state. It stands out as a cruel example of people being displaced several times by different projects and rendered only poor rehabilitation.

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Anpara Thermal Power Plant on the outskirts of Dibulganj, UP. Photo: Greenpeace/Sudhanshu Malhotra

Ramshubhag Shukla, a resident affected by these mining projects, says: “The employment status of this village is very bad. The National Thermal Power Corporation (NTPC) promised us employment when they acquired our land and out of the 600 families displaced, 200 were given class IV jobs [the lowest grade of employment in the government sector] in NTPC.”

The story of this village, like many others in the region, is one of a paradox. The Singrauli region spreads across the states of Uttar Pradesh (Sonebhadra district) and Madhya Pradesh (Sidhi and Singrauli districts) and has been for a long time promoted as India’s energy capital. To this day, it continues to be considered as South Asia’s biggest industrial area. Today, Singrauli’s landscape hosts some of the oldest thermal power stations and operational coal mines in India, set up by NTPC and Northern Coalfields Ltd (NCL). There is also an aluminum smelting plant, and other industrial and commercial operations.

A fact-finding team from Greenpeace India recently found that the lack of basic facilities in the villages in the region is striking. Health centres, functioning schools, clean water facilities, and even electricity are absent. The team’s report ‘Singrauli: The Coal Curse’ captures this paradox that is Singrauli: the energy capital of the country that lights up cities and powers industries, but has left the people who forfeited their land for the greater “public good” with precious little.

The only access to Chilika Daad is through a narrow underpass, over which runs a railway line that transports coal. The first thing one sees on entering the village is the huge overburden of the NCL’s Khadia mine standing precariously a mere 50 metres away. The village is surrounded on one side by the railway line, the other by the haul road that transports coal in trucks from the mine, and on the third side by the NTPC thermal power plant in Shaktinagar.

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Ash pond of Anpara Thermal Power Plant. Photo: Greenpeace/Sudhanshu Malhotra

The Khadia mining project began in 1981, years after the Chilika Daad village panchayat had been rehabilitated to this location. The villagers protested against the mines for two years, but were eventually forced to concede to government plans. Now, due to the blasting in the mines, every single house has a cracked ceiling or a cracked wall.

Ayodhya Gupta shares: “Blasting happens twice every day. The area shakes as if there has been an earthquake. Look at our houses. There is not a single building in the village that does not have cracks in the ceiling and walls. There have also been instances of houses collapsing.”

According to Narmada Prasad Kushwaha, a project-affected person from the village: “People displaced by Rihand Reservoir were first settled nearby. However the government had misjudged the catchment area of the reservoir and soon, in 1962, people again got displaced as the area they settled in was taken over by the water. The people then bought land in Kota [a place near the Khadia mines in Singrauli] with the compensation that they got and settled there.

“In 1977 the land was again notified and acquired by NTPC for its Shaktinagar themal power plant, a fifteen day notice was given and there were forced evictions. They got compensation worth Rs 2000/acre at that time and were rehabilitated to this place [Chilika Daad]. Each person got plots of thirty by fifty feet, which is in NTPC’s name. People built their own houses.”

Ramadhar Mishra sums up: “First the village was relocated and then the railway line and NCL overburden came. We were cheated.”

The sixteen villages of this panchayat have been surrounded by the NTPC’s Shaktinagar plant, a mine overburden and a railway line since the late 1970s. Neither the companies, nor the government machinery have bothered to deliver on the many promises made to the people.

There is a damning reason why the villagers feel cheated. Ramnarayan, a resident of Chilika Daad, explains: “We were given pattas [title deeds] in 1995. We only got awasi patta [right to live on the land] so we cannot sell this land; we don’t even get a loan against the patta.”

Singrauli has witnessed a spiral of development-induced displacement as land has been appropriated for dams, reservoirs, coal mines, power plants and waste disposal areas. Support infrastructure for this industry has also come up in the form of rail lines for coal linkages for power plants, roads for coal transportation as well as housing and recreational facilities for the employees of the various industries operating in the area. The people who belonged here have lost their land and their traditional livelihoods and gained little in return.

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Landscape view of the region. Photo: Greenpeace/Sudhanshu Malhotra

The fact-finding team, comprising Suresh Hosbet, Kalpana Kannabiran, Paranjoy Guha Thakurta and R Sreedhar, found that in addition to the broken promises of infrastructure, employment and better life, the rehabilitation packages neither took care of whole families nor of future generations. Landless persons were completely deprived of any manner of compensation, and left with no prospect of livelihood.

Unemployment, therefore, is a major issue. Unfortunately, this is compounded by the companies exploiting the region’s resources. Acute unemployment is one of the biggest issues in the Singrauli area. As revealed by documents obtained under the RTI (Right to Information) Act, 2,205 people were promised jobs by the Anpara Thermal Power Plant alone, but only 234 received employment in reality. Statements by villagers from Kuldumri Panchayat in the Sonebhadra district corroborate the evidence gathered in these documents.

Kuldumri resident, Ramchandra Jaiswal, says: “Lanco and Anpara companies assured us in writing that they will give us employment by the 30th May, at the rate of 300 people every month. But nothing seems to move even now. How can we believe that the new projects will give us jobs when the previous projects have just not delivered?”

The fact-finding team concluded: “As large tracts of agricultural lands, common lands and forest continue to be overtaken for sweeping industrial expansion, direct and indirect displacement of communities can only continue to increase. With pre-existing issues of environmental degradation, displacement and deprivation of local communities screaming for attention, the coming days in Singrauli are going to throw many uncomfortable realities in the face of India’s reckless energy push.”