Deocha-Pachami mining project: Bengal CM proposes heftier compensation. Here‘s why locals aren‘t convinced

The project will impact 4,314 households

By Taran Deol
Published: Tuesday 22 February 2022

West Bengal Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee improved the relief and rehabilitation package for the people set to be displaced by the Deocha-Pachami mining block in the Birbhum district.

The revised structure contains the following provisions: 

  • A 700 square feet house set up by the government
  • Rs 7 lakh for relocation expense
  • Rs 13 lakh per bigha for landowners
  • Rs 1.5 lakh as annual maintenance for crusher labourer
  • A one-time assistance of Rs 50,000
  • 500 days of work under the Mahatma Gandhi National Rural Employment Guarantee Act 

Earlier, a junior constable job to one member of every displaced family was promised.

The project will impact 4,314 households. This will result in the displacement of 21,000 people, of whom 9,034 are from the Santhal community (Scheduled Tribe) and 3,601 from the Scheduled Caste. The project is expected to attract investments worth Rs 350 billion, Banerjee said.

“On paper, this is perhaps one of the most generous compensation packages for a mining project,” Kunal Deb, a West Bengal-based environmentalist, said. 

But the villagers are wary of anything the government promises. In January this year, several people were protesting against a thermal power plant in Bakreswar township, demanding the handsome compensation they were promised over two decades ago. 

This came as a timely reminder of how the Deocha-Pachami mining project may affect them. It erased any probability of gaining back trust in the government. 

Villagers maintained they will not give up their land for any amount of money. “We have a very close relationship with the land we live on, said Sabitri Hansa, a resident of Dewanganj village, which falls within the project's boundaries. “We can’t replicate that elsewhere.” 

She added that the authorities can’t move them from their home. “This is the only way we know how to live.” 

The previous offer of a junior constable job was riddled with problems.

With 10,000 policemen, 20,000 ASHA workers and 250,000 midday meal cooks on contract under the West Bengal government, a precedent has been set, said Avik Saha, All India Kisan Sangharsh Coordination Committee secretary and farmer activist. “But suddenly, when you want to take away this land, the government is offering employment which is not contractual?” 

He told Down To Earth

If the government can give these people fixed non-contractual employment, then the 500,000 contractual employees under the state government will be up in arms and say, “What about us?” It's politically very disturbing.

Now, a higher grade posting in the police or other departments has been promised to those with higher qualifications. 

Every household here consists of seven-eight people on an average, five of whom are involved in some kind of work or another. In comparison, the job is being offered to only one member of the family. What about the rest, experts wonder. 

There are several highly educated people here who have not been able to land jobs because there aren’t any, said Hansa. “How can we believe that the government has jobs for the ‘angootha-chaap’?”

What is poised to be the country's largest mining project — spanning 12.8 sq km with 1,198.31 million tonnes of geological reserve — has been garnering a lot of attention. A 2016 Geological Survey of India report called this project to have “no parallel in Indian coalfields”. The coal is at a great depth and is surrounded by thick layers of basalt deposits, making it difficult to access it.

“We have not seen mining of this kind anywhere in India. Open cast mining at such a depth is unheard of. And we can’t do underground mining because of the thick overseam of basalt rock surrounding the coal,” Partha Bhattacharyya, former chairman of Coal India, explained. 

A project like this makes sense for the West Bengal government only if it turns out to be cheaper than buying from Coal India, the expert said. On a national level, it has little economic viability, he added.

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