Acres of fertile land could be given to set up a power plant in north-eastern Jharkhand. But the farmers in that area are putting up a desperate fight
On December 1, Arjun Yadav received a notice from the sub-divisional magistrate court of Godda, issued under section 107 of the Code of Criminal Procedure, saying he and 22 others could disrupt peace during the social impact assessment (SIA) meeting of Adani Power (Jharkhand) Limited, which was to be held five days later on December 6, 2016. Aside from the curiously pre-emptive quality of the notice, it’s worth noting that Yadav is a landless farmer in his 50s and 70 per cent disabled. Why was he considered a threat?
“It is ridiculous and arbitrary notice. How can the administration send notice to a handicapped person?” said 66-year-old Chinta Mani Bhai, a retired government school teacher. “Do you think that he is even capable of disrupting peace?” Chinta Mani and others believe that these notices were only meant to scare those villagers who are unwilling to toe the line and give their lands for Adani Power’s proposed power plants in Poraiyahat and Godda blocks of Godda district.
The Government of Jharkhand wants thousands of farmers to give up their multi-crop fertile lands for a power plant that Adani Limited will set up. This plant which will sell its entire electricity produce to Bangladesh. On February 17, the state signed a memorandum of understanding (MoU) with Adani Limited. It pledged to invest Rs 15,000 crore to set up the thermal power plant with a total capacity of 1,600 megawatts. While it will get the coal it needs from Jitpur coal block, Adani Limited still needs 2,400 acres of land. As much as 2,120.59 acres out of the 2,385 acres of land identified in Godda belongs to raiyats, title holders of land in Jharkhand.
Until the recent amendments in the native tenancy acts — Chotanagpur Tenancy Act and Santhal Pargana Act — raiyats were not allowed to sell their cultivable land for non-agricultural purposes. In the districts of Godda and Deoghar, the raiyats are usually from upper castes but those ploughing the fields are from lower castes. Neither want to give up fertile land. Two tribal villages – Gangta and Nayabad – have put up small hoardings that read, “Adani officials cannot enter the village without Gram Pradhan’s permission.”
Yet the district administration insists the villagers are willing to offer their land.
The land allocated for Adani Power is in Godda district and has been categorised in five sections – Dhani One, Dhani Two, Dhani Three, Baadi One and Baadi Two. The market rate decided by Land Acquisition Office (LAO) are the following:
|Rs 12.27 lakh per acre
|Rs 9.20 lakh per acre
|Rs 6.13 lakh per acre
|Rs 6.13 lakh per acre
|Rs 7.67 lakh per acre
Source: District Land Acquisition Office, Godda, Jharkhand
The proposal with these rates were issued on November 10 , 2016. As per the Right to Fair Compensation and Transparency in Land Acquisition, Rehabilitation and Resettlement Act, (LARR), 2013, Adani will have to pay four times the market rate to title holders. Chapter three of LARR also stipulates that no irrigated multi-crop land shall be acquired unless it is an exceptional case.
The net sown area – or land on which crop is sown – of Jharkhand amounts to only 28 per cent. The north-eastern border of Jharkhand, through Godda district, forms a chunk of that percentage. Travelling through this area, it’s difficult to find uncultivated farms. Rice is the traditional crop in the area, along with wheat, mustard, maize and lentils. In the past two decades, farmers have also started planting mango and vegetables as a cash crop. Farmers take pride in how richly fertile the land is. Unlike Barkagaon where land for mining may be acquired under Coal Bearing Act, 1957, in Godda, the state government needs to “declare” land acquisition for Adani as an “exceptional case”.
When asked about LARR 2013 and how it applies to Adani Power, District Collector Arvind Kumar refused to discuss the topic with Newslaundry. “We are yet to reach that stage of LARR 2013,” he said. “Let us wait for the detailed report on the impact of this power plant.”
The lathicharge that officially didn’t happen
On December 6, the day of the SIA meeting, Motia was tense from early morning. “The SIA meeting was to start at 9am, but police started terrifying the villagers from 8-8.30 in the morning itself,” said 52-year-old Ravinder Mahto.
