Bokaro's displaced still await compensation

Residents of most villages whose land was acquired for the Bokaro steel plant have no jobs or means of living. Those who were compensated are demanding more

 
By Sanjeev Kumar Kanchan
Published: Saturday 04 July 2015

Bokaro Steel Plant
It's been over four decades since India's first indigenous steel plant was set up in Jharkhand. But the scene near the Bokaro Steel Plant or BSL (the plant was earlier called Bokaro Steel Limited) is no different from what can be seen in other parts of the country—farmers protesting land acquisitions for large industrial hubs and real estate development. People whose land was acquired for the plant can be seen wielding hockey sticks and holding protests. The latest round of protests is against a new steel plant being set up by the Steel Authority of India Limited (SAIL), which manages the plant, jointly with the South Korean steel giant, Pohang Iron and Steel Company (POSCO). The joint venture is a Rs 15,000 crore project which initially will produce half a million tonnes steel annually.


Raju Mahto of Kundori village and Ramvilash Singh of Godavali village say they have no choice but to hold protests. It has been 46 years since the plant was set up, but the majority of the residents have not received compensation, alternate land or jobs, they say. “We have lost our agricultural land and face severe pollution. We have been denied jobs even after completing our course at the industrial training centre in Bokaro, which was funded by the steel plant,” say Mahto and Singh. The steel plant refused them jobs, saying there are no vacancies.

About 64 moujas (a mouja may have several villages) had ceded land for setting up the steel plant. As many as 49 villages are disputing the acquisition. While residents of 19 villages are yet to get compensation, rehabilitation or jobs, those in the remaining 20 who were given meagre compensation want more money and jobs.

Old dispute
 
The land dispute between village residents and the authorities dates back to 1956 when the state government notified land for acquisition. Documents state that BSL acquired  over 13,695  hectares (ha). The state government gifted BSL another 1,772 ha.

Problem of plenty


12,661 ha
(as per BSL management record); 13,695 (as per government record): land acquired

12,661 ha: land in respect of which title deed is yet to be transferred to Bokaro Steel Plant (BSL)

334 ha: land under dispute

909 ha: land transferred to Central and state governments or semi-government agency

11,752 ha: area made available for steel plant

7,765 ha: area utilised for setting up plant

169 ha: area leased out

3,818 ha: area lying vacant

Source: Comptroller and Auditor General report of March 2002

 
But the farmers were not willing to vacate the land without getting higher compensation and jobs at the plant; the matter is pending in court. One dispute is between the state and BSL, which pertains to 333.8 ha. The second relates to the land against which compensation was either not given or was meagre and the farmers don’t want to vacate. The revised compensation of 70 crore has also  not been distributed by the state government yet.

A significant portion of the land acquired for the plant is still vacant and leased out (see 'Problem of plenty land') illegally.
   
According to the provisions of the Land Acquisition (Companies) Rules of 1963 and  the model form of agreement for acquisition of state land incorporated in the Bihar Government Estate (Khas Mahal) Manual  of 1953 (it contains rules, state government decisions), BSL was not authorised to use the land for any purpose other than the one for which the land was allotted. But BSL sub-leased 171 ha without the state government's approval even though it had no legal ownership over the land. Of this 171 ha, 101 ha was sub-leased to private agencies to build market complexes, hotels, petrol pumps and cinema halls. Union steel ministry documents show that the land was leased for providing only civic amenities and infrastructure to the steel township.
          
Further, 38.4 ha was leased to the  Bokaro Steel Employees' Co-operative House Construction Society Limited without the state government's approval. The secretary of the society unauthorisedly distributed 5.3 ha to members of the society in May 1992, confirms the steel ministry. BSL took no action to evict the unauthorised occupants.     

2,954 ha surplus

The area now called the Bokaro Steel City was under the Giridih and Dhanbad districts. It was acquired for setting up a 10 million tonne capacity steel plant. Proximity to iron ore and coal reserves made the place the favoured site for a steel plant. Of the total land acquired, only 7,765 ha was used to set up the steel plant; the remaining makes up the steel city. The city area includes encroached land, colonies and areas leased by the plant to private parties. The rich-poor divide in Bokaro is glaring. To the east of the steel plant is a well planned city, neatly divided into sectors, having the best amenities. To the north are the villages, home to above 80,000 people.

image

Those who got compensation were paid a meagre 75 paise to Rs 3 per decimal (250 decimals make one ha) and each family was given 5 to 10 decimal land for rehabilitation and an additional 15 per cent interest per annum since the plots were acquired. A few of the displaced were engaged as skilled and unskilled labour by the plant. The land needed for the plant was vacated immediately, but nearly 19 villages were left untouched for future expansion. A majority of these villages did not accept the compensation and so did not leave the place; they are still demanding compensation and land to resettle. In 1969, BSL declared that it had a surplus of 2,954.2 ha and wanted to return the land to the state government. The matter is yet to be resolved between the state and BSL. So, the villagers are neither getting their land back nor compensation.  

“Our agricultural land is destroyed because of fly ash and steel melting shop (SMS) slag (generated during steel production) dumped all around. We have no electricity or drinking water supply. Fly ash and dust emission from the plant settle everywhere and on everything,” complains Makund Mhar  of Kairakundi village. He has four brothers and his father was given 10 decimal land in a remote area. “ My father owned over 20 ha and our life would have been very different if we had not given land for the steel plant,” says Makund Mhar.

