Farmers who gave up land for Saharanpur solar plant are angry; here is why

Farmers allege broken promises, no compensation for trees cut and land grabbed; Power company disputes allegations

By Varsha Singh
Published: Friday 29 September 2023
Local farmers in Saharanpur who have complained about the solar company. Photo: Varsha Singh

When a 100 megawatt (MW) solar plant project was proposed in Saharanpur, farmers in the region accepted the idea with open arms in hopes of additional income and even agreed to give up their fertile land for the project.

But now, the same farmers are miffed over not being given jobs or proper compensation. The local administration is advising them to go to court.

Moving about 10 kilometres inland on a narrow road passing through mango orchards, poplar and eucalyptus trees bordering lush green sugarcane and paddy fields, a 50 MW solar power plant can be found in Saharanpur, right on the banks of the Nagdei River.

The second  part of the project of 50 MW is located about seven kilometres away on the banks of Hindon river. The hopes and expectations of six villages in Behat tehsil were dependent on it.

Lalganj Power Pvt Ltd, a subsidiary of Hyderabad-based Fourth Partner Energy Pvt Ltd, developed this 100 MW plant in 2019 with the help of Rays Power Infra Company. For this, 400 acres of land were collected from farmers in Musail, Behda Kalan, Mangala, Maduwala, Jiwala and Alliwala villages.

Read more: Uttar Pradesh is falling short of solar energy targets; here’s why

Rays Power Infra developed the solar plant and then handed it over to Lalganj Power, which now has two solar plants of 50-50 MW each in Saharanpur.

In the hopes of making extra money by leasing out land and working in the solar plants, farmers who were struggling with Kisan Credit Card loans happily gave up their land for this major project. Farmers who leased land are now at odds over the lease amount and other payments.

This solar project, which came into captive mode, was signed with companies like UltraTech Cement at a rate higher than the government price.

But discord started over many points, like not giving a lease to farmers, not giving compensation for cutting trees standing in the fields, and not paying rent for the transmission poles installed in the fields.

Farmers’ alleged trees had been cut down in their fields for transmission lines of the solar power plant but they had not been compensated for it. Photo: Varsha Singh

Technical issues with lease

The company tried tricks to reduce the lease amount for the land, said businessman Dheeraj Singh Rana, who got the company land from farmers. “The company knew most farmers in this area had taken loans from Kisan Credit Cards and the banks were pressuring them to repay it. It promised to repay the loan to the bank and deduct the rent from the lease of the land,”he said.

In their desperation to repay loans, farmers happily gave their lands. A lease of 27 years was fixed at the rate of Rs 9,000 per bigha (5.92 acres) i.e. approximately Rs 54,000 per acre. The amount was to increase by 10 per cent every three years.

Farmers did not have technical knowledge of the 35 to 40-page lease document. The company talked about repaying the loan of the farmers on the basis of Net Present Value (NPV), said farmer Ajay Pundir, who has given his 20 bigha land for the solar project.

“We didn’t know what NPV was then. I had taken a loan of Rs 8 lakh. The loan which would have been repaid in 15 years through lease rent, will be repaid in 21-22 years through NPV. The 10 per cent increase in lease every three years for farmers after depositing their loan was also deducted,” he said.

On learning this information, the farmers started feeling cheated.

Fields, trees gone

Pundir had a mango orchard on his fields but gave it to Lalganj Company on a 27-year lease for the solar plant. The orchard was chopped down, but the land was ultimately not used for the plant. Now Pundir has neither received any rent for the land nor compensation for cutting the trees.

He also wrote to the local administration over the issue. During a public hearing held on Tehsil Day, he was given the suggestion to take the matter to court. However, the  judicial area in the lease is Jaipur, Rajasthan. It is impossible for farmers like me to leave our farms and go to Jaipur to  fight the case, said Pundir.

“Many farmers are regretting giving land on lease for this plant. We were promised 70 per cent of the locals would get jobs in the plant, but we didn’t get any. The company (Lalganj Power Pvt Ltd) also acquired the right to take a loan by mortgaging our land, even though we had not agreed on this. In light of the company’s deception, we farmers will no longer allow any project to be established in the Saharanpur district,” he added.

The farmers also showed copies of the letters written to the administrative officials. They also alleged many trees had to be cut from the fields for the transmission line but the company is not paying the pole rent and compensation for the trees.

One reason for the ambiguity in this entire matter was that the company developing the plant, Rays Power Infra, had taken the land from the farmers and had fixed the terms of the lease. Once the plant was built, it was handed over to Lalganj Power Pvt Ltd. Lalganj Power changed those conditions, farmers alleged.

A large number of trees growing on the edge of the fields came under the influence of the transmission line being brought for a 50-50 MW plant about eight kilometres away.

Thakur Puran Singh, president of Bharatiya Kisan Mazdoor Sangathan, is one of the many who protested over the issue.

“Farmers were promised Rs 27,000 for installing poles in the fields. It was said that the cost of eucalyptus, poplar and other trees that were cut due to the pole would be paid. These trees are a source of income for the farmers. But the company refused to pay compensation for the trees. When the farmers protested, the trees were silently cut down at night,” he alleged. 

Farmer Asif Rana has lodged a complaint at Fatehpur police station regarding the cutting of eucalyptus trees from the field without notice.

Dalit farmer Sanjay, resident of Haridwar, alleges his 4.2 bigha of land was grabbed by the company. Sanjay also wrote to the District Magistrate of Saharanpur, stating he bought land in Behda Kalan village with his life’s savings. He went to check on the land in April 2023 and found a solar plant on it.

“When we complained, company officials threatened us. There was no agreement with us. Our land was taken without approval,” said Sanjay’s brother Raju.

Can’t upset investors

Director of Lalganj Power Company, Brajesh Sinha rejects the allegations of the farmers. “Whatever complaints we get from the farmers or the administration, we resolve them. But if someone makes baseless allegations, we do not take responsibility for it. Our company does not owe any money to any farmer,” said Sinha.

“Farmers knew from the beginning that we would repay the loan on the basis of NPV. This was in the agreement,” he added.

With ambitious targets to increase investment in the state, the local administration does not want to upset investors.

Chief Development Officer of Saharanpur, Vijay Kumar said, “The solar plant has been built with mutual consent between the private company and the farmers. The administration has no role in this. We will solve the problems of farmers, but investors will also be taken care of.”

Meanwhile, Behat Tehsil Sub-Collector Deepak Kumar has advised farmers to go to court. “Where a big project comes up and land is taken, farmers expect more money and create disputes. If the matter is not resolved by mutual consent, then they can go to court”.

The development of solar projects in rural areas is giving rise to new competition over land and resources. Other farmers in Saharanpur have also been frightened by this dispute.

Businessman Rana who played a role in the land acquisition also complained about not being paid his wages. “Investors who wanted to set up a 160 MW solar plant in the same area were not given land by the farmers and they had to return,” he said.

This solar plant in Saharanpur is an example that it is difficult to achieve renewable energy targets without taking farmers along.

This story was produced with support from Internews’s Earth Journalism Network

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