Against the project

Published : Mar 03, 2001 00:00 IST


THE Koel-Karo hydroelectric power project was initiated in 1973 by the Bihar Electricity Board. In 1980-81, it was handed over to the National Hydroelectric Power Corporation (NHPC). It aims to generate 710 MW of electricity by building two dams on the r ivers, Koel and Karo. The submergence zone is spread over Gumla, Ranchi and Singhbhum districts. Official estimates regarding the extent of displacement have tended to vary. In 1973, the government stated that 42 villages would be submerged. In 1986, whe n the resettlement plan was prepared, this figure was revised to 112. According to non-official sources, however, even the revised figure is an underestimate and 256 villages will face submergence, of which 135 will vanish affecting some 1.5 lakh people, most of them Adivasis. Besides the villages, the project will submerge some 26,400 hectares of prime land, of which roughly half is under cultivation and half is forest land. At least 152 Sarnas (groves that were part of forests before they were cleared for settlement and hence considered sacred) and 300 Sasan-diris (stone slabs that mark the ancestral graveyard of each family of khuntkattidars; these family Sasan-diris make up a village Sasan) will get submerged.

As in the case of some 'development' projects initiated in other States, in the case of Koel-Karo the Bihar government did not think it necessary to consult the people while planning the project or informing them about its implementation. The people got to know about it only when the land acquisition process began. It was then that the people of the Koel region in Gumla district formed the Jan Sangharsh Samiti and those in the Karo region in Ranchi district formed the Jan Sanyojan Samiti. In 1975-76, th ese organisations united to form the Koel-Karo Jan Sangathan. The Sangathan initially cooperated with the government on the issue of the project but eventually adopted a stand of uncompromising opposition. In its first communication with the government a fter its formation, the sangathan had stated that it was willing to welcome the project if the government was willing to consider it as a people's project and accordingly make its policies and plans transparent. But the government's indifferent attitude on such questions made it initiate a kaam roko (stop work) campaign in 1977-78. All work came to a halt. Ultimately, the authorities agreed to have a tripartite meeting involving the Sangathan, project officials and government representatives. It was decided to conduct a joint socio-economic survey of the villages. A survey was conducted in a few villages, but the process was interrupted when filled-in schedules vanished from the project office.

The Sangathan then prepared a document that defined sampoorn punarvas (total resettlement) as the people saw it. It observed that total resettlement was possible only if besides economic resettlement, social, cultural, and religious resettlement w as planned. The Sangathan proposed that the government resettle two villages as an example. If the people were satisfied they could go ahead with the resettlement programme. Even though this was agreed upon, nothing was done. Instead, in July 1984, the g overnment announced that force would be used to proceed with the project.

Armed police personnel arrived in the area but soon had to pack their bags: the nature of people's resistance was such that for the personnel even day-to-day survival had became impossible. They were stopped from cutting trees to set up their camps; nobo dy would sell them fuelwood; a rumour was spread that the water in the well had been poisoned; they were not even allowed to defecate in the forests. The police had to go all the way from Lohajimi to Torpa, 12 km away, to get fuelwood and water. Then wom en decided to sow on the mud road on which their jeeps plied, claiming that it was private land and not a public thoroughfare; if they still drove their jeeps then they would have to face their bows and arrows!

That same year a writ petition was filed in the Supreme Court. The Supreme Court ordered that the project be stopped until the State complied with certain conditions regarding resettlement. This led to the government's announcement of a resettlement poli cy in 1991. In 1995, the Bihar government decided to restart the project and announced that the foundation stone would be laid on July 5 by Prime Minister P.V. Narasimha Rao. This led to renewed and vigorous mobilisation in the area. Thousands of people participated in rallies and satyagrahas organised in villages, culminating in the imposition of 'janata curfew' from the midnight of July 1 in the project area. Three barricades were erected on the road leading to the dam site and these have been in plac e since then. The Prime Minister cancelled his visit. The foundation stone of the Koel-Karo project has yet to be laid. The Sangathan's stand is now firm - no compensation, no resettlement, and no project.

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