This is a post from Renuka Saroha, a 350 staffer, writing as she visits coal impacted communities and people across Eastern India
So if someone asks you ‘who pays for your electricity?’ What would your answer be?
Until recently my naive answer was, ‘my father pays for electricity’. But then I had a conversation with Shree Dhaneshwar Lal from Sikri village of Hazaribagh District in the state of Jharkhand, India. His story made me realize who and what cost is being paid for the electricity we use.
Shri Dhaneshwar Lal used to own little less than 1/3 hectares of fertile agricultural land in Sikri. However in year 2011 he was forced to give his ancestral agricultural land, unwillingly to National Thermal Power Corporation(NTPC). “What use is independence for us? Our grandfathers were forced to cultivate Indigo for British and now we are forced to cultivate coal for the Government. This is not democracy, this is dictatorship.” His family was one of the first families who refused to leave their land for a proposed coal mine by NTPC. His relatives near villages of Jharia in Hazaribagh, had narrated enough horror stories of life near a coal mine. He has attended enough funerals of young members of his family to realize the truth behind the development proposed by NTPC and the state. However, his resistance was not encouraged by many others in his village as they have seen atrocities of the police and company sent goons on people refusing to give up their land. They knew that ultimately the land would be taken away by any and all means. Moreover, any uprising in the village might threaten their chance of getting timely compensation.
It’s now been 2 years since Dhaneshwar Lal’s family lost legal rights to their agriculture land for a small price of Rs 262,500 (4300 USD). As he signed the papers selling his land to the corporation he was promised a job in the upcoming mine. Though 3 members of his family lost livelihood while giving away the land only one was promised a job soon. Till this day the entire village is waiting to hear from NTPC about the job opportunities.
In May 2011, the Coal Ministry deallocated five coal blocks under NTPC— Chatti Bariatu, Chatti Bariatu (S), Kerandari, Brahmani and Chichiro Patsimal — as it could not develop the mines within the stipulated timeframe. After immense pressure from state government and NTPC the ministry reallocated 3 coal blocks back to NTPC in January 2013. The company has now said it would start production in these block only after 2017. The coal extracted from these mines would be transported to its various power plants in the country, which would then sell electricity to various states in country. Meanwhile, villagers have lost their land but operations and jobs are a distant dream.
Story of Dhaneshwar and his fellow villagers is not one in isolation. India’s ever increasing energy needs are creating a dark future for people living in coal-rich belts or those living close to water resources. Many villagers in India spend each day of their lives in fear of losing their land for a mine or a power plant. Farmers across states of Maharashtra, Chattishgarh, Madhya Pradesh, Jharkhand and Andhra Pradesh are complaining of decrease in water table. Few decades ago they were displaced to build irrigation dams for farms and now the water from these very dams is diverted to coal power plants, coal mines and other industries being set up. These families are yet to see the bright future promised by our leaders and industrialists. These are the families who are paying the true cost for the electricity we consume. These are the families who live in the darkest corners of the energy hubs of India.
Today we have reached a situation where we need take a step back and assess the true cost of energy. Since independence India has witnessed mass displacement for energy and infrastructure projects (an estimated 60 million). People who use electricity only to light a bulb or two end up paying the highest electricity bill. It’s time that as an electricity consumer, people living in urban cities understand our role in solving this energy mess. We know we need immediate and drastic policy changes to reduce India’s dependence on coal. We know we have power to demand justice for our fellow citizens and support them in their struggles. We have to stand with millions of families like that of Shri Dhaneshwar and challenge the existing energy situation in India. The fight for democratic and decentralized energy solutions needs to start from us.