Ranchi: Can a state chief minister go out of his way to help a company grab land, triple the size of a project, get the project shifted, and, to top it all, help get a coal block with 212 million tonne reserves allotted to it?
Arjun Munda, Jharkhand Chief Minister, seems to have done all that.
He has granted massive favours to the coal-and-loan-scam-tainted Abhijeet Group, helping it set up a 2.5 million tonne per annum (MTPA) integrated steel plant in the Kharsawa-Saraikela district of Jharkhand, which is his constituency.
An investigation by DNA shows that Munda not only wrote a recommendation letter to the coal minister for allocating a coal block to Corporate Ispat Alloys Ltd (CIAL), a subsidiary of the Abhijeet Group, but also facilitated a massive land grab.
CIAL signed a memorandum of understanding with Jharkhand on March 26, 2004, for setting up a 0.75 MTPA steel plant in Latehar district with a proposed investment of Rs1,335 crore.
Munda then wrote a letter to Dasari Narayan Rao, then minister of state for coal, on August 20, 2004, recommending that the Chittarpur coal block in North Karanpura be allotted to CIAL. This block has a whopping 212 million tonne reserves of coal.
DNA has reviewed this letter written by Munda, which said because CIAL is setting up a 0.75 MTPA steel plant in the backward district of Jharkhand, the state recommends that the Chitarpur coal block be given to the company.
“I shall be grateful if you could kindly issue appropriate instructions to the concerned officials of the coal ministry in this matter in the interest of economic development of the backward district of Jharkhand,” the letter written by Munda says.
On September 2, 2005, the coal ministry allotted the block to CIAL.
Three years after getting the coal block, CIAL signed a new memorandum of understanding on August 14, 2008, with Jharkhand under which it proposed to change the site of the project and triple its size to 2.5 MTPA from 0.75 MTPA.
“The company mysteriously changed the location of the plant to Kharsawa, which is Munda’s constituency. Today, most of the contracting work for the plant is being done by friends and loyalists of Munda,” said Krishna Gagrai, a land activist who is fighting cases against illegal possession of tribal and government land by power and mining companies.
After changing the location of the plant, CIAL started acquiring land for the project. The company got hold of approximately 170 acres and allegedly captured another 151 acres, alleges Gagrai.
Without grant of lease for land, any construction by Abhijeet Group was illegal, said Ravi Kumar, Gagrai’s lawyer.
A questionnaire emailed to the Abhijeet Group went unanswered.
Following the encroachment, the affected people of Kharsawa started an agitation and filed several cases against CIAL. In two of these cases -- DNA has reviewed the evidence placed -- the circle officer of Kharsawa admitted that CIAL has indeed encroached upon the land.
On June 6, 2012, the circle officer instructed CIAL to vacate the land. He ordered that CIAL vacate 20.27 acres of Mouza Kolburudih within six days or by June 12.
For other encroachments, legal battles are going on, said Gagrai.
The 151 acres that CIAL encroached upon comprised 9.04 acre of gochar (cattle grazing) land, 79.31 acre of bandobasti (government) land, 2.69 acre of Public Works Department land, 9.39 acre of nala (culvert), 2.21 acre of talao (pond), 40.19 acre of forcibly encroached land and 8.96 acre of Bhoodan (land that was gifted by its owners to the poor) land. Gagrai said he filed a case in the Jharkhand high court in 2011 against the encroachment.
“In my view the high court decision will set a precedent, as all companies will now start encroaching and then claim that it has proceeded as per MoU with state government, and because massive work has already been done, say allow us to complete our project. I will now appeal to the Supreme Court against this decision,” said Gagrai.
Explaining the company’s modus operandi, Pradip Yadav, leader of Jharkhand Vikas Morcha in the state legislative assembly, said CIAL first forcibly encroached the land assuming that it will get final possession with the help of state machinery.
“CIAL had acquired land by paying Rs2-2.5 lakh per acre at a time when the market rate for the land is many times more. Moreover, how could it capture land forcibly and then file an application to the state government for regularising it?” asked Babulal Marandi, the first chief minister of Jharkhand and president of Jharkhand Vikas Morcha.
On March 21 this year, the state land revenue minister, Mathura Mahto, gave an assurance to the assembly that encroached land will be taken back soon. But on June 13, 2012, the Jharkhand cabinet passed the resolution to give back 44.54 acres to CIAL and issued a notice on June 16 on this issue.
DNA has in its possession all the documents related to the development.
Marandi said CIAL could not have encroached without the active backing of Munda and the state government.
“The Abhijeet Group is being supported by leaders of both Congress and BJP in coal, loan and land scam,” alleged Marandi.
“The Munda government dealt with the poor, who had encroached on government land, with a very heavy hand, at times also resorting to police firing against agitations by encroachers, but when it comes to big corporates, it never took any action,” said Marandi.
“Six people died in two firings incidents in Dhanbad and Ranchi in an agitation led by the poor in 2011, but why is the government not taking any action against encroachment done by big corporates like the Abhijeet Group?” he asked.