Land Dacoit Adani, and the resolute Santhals

  • December 13, 2019

Adani Power Limited is building a thermal power plant with the capacity to generate 1,600 megawatts of electricity in the Godda district of Jharkhand. The Godda project requires 1,214 acres of land. The villagers claim that their land was forcibly acquired by the government. Subha Protim Roy Chowdhury recently visited the project affected villages, talked to the villagers, the local MLA, and with local journalists and administrative officials. GroundXero publishes a three-part report on his findings. Here is the second part of his report. To read the first part of the report click here. 



Fact-finding report:   

In order to understand the present situation, three of us went to the affected villages on 10th and 11th November, 2019. My two friends Manuel and Surinam Soren, who lives in the Poreyahat block and I have gone to these moujas several times in the past to do surveys on health, the environment, etc. We talked with the people associated with movements, who are hounded by the police and hooligans and are harassed with false cases because of their unwillingness to give away their lands. We talked with the adivasi families whose lands are now behind the guard-walls of Adani Power Plant. Agriculture was their only source of income: ‘Aur koyi kam nehi ata. (We don’t know any other job.)’ Their possible fate is death due to starvation. We also spoke to those who gave up their lands and had already been compensated for it. We were also able to speak to the local MLA, and with journalists and administrative officials. However, as the assembly election will be held in Jharkhand this December, we faced certain problems because of the the model code of conduct. What we found in these two days of data collection are as follows:


All the slogans on the walls have been wiped out. However, there was a rich collection of slogans, demonstrations, and songs in this land movement like any other land movement. We collected some slogans from old photographs of the movement.


Some Slogans:

Pyasa hain Godda, Pyasi hain janta,

Power plant se hoga, pani ki bund, bund ki chinta!

(Godda is thirsty, thirsty are the people,

Water for power plant will make us anxious for every drop!)


10 crore litre protidin  Adani, pani kahan se layega?

yadi boring kiyatoh, kishan pani ke liye tadap tadap kar mar jayega!

(10 crore litres of water per day, from where will Adani bring it?

If you start boring, farmers will face a painful death!)


Adani bhagao, jibon bachao!

(Adani go back, save life!)


‘My land is mine, I’ll never allow anyone to acquire it’, here this is the main theme of the movement. We talked with some of them, Suryanarayan Hembram and Manager Hembram, who had started their movement with this clear statement.


Suryanarayan Hembram:

Village: Gangta Gobindapur, Block: Godda, District: Godda.


Suryanarayan Hembram retired as a primary school teacher in 2009. He wrote some books in Santhali language on Santhali society and culture. He often comes to Kolkata to do some publication-related work. Till date, the usage of the Ol Chiki script in Jharkhand is at an abysmal state. As in West Bengal, the Santhali language and its literature are written in Bengali script, in Jharkhand they are written in the Devnagari script. Suryanarayan said that the Santhali identity is now endangered in every respect. Some of his important books are Debi Deshai, Baha Parab Puthi, Saharai Puthi etc.


The land is in his grandfather’s name; plot number – 46, Ledger – 43, total amount – 16 katha (20 katha roughly equals one bigha). He is one of those who didn’t give their land for the Adani project. It can be said that he is one of the most prominent leaders of this land movement. His land was grabbed forcefully. The main parts of the conversation with him are here:


‘Those whose lands now lies behind the [Power plant] walls, they could not cultivate their land. They are now day-labourers and have gone far to get jobs.


‘I have more than 16 kathas of land. In my village I am one of those whose land was grabbed. In my neighbouring village, Manager Hembram and his relatives have 15 bighas of land. They also didn’t want to give up their land. But many dikus (non-Santhals, outsiders) have given up their lands, and only a few of them protested. And we, both Santhals and non-Santhals who protested against it did not take any compensation money.’


‘We started a hunger strike and drank only water for seven days. In April 2017, the police arrested the MLA Pradip Yadav from our strike platform. He had to spent 6 months in jail.’


Have you filed cases in the High Court?

‘Nothing has been filed and nothing has progressed. The lawyers got everything that they wanted. What can you do? Everyone is sold, from the state government to the central government. The Prime Minister himself sent them [Adani] here. The Chief Minister sent the police force. The local MLA showed them the land. Actually, this area is divided into two constituencies. The MLA of  Payerhat, who belongs to the Jharkhand Vikash Morcha, is on our side. But the MLA of Godda is from BJP, and he is in favour of Adani.’


‘Pradip Yadav and Babulal Marandi (the first Chief Minister of Jharkhand) came here several times to support us. But MP Nishikant Dube and the other MLA Amit Kumar Mandal (Godda) set hooligans to harass us. And this MLA [Mandal] showed them the land. The MP said that the barrage must be built at Suryabathan. A very problematic list regarding the land acquisition for barrage in Rajabaitha has been submitted. Tell me, who will protest?’


‘They recruited outsiders as daily-wage labour, no local person was emplyed. Four persons have died during the construction work in the last eight months.’


‘Were any step was taken after? Any news coverage?’

‘Nothing. If any local person  dies while working at the Adani site, the reaction will be different. They recruited outsiders for this reason, just to make the dead bodies disappear without trouble. They are criminals.’


Manager Hembram:

Village: Mali, Panchayat: Baksara, Block: Payerhat, District: Godda.


