Millennium Post

Chhattisgarh's BPL millionaires enrich industrialists

Ram Singh’s neighbours tease him by calling him Crorepati Singh. The 40-year-old Gond tribal from Parsada village in Raipur district of Chhattisgarh has hardly any landholding and depends on the government’s employment guarantee schemes to feed his family. But, according to official documents, Singh has recently purchased land worth Rs 1.5 crore from a dozen tribals in Pusaur tehsil of Raigarh district, about 250 kilometres away.

The government records show that seven other people from his village, all living below the poverty line, have also purchased land worth crores of rupees in Pusaur.

Ask them how they managed to buy the land, and they look bewildered. None of them have the slightest idea who they bought the land from, how much it cost, or who paid the money. All they know is that in June 2010, when Dauji, the village landlord, took them to Pusaur and asked them to put their thumb impressions on blank documents and plain sheets of paper, they could not refuse.

'Dauji promised me two days of wages, and I agreed,' says Salik Ram, another Gond tribal. Land registry documents show he now owns land worth Rs 74 lakh.

Quite obviously, none of them are aware that Avantha Group, one of the country’s large business conglomerates, is setting up Korba West Power Co Ltd, with two 600-megawatt coal-fired thermal power plant units, on the 43.7 hectares of land purchased in the names of the eight Gond tribals. The land was bought from hundreds of tribal people of Sarwani, Amlibhouna, Bade Bhandar and Chhote Bhandar villages in Pusaur. The land parcels that Avantha Group acquired are owned by tribal people. As per the Chhattisgarh Land Revenue Code, tribal land in the state can neither be sold nor leased out to a non-tribal person without the permission of the district collector. The collector has to give his reasons for granting the permission and must ensure that the displaced people get alternative land or jobs, besides suitable compensation.

To circumvent these safeguards, in what appears to be widespread practice, power companies in this mineral-rich nascent state are enlisting tribal people to act as a front to first buy land from multiple tribal farmers and then transfer it as one bloc for their projects.

For instance, Avantha Group had started constructing its power plant on the tribal land of Pusaur even before it approached the government to acquire 358 hectares of land, including the 43.7 hectares tribal land, for its project. Since land acquisition process is time-consuming, this enables Avantha Group to build the plant while the government acquires land, both physically and on paper.
After the formal land acquisition, Avantha Group will have to compensate only eight Gond tribals. Had the government acquired land from the hundreds of tribals from four villages, the company would have to pay compensation to all, besides providing other facilities under the corporate social responsibility.

Anand Mishra, a farmer leader from Bilaspur, says most industrialists have purchased land worth crores of rupees in the name of their servants, guards and even unknown tribals.

[By arrangement with Down to Earth]
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