State's prime farm lands caught in 'power' grab
Raipur: India may soon lose about 40,000 acres of prime double-crop agriculture land to dozens of upcoming power projects in Chhattisgarh's Janjgir-Champa district, farmers and activists allege while the government insists that efforts will be made to spare private farming land.
Janjgir-Champa district has nearly 80 percent of its land under irrigation and has a track record of producing 34-35 quintals of paddy from a hectare compared to the average 16-17 quintals per hectare in other districts of central India.
But in the next three to five years, the district will become India's power hub as the state government has signed 34 separate contracts with power companies to set up coal-fired plants there.
If the deals are fully implemented, this district alone will generate over 40,000 MW of power.
In the process, these projects will eat up not less than 40,000 acres of the country's best cultivated fertile land.
However, Chief Minister Raman Singh has said the state government will try to ensure that maximum government land is made available for these projects in a bid to spare prime private farm land.
Navneet Singh, a farmer from Nariyara village, knows what is happening from up close. His four-acre double-crop land has been taken over by one of the power companies that plans a 3,600 MW plant in the village.
"I can't understand the logic of allowing power companies to start projects on prime agriculture land. This decision (to give land to power plants) will destroy the happy life of thousands of farmers," Singh rued.
About 150 villagers were cane-charged and arrested in January while protesting against alleged forcible land acquisition by companies.
The protest has now spilled over to other areas of Janjgir-Champa.
Jawahar Dube, a former legislator who launched a protest campaign in the district against what he calls "loot of prime land by industries", said: "The power companies' agents are forcibly acquiring farmers land at throwaway prices. If this is not stopped urgently, thousands of farmers' families will be forced to prefer suicide deaths in a few years."
The feeling is shared by Raghuveer Singh, district panchayat member.
He said: "Wherever you go in the district, you will find company agents working out land deals with innocent farmers. Surprisingly the government is silent."
What is the need for allowing about three dozen power plants in a single district that has 80 percent agricultural land producing high yield, he asked.
According to Singh, the farmers feel that the government has targeted the lands of Janjgir-Champa only because "it's the only district in Chhattisgarh completely free from Maoist trouble and the companies will face no problems."
Former chief minister and senior Congress leader Ajit Jogi said: "It's a blind favour given to industries at the cost of farmers' interests. The state government is so blind to prefer power plants that it handed over the dam Rogda to a private company.
"I went to several villages in the district recently to join local people's protests against power plants and I found the farmers were upset with the state government for such a foolish move."
However, Raman Singh, who heads the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) government since December 2003, remained positive that the land deals will not affect the farmers.
"For one thing, signing a Memorandum of Understandings (MoU) with a number of power companies and the actual implementation of all the MoUs are different subjects. I don't think every company that has signed the MoU will get coal linkage or coal block from the government of India because it is not available in such large numbers in the district.
"Only those companies that are showing progress on the projects will get land. Also, efforts are made to keep as much double-crop land as possible out of acquisition," Singh said.
But Virendra Pandey, Chhattisgarh's former finance commission chairman, said that almost all the companies that have entered into MoUs are setting up plants.
"According to figures available to me, companies in Janjgir-Champa are acquiring majority of private lands which are all irrigation-covered double-crop."
He further alleged that "the way the state government has planned to offer high fertile farm land to industries, no one can stop Janjgir-Champa from becoming India's most polluted district in the next five years."