The villagers from Jharkhand have been waging a struggle against the coal mining project for over a decade now. Despite protests, the firm is now building heavy conveyor belts causing pollution in the villages.Sumedha Pal 06 Sep 2019

The National Thermal Power Corporation (NTPC) is expanding as to what is known as Asia’s biggest coal mine area to meet its power supply needs. This expansion, however, is coming at the cost of livelihoods of thousands of tribal families spread across 17 villages in Jharkhand. 

The project initiated in 2004, has currently acquired over 47.95 square kilometres of agricultural land. Continuing its process of the forcible acquisition of land, the villagers of Jugra have now reported demolition of their houses by company officials to create conveyor belts in the area to transport coal conveniently. Explaining this, Virendra Kumar, an activist from Jharkhand, said, “Post 2016, the coal mining plant has been functional and is expanding at the cost of the lives and livelihoods of tribals and our environment. The latest attack from the firm has been the forcible demolition of over 10 houses of tribals in Jugra village for the creation of heavy duty conveyor belts. The tribals are now left homeless struggling to find any shelter. As we speak, more houses are being destroyed.”

Reportedly, the villagers have not been paid any compensation post the acquisition process. Kumar added, “There is no record with the administration of any house or the number of family members they are displacing.”

In April this year, NTPC started commercial production of coal from Pakri Barwadih mine in Jharkhand. Pakri Barwadih, located in Hazaribagh district, is the first of the mines that the NTPC is developing to provide low cost coal for its power stations, replacing expensive imported coal. It will feed NTPC’s ultra mega powerproject in the region. The company was allotted Pakri Barwadih, Chatti-Bariatu, Kerandari, Dulanga, Talaipalli and Chatti-Bariatu (South), Banai, Bhalumunda and Mandakini B mines. These mines carry total geological reserves of around 7.15 billion tonnes and have a production potential of 107 million tonnes per annum of coal catering to the requirements of 20,000 MW of power generation. Pakri Barwadih has a block area of 46.26 sq km.

The residents of the villages have been waging a struggle since 2004. Villagers of Jugra village in Hazaribagh district of Jharkhand have alleged that their lands have been acquired forcefully by the National NTPC to build a supply route to its Pakri Barwadih mine. Alleging that the NTPC violated the Land Acquisition, Rehabilitation and Resettlement Act, 2013, the villagers on December 1, 2018, wrote to the district administration. The villagers are stating that they had given up their lands for the construction of railway tracks to the Indian railways, hoping to get better connectivity, however, Indian Railways failed to obtain clearance from the pollution board. It was expected that the land would now go back to the villagers, however, this land was transferred to NTPC. Virendra Kumar added, “In this light, we had filed multiple RTI petitions which showed grave discrepancies. We could see that the signatures of the villagers were forged to acquire the enormous chunk of land. We have been appealing to highlight how the Forests Rights Act was diluted to de-notify the land for NTPC’s use.” 

He added that intimidation tactics have forced people to move out of villages causing acute trauma of the loss of land. In 2016, as the villagers resisted the acquisition, the police had fired on the anti-mining protestors in Badkagaon, Hazaribagh, killing more than four people, while 40 others were injured. An Additional Superintendent of Police and a circle officer were injured too, as the angered mob abducted them. The project is facing protest since 2004. In 2010, coal mines in the area were allocated to the NTPC but work could not begin.

Initially, the firm had proposed coal mining in the Karanpura Valley, in the East Singhbhum district of Jharkhand, over an area of 47 square kilometres, simultaneously acquiring land in the area which is proposed to be one of the largest coal blocks in Asia. The protest of the villagers to halt this acquisition has been going on since. 

Speaking to NewsClick, a local activist on the condition of anonymity, said, “The plant is also causing severe environmental damage. The latest report by the National Green Tribunal came down heavily on the NTPC for destroying fields and polluting water bodies due to the dumping of waste from the plant. We are resisting as the area is  extremely fertile and is known for its agricultural value. We can cultivate up to five crops per season and the villagers are not ready to give up on their lands for commercial projects without any due compensation.” 

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