210 villages would be destroyed, leaving at least 1.5 lakh people homeless over three phases of the project.
Newsclick Image By Nitesh Kumar

After anti-Sterlite protest at Tuticorin in Tamil Nadu, Barkagaon and Kharadi blocks at Hazaribagh district in Jharkhand may witness another round of conflict between the people and the State/companies. With the beginning of opencast mining under the Pakri Barwadih Coal Mine Project that was started by National Thermal Power Corporation (NTPC) for dry fuel, 26 villages are reportedly going to lose existence. Roughly, 16,000 people – all of whom are farmers – will be displaced from the acquired the villages.

The NTPC has contracted the mining project to Thriveni Sainik Mining Private Limited to develop a key Jharkhand coal deposit into a 15 million tonne per annum-mine and run it for its linked thermal power station. Officials of the company are allegedly forcing people to vacate the areas.

“The officers of the company frequently come to the villages and threaten people to vacate the area. They threaten them with police action and imprisonment. They are trying all means – from terrorising people to manipulating facts. With an aim to pursue the villagers to accept the compensation sum, which is being given at rate of Rs 20 lakh/acre, the officials are asking the villagers to receive the fund, otherwise the company will deposit it into the state treasury,” Mohammad Iliyas, a local activist, told Newsclick.

But the villagers appear to be hell-bent that they won’t give their land to NTPC at any cost. They allege no laid-down procedures of the land acquisition have been followed by the government. “The consent of the gram panchayat (village panchayat) for land acquisition has either not been obtained or has been manipulated. The government is using its might to evict us so that it can ensure profits for the corporates, but we are not going to cow down. We will fight till the end. Talk about agriculture and development. Don’t try to snatch our livelihood, which depends on agriculture,” said another resident Kartik Ganju.

An e-mail sent to the NTPC’s sub-contractor (Thriveni Sainik) by Newsclick seeking clarification on the allegation of threats of forcible eviction has remained unanswered.

The phase one of the project – which is for 39 years and will affect seven villages – has a leased area of 3,319.42 hectare. Of this – according to the environment clearance letter – 643.9 hectare is forestland, 1950.51 hectare is agricultural land, 159.64 hectare is barren and wasteland, 435 hectare is grazing land, 101.22 hectare is human settlements and 29.15 hectare includes roads and seasonal nalas (drains).

Barkagaon Reserve Forest is situated within the core zone and in the buffer zone. There are endangered fauna such as sloth bears in the mining area. Ghagri river flows south of the mining land at a distance of 1.5 km from West to East. Hahro river flows at a distance of 1.5 km south of the mining land from Southwest to Northern direction.

The seven villages that come under phase one are Chirudih, Itiz, Nagadi, Arhara, Pakri-Barwadih, Dadikalan and Chepakalan. Majority of the residents here depend on agriculture. They do not have any other source of income. The complete acquisition of the land in these villages will impact the livelihood of more than 7,000 people.

The residents here are so terrified that they do not want to talk to the media fearing police wrath. The project was flagged off on February 16, 2017 and mining began on October 1 the same year; it led to a deadly protest in which, four people died, including three children. At least 10 persons had suffered bullet injuries in the incident. Hundreds of people are still languishing in jail.

Apart from livelihood issues, several other problems, challenging the villagers’ existence, have begun arising. “All ponds and wells have dried up because of the opencast mining, creating extreme shortage of water. The loud blasts during mining damage our houses. Children and women are suffering from several diseases. In addition, there are several problems. In nutshell, the government has made our lives hell so that we fall in line to satisfy its needs,” said Deepak Kumar Das, an anti-mining activist.

There are at least 36 coal blocks in Barkagaon and Karadi blocks where mining will be done in three phases, which will cause disappearance of 210 villages. If locals are to be believed, more than 1.5 lakh people will be affected.

No more government funds

The allocations made by the government under the Mahatma Gandhi National Rural Employment Guarantee Act (MNREGA) have allegedly been stopped. The village heads (mukhiya) have reportedly been directed to stop spending the funds given to them for the development of their respective panchayats because the land has been acquired by the company, which is now responsible for all relief development works of the areas.

R&R is mere a lip service?

With regard to the rehabilitation and resettlement and CSR policy, the NTPC makes big claims such as construction of R&R colony having all modern facilities. The company – as it claims – is also conducting CSR activities in the project-affected areas on a regular basis. Whether it is related to skill development, women empowerment, education, health or welfare activity, the NTPC is purportedly doing everything.

For skill development of youths, claims the state-owned power producer, it is providing various types of training through its ITI, for professions like welder, fitter and electrician. For women empowerment, the company along with Jharcraft and Co-operative society – as it claims – is giving the training of sewing machine operation.

Giving further details of R&R activities, an NTPC official told Newsclick that the NTPC Pakri Barwadih has converted over 15 schools into model schools in the project-affected areas. It also reportedly provided various kinds of educational aids such as study material, school uniform, and scholarships to meritorious students, books for library, mobile lab for science students etc.

He further said the company organises health camps, at least 15-16 in a month, at regular intervals in schools and villages and distributes free medicines. “Lady gynaecologist has also been deployed for medical examination for women. Through Swachh Bharat Campaign, NTPC has launched an awareness program and is making people aware about the benefits of proper sanitation,” he added.

However, locals rubbish the claims terming them as merely a “lip service”. “The R&R colony built for rehabilitation of the affected is not up to the mark. It has been built with poor quality of materials. Several houses fell down in the rainy season following which, the government had stayed its construction. But it has once again begun,” said Iliyas.

When asked about other claims of education, skill development and health, another local – who did not wish to be named – said, “Everything is there on paper. We have not so far seen anything as claimed on the ground. The company’s R&R is nothing but a farce.”