Janjgir Champa, a district located in the north-eastern part of Chhattisgarh has been a hub for several thermal power projects. The district has ample water resource as it comes under the Mahanadi Basin. It is bordered by Mahanadi River, the largest river in Chhattisgarh, on its southern boundary, Hasdeo River passing through the centre, Lilagar on the western border, and Mand on the western side forming a border with Raigarh. Kanj, Son, Borai, Bugan the important tributaries of Mahanadi form the network of drainage in the district.
The district is undergoing a rapid industrial development as various thermal plants have been proposed to be set up here. The state government, over the past years has signed MoUs with several companies for setting up thermal power projects. Around 34 thermal power plants are in the process of being setup in this small, predominantly agricultural district, which will make it the district with the largest number of power plants in India.
A team comprising of six members from Environics Trust visited the district in the month of December 2017 to develop an understanding of the consequences of such form of aggressive industrialization on the communities that get affected by it and conducted a cumulative research with the communities. Currently there are seven power plants permitted to be setup out of which five are already operational. The power plants on the eastern part of the district are KSK Mahanadi, Prakash Industries, Marwa Thermal Power Plant and Arasmeta Captive Power Plant and the western part of the district has RKM Power Plant, DB Power Plant and Athena Power Plant. The Athena Power Plant is presently not functional due to fund crunch.
It was found that, every plant has affected at least three nearby villages resulting in complete loss of livelihood for many. The district which was mainly into agriculture has been left bereaved with such kind of industrialization. The villagers did not give up their land willingly but were coerced after being promised jobs, better roads, medical facilities and schools. Though there were many who opposed acquisition by the companies, they had to finally surrender and give their ancestral lands as several of them were arrested and false charges were pressed against them for raising their voice against the companies. There are many families who have still not got jobs or have not been paid any compensation or been paid much less than the market value during land acquisition. In the case of DB Power Plant and RKM, the villagers who have lost their land have been given temporary jobs which do not pay enough to enable them to sustain themselves and their families. There are young men whose families have lost land and they are now forced to migrate to other parts of the country in search of jobs that could provide the basic minimum for their survival.
This raises a very serious question on the mis-conception that industries bring with them development and prosperity for the communities. The people of the district which now hosts so many power plants and are about to host many more as per the Government’s decision, must migrate to other cities in search of work. The RKM Power plant which is now situated in Uchpinda has been a reason for complete loss of livelihood for the villagers who were engaged in the making of mortar and pestle. The hills from which these villagers collected the stone now falls under the area that the power plant has acquired. Therefore, these people can no longer get their raw material as the plant does not permit them to enter the premises.
Any displacement affects the women and children the most as they are the most vulnerable. Even here women and children are the most affected as the compensation has been paid to the men who owned the land that has been acquired. The men have already spent more than half of the compensation in drinking, therefore leaving the women with bare or minimum resources to take care of the household expenses.
The Tribals who had received land have also not been paid any compensation from the companies as the Patta was not in their name. This has resulted in complete loss of livelihood for them and they are now living in fear of displacement again. Though the companies promised several facilities for the villagers, nothing has materialised.
The power plants have not only snatched the livelihood of the people, but also have left them with a disastrous environment as all the power plants have violated the environmental conditions. The amount of pollution that engulfs the areas near the plants is beyond the stipulated level. It has made it difficult for people to actually live in the villages that are situated very near to the power plants. The violations in the transferring of ash and regarding the ash ponds have also left land infertile thereby causing distress to even the ones whose land has not been acquired by the company.
The visit helped in understanding the negative consequences of such kind of development and in a way reasserted that this cannot be beneficial to the communities and are a reason for the long-term suffering of the communities.