The night before, yellow or green slips had been distributed by “company dalals” to those who were willing to give their land or belonged to non-affected villages. While Godda District Commissioner Arvind Kumar maintained these were just “information slips which were not distributed by the administration”, Additional Commissioner Anil Kumar Tirki confirmed that the slips were used to keep certain people out. Even if someone had government-issued identification, they needed to have the slips to be allowed entry into the SIA meeting. “I did question the police on duty at Motia centre. I told them specifically that they can’t stop those having ID proof issued by the government,” said Tirki, who was in charge of the Motia centre.
According to the district administration, the social impact assessment (SIA) meetings at Motia and Buxra happened without incident. There was no lathi charge, no stone-pelting, and no one was hurt. District Collector Arvind Kumar refused to comment on why the proposal even reached the stage of SIA when it is evidently clear that villages in Godda and Poraiyahat have irrigated multi-crop land. “I will not comment anything on the face value. The least I can assure you that we will not favour any company and work according to the laws.”
The locals’ version of events is very different.
Villagers of Baliya Kitta village are convinced that Adani Power and the state administration are hand in glove in an attempt to fleece the farmers in the area. “They have used the land records of 1932 to show that a majority of the land here is not being used for agriculture,” said Vidya Devi, who owns 12 bigha of land. “We are traditionally dependent on agriculture,” said Mahto. He ploughs several acres of land on share-crop basis and now these farms will be acquired by Adani Power.
Before Adani Power is able to set up its plant, a series of social impact assessments (SIA) must be made. This is supposed to ensure that locals are not exploited and nothing is being done without their express consent. The bid to do the social SIA of Adani Power’s proposed project went to Mumbai based-Agriculture Finance Corporation (AFC). Newslaundry accessed the proposal for land acquisition formulated on the basis of analysis of SIA done by AFC from July 14 to 30 October 2016. It also says that Adani will have to pay Rs 5 lakh to the affected raiyats for the loss of employment.
The way the compensation proposal has been formulated raises serious questions. While compensation to title holders was decided as per provisions of the LARR 2013, non-title holders have been excluded from the package. As per the SIA, only 5,339 people from 841 families – all title holders – will be affected by the land acquisition. “If the assessment is done as per clauses of LARR 2013, the number of affected families will be at least four times than what has been recorded in the SIA by the District administration,” said Chinta Mani. Instead, the Santhal Paragana Tenancy Act, 1949, which doesn’t identify the sharing of farms and hence doesn’t include dependents, has been taken as a reference point.
Back to Motia, where on December 6, AFC had called a SIA meeting at the Khadi Centre in Motia. The police had barricaded the compound, which was surrounded by barbed wires. It isn’t clear just how things got out of hand, but Ravinder Thakur, who runs a tea stall nearby, remembers the mayhem well. “They [stones] were being hurled from both sides – police and public,” said Thakur.
At least 40 households in the vicinity of the Khadi Centre say the police lathi-charged and barged into homes. “Police wala ghar mein ghus kar peet raha tha. Pitte hue bola ‘bikas hoga. Company ko jameen dedo’ (As the policemen barged in our houses. While beating us, they said ‘give your land for development’),” said Baaso Devi. “Biklang che beta humara, gode lag chiye babu …chodi daho … Bheeg maangikae beta ke jaan bachae, (I begged in front of them [police] to spare my son — Babu my son is disabled),” remembered 66-year-old Gyana Devi. She alleged that the police beat up her 45-year old disabled son Chedi and hit her with bricks. Bantu Kumar Jha said policemen barged into his house and beat him up, all the while accusing the villagers being involved in the stone-pelting at the meeting. One policeman’s lathi broke while he was beating Jha. He has kept the handle of the broken lathi.
While the State said there was no violence, one source at the district headquarters, on condition of anonymity, said, “Good riddance! The administration and police decided not to deploy armed officers. We didn’t want a repeat of Barkagaon police firings. We didn’t want anyone to die.”
The violence in Motia and Buxra was barely covered in the media. A few local editions of language media publications carried small reports on the violence. One local journalist Nagmani told Newslaundry, “I had footage of police lathi-charge in Motia but SDPO Abhishek Kumar forced me to delete it.”
