What do you call a man who promises you a job if you agree to part with a portion of your wealth in exchange? A man you should be wary of. Correct?
And what would you call a man who takes your wealth — possibly the only wealth you have — and then fails to keep that promise of suitable employment? A fraudster. Correct?
We read about such ‘job scams’ in the newspapers. When victims of such fraud approach the police with a complaint, the cops swing into action. They raid premises and arrest the cheats. But when was the last time you heard about an industrialist or businessman getting arrested for failing to provide jobs, after taking away land? Land and water are the only real wealth a farming family has. These two elements ensure food, work, self-respect, and an inheritance. If someone takes away your livelihood, he better give you a darn good alternative.
That was the general idea in Yavatmal, a region that has seen too many tragic suicides in recent years. In 2001, former BJP MLA Uttam Ingle, on behalf of Chintamani Agrotech, acquired over a hundred acres of land.
Chintamani Agrotech walked in on powerful legs; there was Nitin Gadkari on board, apart from Ingle and other BJP politicians. It had promised to set up a sugar factory apparently. A decade passed. No factory. So the villagers demanded that their land be returned, or that their children be given jobs. Some people reportedly attacked the firm’s local office.
Chintamani said that it would set up a biogas plant instead, and use sugarcane residue to generate electricity. Whether this is true, or whether it will end up being a coal-based plant, as activists fear, I don’t know. But there is no definite declaration about how many jobs will be generated and whether those jobs will definitely be given to farmers.
The odd thing is that the state is supposed to have cleared 85 power projects across the Vidarbha region, where farmer suicides have long been a cause for concern. But power plants also need a whole lot of water. Finally, it will have to be drawn from “irrigation” projects.
Meanwhile, there is a similar land and power-plant situation in neighbouring Madhya Pradesh. Apparently, Moserbaer had acquired large tracts of land (including forest land) in Anuppur district. Reports quote farmers as saying that their land was valued at rates as low as Rs16 per square meter.
Others say that they had been assured of land in exchange for land. But the ‘letter of agreement’ did not specify whether or not the firm would follow the state’s rehabilitation and resettlement norms. It mentioned certain commitments as decided by the state revenue department, but the farmers were not told what these “commitments” would translate into.
Allegedly, bore-wells have been sunk and villagers assume that water will be drawn to feed the power project. Which means that even those who do not want to sell land will have less groundwater for their own use. And the loss of water is neither accounted for nor compensated.
When they protested earlier this year in Anuppur, farmers were faced with laathis, bullets, and a stint in prison. So, I imagine they have no warm fuzzy feelings for power plants these days. But the question is — what do you call a man who takes away your most prized possession, then claims it isn’t worth a lot, refuses to tell you how he intends to pay you back, and when you show up with your friends to demand that he return your valuables, he gets the cops to arrest you?
First published here