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on coal, forests and farmers

Take Chotia, a captive block in Hasdeo Arand with about 35 MT of reserves, allotted to Prakash Industries. Chouhan says 1,500 hectares of forest land is being lost to produce about 1 MT of coal a year. Wouldn’t it have been better to give Prakash a coal linkage? Or take Mahan, the block that will meet the power needs of Essar and Hindalco for about 14 years. Why not give them a bigger block elsewhere instead of taking a wildlife corridor out? Chhattisgarh scrapped the Lemru-proposed elephant reserve in Hasdeo Arand after the Confederation of Indian Industry wrote to it that the country stood to lose 40 MTPA of coal and 4,300 MW of power projects because of it. Of the nine companies allotted blocks here, two have had the CBI slap FIRs on them for misrepresentation; and district officials say no more than two will set up power plants.

and so, two more stories o’ mine on coal are finally out. the first takes a look at the relationship between coal and forests. while working on this set of stories about the coal sector in india, i kept hearing from assorted bureaucrats and cos and sectoral experts about how the country needs to decide whether it wants electricity or tigers. and about how india must learn to strike a balance between environment and development.

the subtext here was that the ‘no-go’ policy of not allowing mining in some forests should be scrapped.

it makes one wonder, this insistence. have we really reached a point where there is no option but to start taking out the tattered remnants of the once great central indian forests? more puzzzlingly, why was there such hostility to the ‘no-go’ plan even though the environment ministry had allowed mining in over half the reserve forests lying atop coal blocks — the ‘go’ areas?

the story out two days ago looks for answers to those questions. take a look?

an accompany story looks at how villagers close to coal blocks have been impacted by how land gets acquired.

Why does industrial expansion result in such poor outcomes for local communities? The answer partly lies in how companies acquire land, the process of which is explained by the head of a Raipur-based sponge-iron company. Since a company usually does not have local contacts in the project area, it turns to local land brokers. They go to influential people like the sarpanch, large farmers or the patwari and ask them to buy land. A big farmer with, say, 20 acres of land is promised Rs 5 crore if he can get the company 50 acres of land. This big farmer knows which villagers are in distress, and starts buying their land. The spike in land deals — typically, 50-100 acres — alerts villagers a company might be coming in. Land rates rise, and the broker starts buying from any farmer willing to sell. When 50 acres or so are left, the government is asked to acquire the rest.

with this, i am pretty much done with all the coal stories. think i will put up a larger, composite email on coal-gate, aggregating all the stories we did, up on the blog next.

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