The current production capacity of the steel plant is only 4.5 million tonnes per annum  as against the originally proposed capacity of 10 million tonnes. Excess land acquired for the plant is still lying unused. Villagers don't get any benefit from the plant because the land has not been utilised and the state government also does not give them any privilege because the land belongs to the steel plant.      

“We should either be given jobs, compensation and alternate land to resettle or the surplus land should be returned to the state along with no objection certificates (NOCs) for putting the surplus land to commercial use,” says Sunil Mahto of Mahuar village. He adds that BSL frequently gives no objection certificates (NOCs) to companies and businessmen for commercial use of land, but villagers are denied such benefits. The malls, markets and commercial buildings in Bokaro Steel City are on land acquired for the steel plant, but were sold to third parties, say villagers.

On the intervention of the Jharkhand High Court in May 2007, the steel plant management agreed to give a revised compensation of Rs 70 crore to the village residents as enhanced compensation.  The land acquisition officer (LAO) and the land acquisition judge (LAJ) had prepared a schedule of awards to the land losers but the claimants have not been paid any compensation till date. The aggrieved land losers appealed to the LAJ who in 1990 awarded them an enhanced compensation amount. The state government then challenged the enhanced rate of compensation passed by the LAJ before the High Court which in turn constituted a five-member committee and asked it to submit a report on the matter. The committee in its report submitted that some 10,312 applications relating to disputes over compensation were pending, while possession papers of 333.8 ha were not handed over to BSL. The rate of compensation for fertile land was set at Rs 8,000 per acre (0.4 ha); the rate for non-fertile land was fixed at Rs 6,000. The revised compensation, too, was far lower than the market value of the land.

BSL sold surplus land for profit

“We gave away land for the steel plant, but BSL has been misusing it. It sold the surplus land to third parties at Rs 2 crore to Rs 4 crore per 0.4 ha,” says Gulab Chandra Thakur, founder of the citizens front, Visthapit Sangharsha Morcha and state chief of Jharkhand Navnirman Sena, a local outfit. Thakur says people are ready to move if the plant needs to be expanded, provided they are rehabilitated in the town and paid compensation at current land rate along with interest from the date their land was acquired.  

Makund Mhar

Former minister of Bihar state (Jharkhand was a part of undivided Bihar till 2000), Akluram Mahto, who has been fighting for the rights of the displaced, says he had filed 42,000 petitions with the Director Project Land and Rehabilitation (DPLR) for compensation in 1986. But only 10,312 petitions are kept pending while others have gone missing. The administration always favours BSL because they get accommodation, transport and other facilities from BSL, alleges Mahto. He says even police resort to violence to quell protests.  He says that at the time the plant was being set up, the then Bihar chief minister Sri Krishna Singh had expressed hope that Bokaro plant would benefit Bihar and its citizens directly and indirectly. “We never knew it would be the cause of so much pain,” he adds.

His claims are substantiated by a Comptroller and Auditor General (CAG) report which found that funds earmarked for corporate social responsibility by SAIL, including BSL, was used for hiring choppers for a minister and on public relation activities. Most of the fund was supposed to be used for medical facilities for the community; the  CAG report was tabled in Parliament in March 2011. According to media reports, the Central Bureau of Investigation (CBI), too, found that CSR fund, was being misused by BSL. In July 2011, the agency detected a scam of Rs121 crore from CSR fund of BSL. The fund was used for paying a construction company to develop a half finished road. The investigative agency is also investigating alleged land encroachment by BSL officials, on the directives of the Jharkhand high court in August 2011, say media reports.

Besides inadequate compensation, there is something else that is upsetting the villagers—encroachments on the steel plant land by migrants who arrived to work in the plant.  Villagers say the land belongs to them. They say the encroachers who occupied the area temporarily at the time the plant was set up, have settled permanently now. The Jharkhand Navnirman Sena has been protesting against the encroachments off and on. “We have submitted applications demanding removal of encroachment to the collector's office. Once, on the intervention of the high court, the administration took action by razing some structures, but the more affluent encroachers were spared,” says Thakur.

BSL and the Bokaro district collector's office declined to speak on the subject.

Pollution everywhere

The pollution that the villagers complain of is evident at first sight. Thick clouds of smoke rise from the plant chimneys to engulf the sky. Hillocks of fly ash and SMS slag can be seen all around the plant. The fly ash pond is spread over several hectares. All these contribute heavily to pollution in the area.

Charter of demands

  • Compensation at current market price or price prevailing at the time of acquisition plus cumulative interest till date or an equal quantity of gold or silver that could be purchased at the rates prevailing at time of acquisition
     
  • One job for each family of displaced
     
  • Revised compensation to
    those already compensated
     
  • Appropriate quantity of land in the empty areas in the city to rehabilitate the displaced
     
  • Welfare programmes and basic amenities in villages
     
  • Return of land not utilised by the plant till date
 
BSL sources water from the Tenughat dam on the Damodar river and the sends the treated effluent (villagers say the treatment is only partial) into the Damodar river. The city dwellers gets purified water to drink, but villagers still depend on contaminated groundwater extracted through hand pumps and wells.

“This is what comes to our share in return for the land we gave up—contaminated water to drink, ash-loaded air to breathe, no electricity, no jobs and no land,” says Mohammed Ashfaq of Kanchandih village. He wonders if people will ever get their rights.

On 26th September, about 25,000 people from various districts of Jharkhand organised a maha-rally in Bokaro Steel City. Beside BSL related displacement of people, the participants discussed a strategy to highlight the plight of project-affected -people in the whole of Jharkhand.  They demanded that all unused project land in the state should be returned to the owners (see 'Charter of demands')
 

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