Back From Godda

Adani, SEZ and Revolting Santals

Subha Protim Roy Chowdhury

The land that inspired the cultures and agricultures of the indigenous tribal communities, if snatched out from them, only two options are left: either struggle or death. In order to survive from the probable death, the Santals in Godda region of Jharkhand have chosen the way to struggle. It is Godda district of Santal Pargana. As an industrialist group preferred by the Prime Minister Narendra Modi, the Adani group is constructing a thermal power plant in this district which is comprised of ten moujas (revenue village unit) of Poreyahat and Godda Sadar block. More than one thousand acres of land, either of the indigenous tribes or not, are required for this Adani Power (Jharkhand) Limited. That is why a ruthless land seizing operation is going on.

Where do these Santals evicted from their land and from their occupation go? By surrounding their agricultural lands, ponds, their grazing ground, sacred places the Adani is building guard-walls. Festivals like Badna. Baha, Dashai actually represents the integral relationship between nature and tribal life. 'Yes, not only the land they have pulled our roots; they are trying to uproot our identity, our existence'. This year we halt our festivities. And 'Yes, water too! They will loot the ground water? 'Greenly Godda became desert'. 'They are monsters!'

But why there is such rampage in these calm and peaceful villages? Why Adani is here?

From news published in the Dhaka Tribune on November 26. 2019 it is found that the Prime Minister of Bangladesh Shekh Hasina declared that Bangladesh has already imported 660Megawatt electricity from India. And they are too willing to import 3000 Megawatt more electricity from India.

Before it, Web-magazine discloscd the deal in its 25-03-2019 issue.

Twelve days before elections dates were announced; the Modi government on February 25 cleared the way for an Adani project in Jharkhand to become the first standalone power project in India to get the status and benefits of a Special Economic Zone. For this, the commerce ministry amended power-related guidelines for Special Economic Zones earlier this year.

Geared towards exports, Special Economic Zones get a host of duty-waivers, tax exemptions and faster clearances. The government decision to grant SEZ status to the Adani project will save the company billions of rupees in taxes—Rs 3.2 billion annually in clean energy cess alone. A news article published in News Click on September 7, 2019 says.

Now it is the full-fledged work. Because of the support from both the central and the state government all obstacles are being flown away. Land acquisition by constructing big walls has been finished. Chinese company has entered with heavy equipment. The process of creating a Special Economic Zone or SEZ was started by seizing the lands of the adivasis. It is claimed that this Adani project will be public-oriented. But it is not fully true, because, in the memorandum of understanding, that was signed between the Adani power, Government of India and Bangladesh government in 2016, it was clearly stated that this power plant would be established to export power to Bangladesh. Jharkhand will get only 25% of the total produced power.

Needless to say, as it is a SEZ project the state government cannot interfere in its functioning. Furthermore, it will get rid of labour laws and environmental laws as well.

And the third reason for the movement is that the land seizing operation actually violated the provisions of the Land Acquisition Act 2013, which stated that for such an acquisition of land the support of at least 80% tillers is needed. Our movement started with the demand of justice in these three aspects. The movement lasted for a long period. The Government had support to the company. They started repression.

Lands were forcibly seized in many-a-time. But the success of the movement is that while previously they demanded the lands of 12 moujas. now it is reduced to only 4 moujas. That means, they had to leave 8 moujas.
But once the factory starts the brokers of Adani, administration will try to acquire lands of the adjoining areas. It has been seen in other place. The factory has to be enlarged, housing has to be made etc.

On the way to Adani power, one has to pass by Rangania village. The village falls under the jurisdiction of Pareyahat block. It is about three kilometre away from the project. A Kali temple is there right at the entrance to the village. It contains a plaque which says, "This temple has been made by the Adanis".

If a thermal power plant is built here, the ash from all that coal will fall on land and ruin it. There will be no water. Last refuge would be to flee from the village. It would have been better if they had built a crematorium instead of a temple.

'Already exodus of landless farmers is now a reality', said a tea vendor from Bhagalpur.

The village Mali is adjoining to the compound wall of Adani's project. Maximum residents of this village are basically the relatives of Manager Hembram. Manager is a catholic Christian. They produce gram, wheat, and maize in their lands. The total amount of land of Manager's grandfather was 16 bigha 16 katha. The present ownership of this land is now in the hands of many successors but none of them want to give the land. The brokers recruited by the Adani feared them much, but couldn't influence them. Manager was falsely accused with fabricated case by Adani. Their lands are beyond the project area. But because of the pollution from the thermal power plant the lands are now already polluted with dust. The gist of the conversation with him:
Was not the land acquisition programme legal? No.

'No notice was given, we did not give our land. But there is the mention of giving notice.

According to article 20 of the Santal Pargana Tenancy Act 1949, except for some trivial reasons, no agricultural land of Dumka, Deoghar, Jamtara, Pakur, Sahebganj and the United Santal Pargana can never be acquired for any public or private projects. But here how can it be possible for them to grab your lands?

'It was possible because 'the king' wanted so. On last September 18, 2018 people prayed to the Governor. In a petition they expressed, though it is said that the lands of the ten villages are taken for 'public interest', but in reality, they are taken for private benefit. Almost twenty thousand ton coal will be burnt and we will get the smoke only'.

The village Nayabad is comprised of Santal community. Beside this village rail-lines will be built for transportation in the Adani Power Plant. These days the frantic dance of the bulldozers was going on. Ramesh Besra of 22 years and some other villagers were cooking at the bulldozers helplessly Ramesh's father is Madhusudan Besra. His four bighas of land is now under the acquisition of the Adani.

From the local tabloid, Patrika published in Hindi, one came to know that the public hearing often villages finished within only ten minutes. Even in the last evening before the day of hearing, the District Collector and the Police Superintendent said the people that those who have identity card, voter card, ration card, document of land, can take part in the hearing. But on the 7th December morning only those people who had yellow card and green card got the entrance. When people started agitation, the police started to charge their sticks. A group of 500 police vandalised the nearer houses. The uniformed police personnel threatened, 'You have to pay if you express your allegation'. But despite such threat the villagers did not get frightened and filed a case in the High Court.

Meanwhile, trapping people with false cases, massive arrest has been going on. Some villagers are caught by the trap of temptation. The Adani and the administration were able to dismantle the movement to some extent. Now the brokers and hooligans of Adani and the police are everywhere in the area. Outsiders are recruited in the construction of railways and the power plant. They are contractual labourers. Recruitment of the local people is beyond imagination, as they do not get entry in this project.

All the slogans on the walls have been wiped out. However, there were a rich presence of slogans, demonstrations, and songs in this land movement like any other land movements. Some slogans from old photographs are given below:
Godda is thirsty, thirsty is people
Water for Power plant will give us anxiety for every drop.

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Vol. 52, No. 34, Feb 23 - 29, 2020