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Chhattisgarh is set to become the largest producer of thermal power, cement and sponge iron. The push is on to install 77 per cent of India's current thermal power capacity, 51 per cent of the country's present cement capacity and 31 million tonnes of sponge iron capacity, which is equal to India's current capacity. The price of this fast-track industrialisation will be forests, agricultural land and the state's 32 per cent tribal population. SUGANDH JUNEJA toured the districts to assess the shape of things to come and the struggles that are already afoot. Does the country have a method to assess the cumulative impact of this crowded industrialisation?
The rich green fields of Darramuda village in Raigarh district of Chhattisgarh were almost peaceful. A JCB backhoe loader whirred on as it dug in and pulled out lumps of wet brown earth.
The crane inched along carving a neat road on the fertile fields. The people of Darramuda, in Kharsia tehsil of Chhattisgarh, believe this is the road to their doom. For SKS Ispat and Power it is the road to their thermal power plant.
An upcoming steel and power player, the company had proposed a 1,200 MW power plant in Darramuda. The villagers did not want their land to go to the company; they were against acquisition. On May 13, when three company officials came to the village to negotiate land prices, the residents held them captive for hours. They stripped their shirts, blackened the faces and made them do sit-ups wearing a garland of shoes.
A large posse of police reached the village when they learnt of the incident and used tear gas and lathi charge to disperse residents. In the stampede, 70- year-old Padum Ram was run over by the sub-divisional district magistrate's car. "The police left me bleeding. It did not arrange for any medical care," he told Down To Earth. The next day, 17 residents of the village were arrested. His brother is among those in prison.
The villagers allege they were threatened to sell land in lieu of the imprisoned villagers. "We made several efforts to save our village but in the end we had to settle with the company. They wouldn't release the detained otherwise," Padum informed. The power plant's public hearing was held amid tight security of about 1,500 policemen on May 17. The hearing is the procedural step towards environmental clearance where the affected people give their verdict on the project. In this case the verdict was a trade-off for the prisoners. "We could have saved our village if only someone had listened to us. Eleven of us went to Raipur to meet the chief minister of Chhattisgarh. We were made to wait the entire day, but no one heard us," Ram Nath, an aggrieved resident, said.
The acquisition will affect about 300 households in the village.
There are many Darramudas brewing in Chhattisgarh today as its rapid pace of industrialisation gobbles up more and more villages.