Barmer farmers protest Jindal power project

Barmer farmers protest Jindal power project  People in Kapurdi hamlet, some 30 km from Rajasthan's Barmer town, are unusually suspicious of strangers. They stop and question every outsider driving through the area. What is making them so wary is land acquisition for Jindal group's power plant and lignite mine coming up in the area. The government is acquiring 8,000 hectares (ha) for the project, which will affect 40,000 people in 30 villages close to nh-15. It has already taken 480 ha around Bhadres village in Barmer tehsil .

The Ministry of Environment and Forests (moef) is yet to clear the project. Velu Annamalai, the chairperson of the expert committee on mining projects, which reviews projects and makes recommendations to moef, says, "This (the Barmer mining project) has not come up before the committee. I have not received the papers pertaining to it.' Same is the case with the power plant, says Arijit Dey, a member of the committee on thermal power plants.

Alarmed, the farmers are not allowing government officials to enter the hamlets and collect data on villages and their holdings. "If we are forced out of our land we will die. We are ready to die to save our land,' says Indu Singh of Kapurdi. Farmers across the villages echo his resolve. They formed an anti-acquisition group and on December 2007 filed a petition against Jindal subsidiary RajWest Power in the Jodhpur bench of the Rajasthan High Court, citing lack of measures to mitigate environmental and social impacts.

Farmers in Rohili ki dhani, Lakhitali, Ishwarpura and Botiya villages say the government is offering them a Rs 142,000 per ha when the market value is four times this. Asked about the right price, Bhire Ram of Bhadres villages said, "There is no question of the right price. We cannot contemplate selling our land. What use is a farmer without his land?' He sold some land in 2006. "The government railroaded us into selling land. Most of us are illiterate. What can we do?' he asks.

Lip service First of the eight units of the 1,080 mw plant is under construction at Bhadres. Lignite will be sourced from neighbouring Jalipa and Kapurdi villages. Farmers say the project does not need 8,000 ha. They suspect the company may sell the land at profit to other industries. A senior official with the Barmer Lignite Mining Company