Power and the people
Long before Adani Limited’s arrival, this part of Jharkhand has seen conflict between corporations and locals. Pradip Yadav, a veteran Jharkhand Vikas Morcha leader, had earlier protested against Jindal Steel and Power Limited’s (JSPL) 1,320 MW power plant in Godda. In 2013, several protesting tribals were detained by police even as President Pranab Mukherjee laid the foundation stone. They had already opened a skill development centre and one industrial training institute (ITI) to train the title-holders of affected villages. However, in 2015, JSPL abandoned the project after the Jitpur coal block that was allocated to them was de-allocated. In March, 2015 Adani won the bid for Jitpur coal block.
The Gujarat-based multinational conglomerate Adani owns several power plants (including solar), a string of ports, an edible oil company and has invested in the mining sector in India and abroad. The group chairman Gautam Adani is amongst the seven Indian billionaires featured in the Bloomberg Billionaires Index. Despite a high debt ratio, Adani Power is amongst the fastest growing power companies in India. Adani Power also runs India’s biggest operational power plant in Mundra, Gujarat.
Our repeated attempts to seek a response from Naresh Goyal, who is in charge of APJL in Godda, did not yield any result.Although cordial, he avoided providing the questions put to him about both the issues surrounding land acquisition and the power plant. Instead he asked us to get in touch with Dinesh Kumar, an official with the power plant project. Newslaundry made several calls to Kumar to seek Adani’s side of the story but he did not respond to our queries. He, in fact, asked the reporter questions about his “hometown” and said, “We are aware of the fact that you are visiting the affected villages for the past two days.”
The story will be updated if and when they chose to respond.
The proposal for Adani Power, clearly says that no family will be displaced due to the power plant it plans to set up. Yet there are provisions that seem to be for the displaced, such as Rs 50,000 for transport and Rs 3,000 salary per month till one year for the displaced families. The issue, however, is not simply limited to the money Adani is offering.
24-year-old Dharmendra Yadav from Buxra “Jo raiyat hai usko ek bhi parchi kahin bhi nahi mila hai — chahe Petwi ho, Ranganiya ho ya Motia ho (Be it raiyats of Petwi, Ranganiya or Motia no one was given entry passes.)” Yadav’s family owns 18 bighas of land. He is not only unwilling to give land but also refutes the claims in the proposal that the Power plant will create new avenues of employment in the area. “I am illiterate, what sort of job will I get in a power plant?” he asked.
The youth and women in these villages argue that the arrival of Adani Power will change their social status. They fear independent “land owners” will become dependent “labours and servants.” The fact that dissident raiyats were not allowed to enter the SIA meeting hasn’t helped assuage these anxieties.
A few kilometres from here, another SIA meeting was convened in a Buxra High school. “I was not allowed to enter the same premises on December 6,” said Baby Devi, 40, whose father-in-law had donated the land on which stands the school where the SIA meeting was convened. “I have 100 bighas of land here in Baliya Kitta, and several bighas in Buxra and Petwi. Despite the fact I was carrying ID card, I was denied entry,” said Baby Devi. “For development, we can give our land to the railway, for school construction but not we won’t give an inch for Adani’s power plant.”
Vidya Devi, also from Baliya Kitta, said, “It is because of these farms that I was comfortably able to get my five daughters married, and the sixth one is doing her graduation.” They earn around Rs 2 lakh from one harvest and the earnings from vegetables and other crops, which form important additions to the family income.
The distrust between the locals and Adani has been aggravated by the police action. Govind Prasad, a 56-year-old from Petwi asked, “What was the reason behind the heavy deployment of police [on December 6]? To threaten us?” Another raiyat, Dharmendra, said, “Today they haven’t allowed us to enter the meeting, how can we trust that they will fulfil their promises?”
At present, the district collector of Godda has to go through the SIA reports. Then, a committee headed up by the district collector will take the final decision about whether Adani Power will be given the acres of Jharkhand that it wants. As Godda waits for the final decision, every passing stranger is viewed with suspicion. When our car crossed Patwi village on the way to Gangta, children playing in a filed stopped. Then, before we could say anything to identify ourselves as journalists, a seven-year-old boy yelled, as though sounding an alarm to the village, “Adani! Adani! Adani!”
The author can be contacted on Twitter @amit_bhardwaz