Industries are blatantly ignoring rules and regulations in Chhatisgarh. Recently in three villages in the Dharamjaigarh region of Raigarh – Rookunga, Baisi and Taraimar – Bharat Aluminium Company (BALCO) got a proposal for land diversion passed from the gram sabha despite protests by the villagers of the region.
According to the proposal, BALCO was to receive the Durgapur-Taraimar coal block of Dharamjaigarh. 365.56 hectares of this 1076-acre coal block region belongs to the Forest Revenue department. After its diversion, the forest will be used for industrial purposes. A gram sabha was called on 29 September to address the issue, but the villagers boycotted it. Although a gram sabha cannot be called a second time within one week as per rules, the company officials, teaming up with the local administration, called another meeting on 2 October. The meeting had taken place in Baisi which has a population of 1300 voters, out of which 750 voters should have backed the proposal for it to pass. The company managed to get the signatures of only 173 villagers, but nevertheless declared that the proposal had been approved.
A member of the Save Forest Land Struggle Committee, DS Mallya claims that even though local farmers protested against BALCO, the company pretended that the proposal had been approved. Another member, Sajal says that a majority of population in the area is of tribals and Bangladeshis. When Bangladeshis first came to settle in Baisi, the land was barren. But with hard labor, the farmers turned it into a double-crop land. Now, they produce watermelons and parwal (pointed gourd). As a result, they do not want to give up their land, but BALCO is trying to seize it forcibly. Moreover, the land BALCO wants to annex is a part of the ‘Elephant Corridor’ – a breeding ground for elephants. Thus, the diversion of the coal block to BALCO poses a threat to animals as well.
Ajit Jogi, former CM of Chhattisgarh, criticised the move: “Cheating people is second nature to BALCO. They have long been exploiting resources with the support of politicians and administrators. Another gram sabha must be called. If the villagers are against it, they must start a movement to oppose it. The fraud took place with the consent of the state government. Without the government’s support, no company can dare to carry out such an act.”
BJP MLA from Dharamjaigarh, Omprakash Rathiya said, “The whole village knew what was happening in the gram sabha. They were not ignorant. Yes, I wasn’t there myself, but I know all about it. Only Taraimar locals are demanding a lease for the land first. That’s why they are not agreeing. But in Baisi gram sabha, all villagers were present. The proposal was passed with everyone’s consent.”
Bharat Jan Andolan’s pioneer and former administrative officer, Dr BD Sharma, claims, “This swindling has been going on for a long time. The state government is equally guilty. Everyone is involved from top to bottom. The villagers should strongly oppose it.”
BALCO is operated by the company Vedanta-Starlight, which owns 51% of the shares of BALCO. The Centre owns the rest of the shares and is preparing to sell them off to Vedanta. In such a scenario, these acts of Vedanta raises doubts about the company’s functioning in Sudoor, Raigarh.
Translated from TEHELKA Hindi by Naushin Rehman