In Raigarh, a lot can be done on paper. Land that has not been sold can be bought; the consent of the unwilling owner can be received; and daily wagers can also make millions. On paper, the law of the land also always prevails — tribal land is bought only by tribals, the gram sabha’s (village council) consent for industrial projects on its land is always in place, the displaced get fair compensation in exchange for consenting , and, in a dispute, the courts always have the last word.
The people of Raigarh, however, needn’t take the paper so seriously. Because the story of the sale and purchase of land for power plants and digging mines, and the millions that are the rightful due of the landowners, shall begin — and end — on paper.
Last December, the government promulgated an ordinance to amend the Land Acquisition Act, leading to a debate over the removal of key clauses such as conducting a social impact assessment, impact on food security, and consent of 80% of land owners before acquisition. The promulgation of the Coal Mines (Special Provisions) Ordinance, 2014, paving the way for land acquisition for coal mining — has also invited criticism, after the Supreme Court’s landmark decision last year to cancel 214 coal blocks allocated by the government between the year 1993-2011.
HOW THE LAW RULES
* In December 2014, the government promulgated the Land Ordinance, and Coal Mines (Special Provisions) Ordinance 2014.
* One of the major concerns in the Land Ordinance has been the removal of the provision requiring consent of those affected by the project.
* The ordinance also does away with the provision to conduct a social impact assessment for a specified list of projects
In the backdrop of these debates on favouring the interests of the industry over certain populations, HT travelled to Raigarh, the coal-rich district of Chhattisgarh, and home to the world’s largest coal-based sponge iron plant. Raigarh has seen massive industrialisation in the past two decades. Of the 533 gram panchayats, about 300 are likely to be affected by mining and industrial projects, according to ‘Land Acquisition and Transfers for Private Industry’, a 2014 working paper by the Centre For Equity Studies.
It’s a change that locals will describe by pointing to their fields and forests that have turned into roads, power plants and opencast mines; to the sun that feels too harsh because there’s no shade; and to the roads that have become risky because one could get run over by trucks ferrying coal. If you ask, the locals will tell you other stories too — of fraudulent land transactions, fake land registries, inadequate compensations, and of Raigarh’s fake ‘millionaires’.