This place was turned into a police cantonment on the evening of 5 December 5. The police surrounded the entire area. It appeared as if something big was about to happen. People with yellow cards started arriving in large numbers on the morning of 6 December. The police was allowing only these cardholders to enter. I enquired about the mystery of the yellow card. I was told it was the pass to participate in Jan Sunvai. Nobody told me who was distributing these cards."
"The people at the hearing were curtly asked whether they wanted to give their land to Adani? They replied in the affirmative and the hearing ended. Those who did not possess the card were not allowed to voice their opinion. They resorted to sloganeering outside the venue. The police baton-charged them. There's still no word on these yellow cards."
Pradeep, a resident of Godda district in Jharkhand's Santhal Pargana region, is breathless as he narrates this story. Situated close to the border with Bihar, Godda has been chosen to host Gautam Adani's two proposed power plants. The proposal has been a subject of controversy for the past one year.
From threats to allurements, all tactics have been employed to convince the farmers here to give their land for the project. Jharkhand's BJP government has even changed multiple rules to facilitate the venture.
Pradeep was describing a "public meeting" called to discuss acquisition of land for one of the power plants. Several such meetings was held in Godda's Motia and Baksara regions on 6 December. The venues were conspicuous by heavy police deployment. However, it barely found a mention in the local media.
"The construction of this power plant is a certainty since the government is adamant about it, and the media as well as the administration are backing it. "But even 1,600 MW of electricity supposed to be produced by these plants would not alleviate the darkness in our lives and social tensions that are set to follow," Pradeep says.
The site chosen for one of the plants is in Motia-Dumaria. Most land owners here have migrated to other areas and left their farms to tenants. The officials of Adani's company believe land acquisition would be easier here since most land owners are not directly employed in farming.
The company and the government, of course, doesn't seem bothered about the landless labourers and tenant farmers who are dependent on this land for their very survival.
Divide and rule
The Adani Group has managed to get the support of a section of the land owners, if Pradeep is to be believed. And this has led to tensions between them and the sharecroppers.
Initially, the Jindals had offered to build the power plant in Motia-Dumaria. The group had even acquired land for this purpose in the hilly area of Godda. As per a contract signed by the central government, electricity from this plant would be supplied to Bangladesh. To fire up the plant, the Jindal Group had been allotted the adjoining Jeetpur coal block. However, the tender was later cancelled.
Meanwhile, there was a change of guard in Jharkhand and Raghubar Das of the BJP became the chief minister. Fresh tenders were issued for Jeetpur coal block. This time the deal was bagged by Adani's company. On 17 February 2016, Adani Group's Managing Director Rajesh Adani signed a contract with then state energy secretary SKG Rahate in the presence of the chief minister to build two power plants with a combined capacity of 1,600 MW.
Jharkhand's energy policy clearly states that it will have a right to at least 25% of the electricity produced in any power plant that operates within its borders. However, power generated in these power projects will be supplied to Bangladesh. The company has agreed to supply a "predetermined percentage" of power generated from one of the plants to Jharkhand.
Initially, a place called Paraspani was earmarked for this plant. The company prepared to acquire 2,200 acres of land for the purpose. But Jharkhand Vikas Morcha legislator Pradeep Yadav raised his voice against it. The matter even echoed in the state assembly.
According to a senior official of the Adani Group, Prabhakar Jha, the company originally planned to set up a power plant in Gujarat's Mundra. But after bagging Jeetpur coal block, it decided to build the power plant nearby to save on coal transportation cost and "to aid Jharkhand's development".
The company has purportedly chalked out several "development plans" for the region, according to the official. Besides paying "fair compensation" for the acquired land, jobs have been promised to locals below the age of 40. The company has also pledged to spend a part of its profit on the development of the region.
At Adani's beck and call
MLA Pradeep Yadav, who claims the credit for cancellation of the project in Paraspani, rues that the government is now "playing the same game" with the people of Motia-Dumaria. Yadav has accused BJP government of "flouting all rules to benefit the Adani Group". He claims the state will lose Rs 2,000 crore in revenue annually as a result of the "favours" being doled out to the company.
"Everybody sees how state officials are more active than even Adani's own employees in securing a foothold for the company in Jharkhand. All leaders have only paid lip service to the cause of the locals. Nobody is prepared to do anything beyond a point," laments Jharkhand Vikas Morcha chief and former chief minister Babulal Marandi.
Pallav, a local journalist, has followed the issue since the beginning. He says, "This controversy has divided the people of Santhal Pargana into two groups. The company is giving benefits to a section of the society to further its agenda. The BJP and other parties are backing it. This is the reason the politicians have not taken up the issue," Pallav says.
"The company wants to divide the land it seeks to take into three categories on the basis of the land survey of 1932 for determining compensation to the farmers. The survey had categorised the best land as 'ubal', uncultivated land into 'dhani', barren land as 'tikkar.' But, there has been a lot of change in the topography during the nine decades. People have cultivated a large chunk of 'tikkar' land," Pallav adds.
The journalist believes the Adani Group has chosen Motia-Dumaria for the power plant for a reason. "The company is creating a wedge between the land owners and others who are dependent on the land. It hopes to take the land by dividing the society."
"It is the first case of its kind in the country where the government, political parties as well as the administrative machinery are all going out of their way to benefit a particular company. Many district officials have been brazenly transferred to facilitate the project," says a senior government official, who asked not to be named for fear of reprisals.
This official claims the BJP regime is "pursuing the agenda of amending the Chhota Nagpur Tenancy Act of 1908 and the Santhal Pargana Tenancy Act of 1949 with the sole objective of favouring Adani". "The plan is to let the local farmers and the company settle the matter between themselves without any intervention from the government," the official notes. "Essentially, Adani's people will get a free hand to do as they please."