Chhattisgarh: For the past few months, Sandeep Kanwar - the son of Nankiram Kanwar, Chhattisgarh`s home minister – whom villagers identify as "mantri ka beta" (minister`s son), has been regularly visiting the village of Gaul. He is the chief of BJP`s Anusuchit Janjaati Morcha or Scheduled Tribes Front, Korba.
Of lately, Sandeep Kanwar has been appointed the public relations officer of Videocon group, which is setting up a 1200 MW power plant in Gaud and neighbouring villages of Bhada, Gadapalli, Akaltari, Kewa.
Gaud is all set to become India`s biggest power hub. Thirty-six thermal power plants are coming up here, the largest cluster of power projects anywhere in the country.
The projected farmland required for these projects is 960 acres, out of which 198 acres was approved by the state government last December.
But the twist in the tale is that buying began much before and, in the course, a spiral of corporate and political interests is profiting at the cost of the poor and powerless, with tribal farmers among the worst affected.
Since the project met with hurdles in terms of protests, the state industries department was forced to grant a stay to the approval given to Videocon to buy land.
Since Kanwar is a local, few see him as representing a private company. Villagers say his constant visits have intimidated several families into selling their land.
According to the Chhattisgarh Land Revenue Code, Section 165 (6), tribal land cannot be sold to a non-tribal without the District Collector`s permission. The law was enacted in Madhya Pradesh in 1959 and it seeks to protect vulnerable tribal communities from being dispossessed of their land by powerful groups.
However, over the decades, land agents have perfected a way to find cracks in the system - propping up a tribal buyer as a front.
He would buy small land holdings from several tribals. Once enough land is accumulated, he seeks the Collector`s permission to sell it to the actual buyer, keeping a small chunk to satisfy the condition that, as a tribal, he has not been reduced to being landless.
As the son of Chhattisgarh`s highest ranking tribal minister, who is no stranger in his own land, Kanwar is the best "front" a company could find.
How does Kanwar acting as a front for Videocon affect poor farmers? One villager sold his entire land of 4.07 acres to Kanwar for Rs 11,21,000. This works out to be less than Rs 3 lakh per acre, not even half of Rs 8 lakh, which is the minimum rate for single crop land under Chhattisgarh`s revised rehabilitation policy of 2010.
Not only the villager in question was cheated of fair price, he also lost all claims to rehabilitation since he sold his land not to the company but to Kanwar. In effect, he cannot stake claim to employment or any other benefit in lieu of the land, although his land was taken over by the company.
While poor tribal farmers lose out, Kanwar stands to make a neat profit when he re-sells the same land to the company. The company, in turn, reduces its liabilities and rehabilitation responsibilities.
Officials confirmed that the company`s public hearing scheduled for April was postponed. In a letter to the District Collector on April 1, the industry department placed a stay on the approval given to the company to purchase land in Gaud, Bhada, Gadapalli and nearby villages.
Officials also confirmed that complaints led to postponement of the project`s public hearing scheduled in the same month. And the industries department has taken back the "in principle approval" for land purchase.