Land protests over Deocha Pachami coal block
- The West Bengal government’s Deocha Pachami coal block mining project, despite the announcement of a relief and rehabilitation package, saw widespread protests which resulted in the arrests of nine people including economist-activist Prasenjit Bose.
- Deaucha Panchami coal block of Birbhum Coalfield Area is World’s Second Largest Coal Block situated in West Bengal.
- It is the largest coal mine or coal block in Asia, due to the number of coal reserves.
- It is the newest coal mine in West Bengal.
- Bengal CM stated that the mining project will create about one lakh jobs.
- The proposed mining project has been recently in the news due to expected environmental concerns and displacement of the people from the same area.
- Experts, environmentalists and activists have raised a host of issues concerning the pitfalls of going ahead with plans for open cast mining of coal at a time when there are calls to cut back on fossil fuels to tackle global warming.
Turn of events
- The West Bengal government’s ambitious Deocha Pachami coal block mining project in Birbhum district has run into hurdles over land acquisition and other issues.
- Last month nine people, including economist-activist Prasenjit Bose, were arrested at a rally to protest against the proposed project, being undertaken by the West Bengal Power Development Corporation.
- The Bengal CM announced a relief and rehabilitation package, and said there will be no forcible acquisition of land for the project, which was awarded to the State by the Center in 2018.
What is the project?
- The State government is planning to start mining at the Deocha Pachami coal block, considered to be the largest coal block in the country
- It has reserves of around 1,198 million tonnes of coal and 1,400 million cubic meters of basalt, spread over an area of 12.31 sq. km, which is around 3,400 acres.
- There are around 12 villages in the project area with a population of over 21,000, comprising Scheduled Castes and Scheduled Tribes.
- However, it is facing protests over land acquisition.
- The government owns 1,000 acres, of which 300 acres is forest land, but needs to acquire the rest to begin coal mining.
Why are locals upset?
- Villagers represented by the Birbhum Jomi Jeeban Jeevika O Prakiti Bachao Mahasabha (Birbhum Save Land and Environment Protection Organisation) have been organizing protests and rallies against the project.
- Activists claim that there is a “misleading propaganda” that locals are willing to “give land voluntarily”.
- Locals, mostly Santhal tribals, have close affinity with the land, with forests and waterways, and rely on it for their needs.
- Activists said that instead of engaging with the people on their grievances about the coal mining project, they, together with the tribals, were being harassed and had been arrested under false and serious charges.
- Various other organizations have lent their voice to the protests and spoken out against alleged police atrocities, including the Samyukt Kisan Morcha (which had led the year-long farmers’ stir on the borders of Delhi), the Jawaharlal Nehru University Students’ Union, Bangla Sanskriti Mancha and the Teachers Against the Climate Crisis.
- Experts, environmentalists and activists have raised a host of issues concerning the project and the pitfalls of going ahead with plans for open cast mining of coal, at a time when there are calls to cut back on fossil fuel to tackle global warming.
- Also, the project details have not yet been made public; and the environment clearance is awaited.
What is the compensation package?
- Bengal CM insists that the State needs the mining project, saying it will create about one lakh jobs.
- The State government revised the relief and rehabilitation project, which will cost the exchequer ₹10,000 crore, to give land losers a better deal.
- Under the revised relief & rehabilitation (R&R) package a person having land in the area will get double the market value along with 100% solatium as land cost.
- Compensation in lieu of built-up houses (for those who will opt for money) has been increased from ₹5 lakh per family to ₹7 lakh
- There is provision for jobs as well.
- Along with this, long-term residents of the area who are not landowners will be provided with land patta and a compensation package.
- The government will develop this project and no land will be given to private players.
- There are some mine owners who are trying to spread misinformation among people.
- Bengal CM said if anyone does not want to give land we will not force and will develop the project excluding that portion
Are the protests similar to Singur and Nandigram?
- Earlier, there had been a massive protest at Singur against forced land acquisition that led the Tatas to exit the State with the Nano small car project.
- In 2007, land acquisition for a proposed chemical hub during Left rule also turned violent.
- The protests at Deocha Pachami come at a time when the TMC government has been trying to shed its anti-industry image and bring back jobs to the State and stop large-scale migration of youngsters to other States.