Retired school teacher Ramjeevan Paswan's family land can broadly be divided into two parts — acquired with consent and acquired without consent.
While most of his extended family gave up their share of the property in Jharkhand's tribal-dominated Godda district when the state government tried to acquire land for a power plant of the Adani Group last year, Paswan has refused to even acknowledge the compensation of Rs 50 lakh for his one acre.
However, he has lost access to his share because it got fenced in when his relatives gave up their portions of the five-odd acres. He is currently among 16 litigants against the government's move to facilitate Adani's 1,600-megawatt power plant, which will reportedly sell all the electricity generated to Bangladesh.
"I won't give up my land no matter how much sangharsh I have to do. When I haven't agreed to give up the land, how can it be taken from me?" Paswan asked, standing outside the district court at which he has become a regular presence.
'Government flouted law to acquire land'
In May 2016, the company had sought around 2,000 acres of land, and in March 2017, the government said it would source 917 acres from six villages in the district: Mali, Motia, Gangta, Patwa, Sondiha and Gaighat, IndiaSpend reported.
So far, the government has acquired over 500 acres in the first four. Locals say that authorities were discouraged from taking over land in other villages after the protests that erupted against the project.
Inam Ahmed, Godda-based lawyer with Human Rights Law Network (HRLN) said that the locals protested because several clauses of laws put in place in place to safeguard farmers from exactly such a situation, were violated by the government.
"First of all, in a Scheduled area, the mandatory step of a jan sunvai or social impact assessment (SIA) public hearing, where residents of the village have to vote for or against such a proposition was flouted because most of the people who were going to be directly affected by the project were blocked from attending the meeting.
"Additionally, both the times that a public hearing was conducted, protesting locals were lathi-charged," Ahmed said.
Dilution of Land Acquisition Act with 2018 Amendment
The Jharkhand government's dilution of the Land Acquisition Act in 2018 further compounded the problem, because it allowed the administration bypass the requirement for a stringent impact assessment, among others.
"Most importantly, the Amendment has done away with the emphasis on the consent of the gram sabha before acquisition. The gram sabha now cannot raise a definite objection, but only advise," Ahmed explained.
He added that in the case of the SIA conducted for the Adani plant in Godda, "the report indicated that the locals were in favour of the project whereas actually largely testimonies of those who wouldn’t be directly affected were taken."
Several Opposition parties, including the Congress, Jharkhand Mukti Morcha (JMM), Jharkhand Vikas Morcha (JVM) and activists had in 2018 come together to object to the state government’s proposed amendments to the Act, dubbing the move a "death warrant".
Locals are also sceptical about the government’s assurance that they will also build public facilities like a school and hospital in the area, as is stipulated by law.
The state also saw widespread protests in 2016 and 2017 against the state government’s move to amned century-old Chhotanagpur Tenancy Act (CNT) and the Santhal Paragana Tenancy Act (SPT), both of which are safety nets to bar authorities from acquiring land from the Adivasi community.
As a result of the agitations, Governor Draupadi Murmu didn’t give her approval for the proposed amendments.
Question of livelihood
For Motia resident Chintamani Shah, another retired teacher and litigant against the project, it’s a question about livelihood not just for him, but the coming generations.
“Farming is a skill passed down from generation to generation, it empowers survival in the absence of a formal job. If I give up the land now and take the money, how long is it going to last? Most importantly, our land is invaluable,” he said.
Shah added that the Land Acquisition Act in its entirety is referred to as ‘kaala kanun’ by the locals. “Even without the Amendment, it’s an incomplete law. How can you base consent of an entire community on whether 80 percent are in favour or not? What about the 20 percent who are disagreeing, where are they supposed to go?” he demanded.
“With the removal of the gram sabha’s approval, it has become akin to a dictatorship. They can take over our lands whenever required.”
Comparing the government’s handling of the case to a “fraud”, Shah said, “Laws were violated, details have been messed up. The public hearings happened on the back of guns and force.”
The government created an atmosphere of fear and intimidation which is what forced people to give up their land, he said.
Most residents who have lost their land have had to turn to agricultural labour due to the lack of other options.
Paswan said that one of the major reasons he refused to give up his land is because he had enhanced it with various kinds of farming equipment like a borewell and a pumping machine. “When they forcibly took over the land, they destroyed everything. Uprooted crops, broke structures, and dismantled the machinery. I have lost all that I had invested in,” he added.
On the other hand, most of those who have chosen to give up their land and take the compensation say that there was no other option.
Anjali Kumar Chaudhary, also a resident of Motia, said that he allowed his land to be acquired because the properties all around his had been acquired and it was becoming difficult to access his land.
Even though he received a compensation of Rs 50 lakh, he said that if the Raghubar Das-led government comes back to power in the upcoming Assembly election, it will create more problems for people in the area.
Paswan said that some of his relatives had bought a second-hand bus while others were building themselves a house as a replacement for their mud hut. “Yesterday I heard that the bus was giving some more trouble,” he grinned.
The issue has also caused fissures between those locals who have taken the compensation as opposed to those who haven’t.
JVM MLA to retain support base
Three-time incumbent MLA of the Poreyahat Assembly Constituency, under which Motia village falls, is from former chief minister Babulal Marandi’s Jharkhand Vikas Morcha party.
Pradeep Yadav garnered a strong support base among locals affected by the government’s attempts to acquire land in the area after he took up the cause and led the protests against the project. He was also jailed for four months in 2018.
According to Shah, several factors might work in favour of Yadav in the constituency set to vote on 20 December, the last phase of the five-phase election.
“The BJP candidate for the Poreyahat seat is completely unknown to people here, whereas Pradeep Yadav has maintained his support base by raising local issues in the Vidhan Sabha. Even if the Opposition alliance of Congress-JMM field a candidate, it is not likely to affect his vote share,” he said. The Yadav community is also likely to support the JVM candidate, he added.
Yadav said that he got involved after finding discrepancies between the law and the government’s agreement with Adani Group.
The BJP MLA of the Godda Assembly Constituency, Amit Kumar Mandal, could face the ire of the urban population due to lack of facilities like water, locals said.
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Updated Date: Nov 25, 2019 08:36:28 IST