Adani vs Villagers: the fight for land rights and water resources in Jharkhand

Farmers in Mali, Motia villages in Godda and Poreyahat blocks that vote on May 19 say BJP’s Nishikant Dubey, who has represented them since 2009, has failed to defend their rights.

ByAnumeha Yadav
Adani vs Villagers: the fight for land rights and water resources in Jharkhand
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On a hot May afternoon, several women had gathered on the side of a road near Godda’s Motia village. With a blazing sun overhead, the women were waiting for their turn to draw water from the only well near their village that still had adequate water levels.

Reena Yadav sat on the well’s embankment as she threw a steel bucket down. Yadav said it was common for women to fetch water during blazing afternoons, or at odd hours at night. “Majboori hai (there is no choice). We come here for water at odd hours at night, such as midnight, or 1 am, 2 am, or when the sun is at its peak to avoid crowding here,” she said. Manisha Yadav, who was waiting for her turn, added: “Water has become very scarce. Where will we go if it goes on like this?”

Women and children fetch water in the blazing May heat to avoid crowding at the only well
with adequate drinking water

While they spoke, several tractors pulling sand-filled trolleys went past them on the road nearby. The vehicles were headed to the under-construction power plant of Adani Power (Jharkhand) Limited, a few hundred metres from the well.

Motia village in Godda district lies more than 350 km from Jharkhand’s capital Ranchi, close to the state’s border with West Bengal. It is one of the 10 villages where the state government is acquiring fertile farmland for Adani Power Limited to set up a 1,600-megawatt plant, which will run on imported coal and sell the power generated to Bangladesh.

In 2017, while acquiring land for the project (the company initially asked for nearly 2,120 acres), the state government’s top officials justified the land acquisition saying the project would employ “10,000 persons” and would mean a ₹15,000 crore investment in the state. But the residents of Motia village in Godda block and Mali in Poreyahat block—where the Adani project is to come up—say the only livelihood generated has been a handful of temporary contracts for supplying sand to the building contractors. The administration stated that the project affects 840 families. But since public hearings for the project took place in December 2016 and March 2017, several farmers, especially sharecroppers and small farmers, have strongly resisted giving up their land.

In Motia, farmers say they have been coerced into giving up their land. Those who are still cultivating their land say they are no longer able to grow multiple crops as before because the groundwater is drying up with the company drawing up large quantities of underground water.

“We never had water shortages like this,” said Balram Mandal, standing on a barren plot of land in front of his home in Motia. Mandal owns 2.4 acres jointly with his two brothers. “I brought up three sons and a daughter and paid for their education from my farm income from paddy and wheat. At this time, I would grow irrigated crops of cauliflower, okra, gourds worth ₹70,000-80,000. But after the project work started, the wells have dried up, there is no water left.”

Balram Mandal said he is no longer able to cultivate vegetables to supplement his income after the water table started falling drastically, after the company began construction activities near Motia village.

Seeta Mandal, his wife, was among those injured with cuts on her wrist from police batons when the public hearing for the project had turned violent in 2017.

In 2016, Amit Bhardwaj had reported on the matter.

Across the road in Mali village, Santhal farmers said in the past six months, the water table has fallen drastically by 6-10 feet. “Wells are drying up. Where there was water at 40 feet, now it is not there even at 45 feet,” said Paneswar Hembrom, a farmer. “The company is drawing water in massive quantities. Jharkhand has rocky land. If water falls any further, we will have no water left and are going to die.”

In Motia, with farming no longer being viable, Mandal’s son Rajeev Mandal said he had recently bought a noodle-making machine for ₹90,000 to start his own enterprise. But he said he was struggling because the village barely gets power for 30 minutes continuously for him to be able to operate the machine. “The company has said that it will supply 25 per cent of electricity produced to Jharkhand after giving three-fourths of it to Bangladesh. But we do not trust its claims. As of now, we get electricity for only ten minutes at a time on some days.”

Rajeev Mandal recently bought a noodle-making machine.

Matuki Matha, a farmer in Motia, said: “Everyone appreciates what Modiji has done in Pakistan, but in Jharkhand, the issue is land acquisition. Modi has decided Jharkhand’s farmers will have to give up their land. We will be left with nothing.”

