A two-and-a-half-year long fight has resulted in victory for Chhattisgarh villagers. The Indian Farmers Fertilizer Cooperative Ltd (iffco) withdrew its proposal of setting up a coal-based power plant in Chandan Nagar in Sarguja district in March. The gram sabha was firm and the result is before us. The pesa act (Panchayats Extension To The Scheduled Areas Act, 1996) worked to our advantage, says Mehendi Lal Yadav, an activist who led villagers against iffco under the banner of Gram Sabha Parishad. iffco has now moved base to a site 10 km away from Chandan Nagar.
The victory comes after a series of protests against the proposed 1,000 mw thermal power plant. Villagers allege the company had conducted secret surveys before approaching them with the proposal. They reacted by attacking iffco officials (see Officials banned, Down To Earth, May 31, 2007). The final blow came when the company got one of our activists arrested on December 31. He was released within hours after over 1,000 people marched to the police station. This was followed by a rally in February. They realized we wont budge, Yadav says. pesa helped villagers remain resolute because it mandates the gram sabha to approve of plans, programmes and projects for social and economic development before they are taken up for implementation, he adds. Villagers allege iffco planned to build five dam-like structures on the Atem river to divert water for the power plant, besides threatening to take away village land. The villagers had also objected to fudged data by the company to get clearances.
Denying the allegations, an iffco official said, We would have provided 90 per cent of electricity to the state. We offered the best resettlement package but moved out due to lack of co-operation. The official said the company was gradually getting the approval of gram sabhas in its new plant site. Moving away from the coal site, however, will be an expensive proposition for the company, he added.