Project looking to acquire 350 acres of urban land; could displace 524 families from six settlements

“Can you please tell me the name of the owner of this company?” insisted Abha Ekka, a post-graduate student, at a public hearing held this Monday in Chhattisgarh’s Raigarh district.

“I don’t think it is relevant,” replied Additional District Magistrate, S.K. Sharma who was conducting the hearing for the acquisition of 693.32 hectares of land for a coalmine for DB Power Ltd.

DB Power is a subsidiary of DB Corp Ltd, a media conglomerate that owns four newspapers, including the Hindi Dainik Bhaskar and English DNA, that have a combined readership of 17.5 million readers, and the My FM radio station.

The company's most recent project in Dharamjaigarh shall displace 524 families from six settlements to extract 2 million tonnes of coal every year to fuel a 1320 MW thermal power plant that shall be built in the adjoining district of Janjgir.

In the days preceding the hearing, the Raigarh edition of the Dainik Bhaskar carried a full page of stories in favour of the project.

“Black diamond to give sparkle to Dharamjaigarh’s destiny”, ran one typical headline on February 27. Another story claimed “Villagers take steps to support DB Power”, without mentioning that the newspaper and the power plant were owned by the same parent company.

On the day of the public hearing, villagers were united in their opposition to the plant. “Company officials have been intimidating the villagers and are pressuring us to give our land, and the police are refusing to register cases against the company,” said Adhir Majhi, a resident of Baisiya Colony who shall lose his land if the power is cleared.

More than 40 people charged

On Feb 23 this year, DB Power’s office in Dharamjaigarh was vandalised by a mob. The police have filed cases against more than 40 people, including 11 local reporters who were covering the incident. “We have been charged because we have written against the power project,” said Manish Aggarwal, a reporter for Raigarh Sandesh.

The police have also charged D.S. Maliya, a professor of Geography at G.G.U. Central University in the same incident. Prof. Maliya claims he has been implicated in the case in an effort to silence him. “I have been opposing the project by screening copies of the EIA [Environmental Impact Assessment] report in the affected villages,” he said.

Raigarh Superintendent of Police, Rahul Sharma said the police believed that all those charged had participated in the attack on the DB Power office.

Senior police officials speculate that the intensity of the protests in this instance could be because a company is acquiring about 350 acres of urban land belonging to the Dharamjaigarh nagar panchayat along with village land.

In a sign that the pressure is paying off, DB Power has submitted an affidavit pledging not to conduct any mining operations in nagar panchayat land. A supplementary letter filed at the public hearing promises to re-site any proposed water tanks and coal piles from nagar panchayat land to the remaining leased area. Four villages shall still lose their lands.

“If the company is really giving up 350 acres of land, it should submit a new EIA report,” said activist Ramesh Agarwal, explaining that the existing report was meaningless as giving up 350 acres of urban land would alter the mining plan of the project.

'No info on impact'

The Centre for Science and Environment, a Delhi-based research group, has criticised the report for not providing information on the mine’s impact on surface and groundwater sources, forests and fauna. “Almost

40 per cent of land in the project area is covered under forests …There are 11 reserved and 2 protected forests within 10 km radius,” says the CSE critique, noting that the EIA report claims that the buffer zone of the mine is home to sloth bears, hyenas and jackals but the core zone of mining is inhabited only by ‘mammals’ and ‘reptiles’.

“Public hearings are always held on the basis of a draft EIA report,” said Vaibhav Alshi, Senior General Manager, DB Power, “The final report shall be modified on the basis of the issues raised in the hearing.”