The stir by Godda’s farmers has been actively supported by Jharkhand Vikas Morcha (Prajatantrik)’s Pradeep Yadav, a local member of the Poreyahat legislative Assembly. In 2017, Yadav spent five months in prison after he was arrested from Gaighat village while on an indefinite strike as part of his party’s agitation against land acquisition for the Adani Group citing “public purpose”. In the 2014 polls, Yadav received 1.93 lakh votes and stood third after Congress candidate Furkhan Ansari. Yadav is now the Mahagathbandhan candidate against Nishikant Dubey, the incumbent MP from the Bharatiya Janata Party who had won the last elections with 3.8 lakh votes.

In Mali in Godda’s Poreyahat, there is anger against the BJP for the party’s stand on land acquisition and over its economic development model.

Seeta Murmu, a Santhal farmer in Mali, recounted that the company’s contractors had overrun her standing crop of paddy with a bulldozer last August to force the family to vacate the 17 bighas they cultivated jointly. “Jharkhand Mukti Morcha (JMM), JVM-P, representatives of all political parties came here the next day after the company dug out our crop to coerce us,” she said. “A leader from the Congress told us we ought to take the money and move away now. The MP Nishikant Dubey came days later and he first went to visit the company. What is the use of such a political representative who cannot do anything for the poor?”

Seeta Murmu and Lakhimai Murmu point out to the plot where their paddy crop was overrun by bulldozers in Mali in August.

Matha, the farmer in Motia said: “Here, even a murder accused is out of prison on bail in three months. But they kept our MLA in jail for five months because he had upset Modi and the company.”

Acquisition of farmland for the industry is a contentious issue in this election. In June 2016, the Raghubar Das-led BJP government had moved an ordinance to amend the Santhal Pargana Tenancy Act enacted by the British after the Santhal Adivasi rebellion of 1855, which governs Scheduled Areas in the Santhal Pargana. Godda district is located in Santhal Pargana. This proposal did not get the governor’s approval. The government then amended the Right to Fair Compensation, and Transparency in Land Acquisition, Rehabilitation and Resettlement Act, 2013, a new law meant to reduce conflict over land acquisition by allowing a greater voice to affected communities. It created a new category of projects for which the social impact assessment requirement was waived off.

In Godda, which has been one of the epicentres of land struggles, the protesting farmers have now approached the Jharkhand High Court to quash the acquisition of agricultural and common property land, and return it to those farming it.

In their petition filed on February 4, 16 residents from Motia and Mali and other affected villages cited several illegalities including violations of the land acquisition law of 2013. The project was also challenged by Ramamurthi Sreedhar, environmental scientist and activist in the National Green Tribunal, because though the Adani Group’s thermal plant received environment clearance citing that it would use water from Chir river in Jharkhand, after the clearance, the company switched the water source from Chir to the Ganga river.

In Godda, Chintamani Mandal, a retired schoolteacher who is one of the petitioners in the high court, alleged that though the company has not got access to rivers’ water, in the past four months, it has done a number of underground borings all around its boundary. This affected the villagers’ access to groundwater. “On record, the company did not show the use of underground water. But they have got four borings done in front of my house alone,” he said. “Ostensibly, the borings are done on the plots of farmers by paying them off, these run all along the boundary. This is a lip-service to show on-record that the borings are not done inside their plant, but they are extracting groundwater drastically.”

Nishikant Dubey, who has been elected as the MP from Godda twice since 2009, raised the question of drinking water shortage in his constituency in Parliament in 2018 and this year in February. He said that tubewells were not successful and for Poreyahat villages, he asked that these be linked to the Suggabathan reservoir. Dubey did not refer to the impact the proposed power plant will have on the existing water resources of the area.

“The Adani power project has now been challenged in courts, so let the courts decide what it is to happen to it,” he told Newslaundry. On being asked about the project’s acquisition of farmers’ land despite their registering protests at public hearings, Dubey said: “I have maintained that all acquisition be based on farmers’ voluntary consent. Whatever land the company has got, it has got. There will be no more acquisition for now.”

Louis Marandi, Jharkhand’s minister for social welfare who is also from Santhal Pargana, told Newslaundry, “As far as I am aware, no Santhal farmers’ land is being acquired. Whoever has given land has done so voluntarily. Adani Group is a large, reputed company, and they would obviously follow all norms.”

Godda district collector Kiran Kumari Passi did not respond to questions on the phone with respect to the farmers’ claims that groundwater was being drawn illegally by the company. “I do not see how this issue is related to the elections, it is a political question,” she said, before disconnecting the phone call. She did not respond to further text messages.

Adani Power hasn’t responded to a questionnaire emailed to them on May 14. This copy will be updated as and when they respond.


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