The village of Mali is adjoining to the compound wall of the Adani project. Many of the residents of this village are relatives of Manager Hembram. Manager is a Catholic Christian. They grow gram, wheat, and maize on their lands. The total amount of land owned by Manager’s grandfather was 16 bighas and 16 kathas. The present ownership of this land is now in the hands of many successors but none of them want to give up the land. The brokers recruited by Adani threatened them, but couldn’t influence them. Manager was falsely framed in a fabricated case by Adani. Their lands are beyond the project area. However, because of the pollution from the thermal power plant the lands are now already polluted with dust. Manager Hembram was present with his family during our conversation. Here is the gist of the conversation with him:


‘We the Santhals will never give up our lands. Others who gave up their lands, they gave it because of fear. We are being threatened by both the brokers of Adani and the administration. Whose name will I mention? If our DC Kiran Kumar Pasi does not hear our problems, to whom will we go?’


Are the brokers local?

‘The big brokers, like Avimanyu Singh and Dinesh Mishra are from Godda. These are some local brokers. Forget the brokers, even our DC said, ‘Your lands have been acquired.’ Strange! We did not give our lands to anyone. Then how can it be taken?’


You lead the movement. What is the current situation?

‘See, our movement cannot be stopped. We started a hunger strike unto death. But they created pressure by arresting many of us. As a result of this, a massive agitation started, and the pressure increased more. Previously a compensation of  Rs. 9-10 lakhs per acre (3 bigha equals one acre) was given. Now it has increased to Rs. 49 lakhs per acre.’


Was your movement in favour of  fair compensation?

‘No, this is not true. We will not give our lands. What I am trying to say is that they increased the rate of compensation due to the protests. It is true that, due to this increased rate of compensation the number of persons willing to give up their lands also increased. You may call it the temptation of money, but at the same time, many of us could not tolerate the pressure of continuous threats from the police and the hooligans and being charged with false cases.’


But you along with some others have not given up. What is the reason behind your resoluteness?

‘It is land, land, and land. This land nurtures us. All our culture, our identities are tied to the land. But they are seizing even the graveyards. We do everything based on  these lands. And we will never give our lands to Adani Power at any cost.’


Was the land acquisition programme not legal?

‘No notice was given. We did not give our land. But there is the mention of giving notice in the governmental procedure.’


According to Article 20 of the Santhal Pargana Tenancy Act 1949, barring a few exceptions, no agricultural land of Dumka, Deoghar, Jamtara, Pakur, Sahibganj and the United Santhal Pargana can be acquired for any public or private projects. But here, how did it became possible for them to grab your lands?

‘It was possible because ‘The King’ wanted it to be so. Where did we not go? On last September 18, 2018 we appealed to the Governor. In a petition we argued that although it is said that the lands of the ten villages are taken for ‘public interest’, in reality they are taken for private benefit. Almost twenty thousand tonnes of coal will be burnt and we will get only the smoke.’


Ramesh Besra, once a tiller, has now become a day-labourer. We talked with him.


Ramesh Besra:

When we started talking, the sun was setting. The village of Nayabad is populated by the Santhal community. Beside this village, railway-lines will be built for transportation to and from the Adani Power Plant. When we visited the village, the frantic dance of the bulldozers was going on. Twenty-two year old Ramesh Besra and some other villagers were in front of us. Ramesh’s father is Madhusudan Besra. His four bighas of land have been acquired by Adani Power.


‘No, they did not take our permission. Now our lands are behind that wall, cultivation has totally stopped. Now we are day-labourers.’


Where do you go for work?

‘We go to Bihar. Here there are no jobs. But in Bihar too, we have no surety of getting jobs.’


What did you grow on your lands?

‘Paddy was grown twice a year. We lived on our agriculture produce. We did not want to give up our lands. Our morol (community leader) repeatedly requested the government, but the government listened to no one.’


Can we talk with him (morol)?

‘No, he is out of station.’


After this, we spoke to a non-indigenous person – Manohar Sahu. He had given up his lands and got money in return.

Ramesh Besra, once a tiller, has now become a day-labourer. We talked with him.


Manohar Sahu:

Their land is registered in the name of their grandfather Mushai Sahu. They are four brothers. Manohar and his two other brothers Muralidhar Sahu and Sikandar Sahu voluntarily gave their lands to the Adani project. But Manohar’s third brother, Chintamani Sahu, did not give up his land. Manohar and his brother’s lands are in the Gangta Gobindapur and Jamabandi moujas and now are within the Adani project. Each brother has 87 decimals (one decimal approximately equals to 1/100 acre) of land. Manohar Sahu got 42 lakhs for his share of land. Other two brothers also got money.


‘We too had love for our land. But what will we do? We could not take the pressure.’


What kind of pressure?

‘The pressure was everywhere, from home to the road. Children were saying if we keep the land, we will not be able to cultivate it. Everything will be ruined. After the project comes up there will be no water. Therefore, it would be a wise decision to give the land at such a price.’


And what pressure did you feel “from the road”?

‘Adani’s men are everywhere. A lot of our community (Sahu) members became their agents. We are basically businessmen; we know what ‘profit’ is.’


Your other brothers who have also sold their lands for money, do bear the same attitude?

‘My youngest brother Sikandar has no such source of income. So, he had no other way out.’


And Chintamani?

‘He did not give his land. He is right. Being his brothers we should supported him.’


Do you repent for that?

Indeed! He has true love for land. We actually betrayed him. We betrayed even with land.’


We could not talk with Chintamoni Sahu, because he was in Lalmatiya. But we talked with the MLA Pradip Yadav.


Pradip Yadav:

‘See, now the Government is proactive to give benefit to the big companies (here, Adani). Where the price of the land here was Rs. 43 lakhs per acre, it was reduced to only Rs. 1.25 lakhs per acre in order to benefit the company. But after the establishment of the industry, the price increased. If the tillers got their fair share, it would be four times higher than what they actually got. But due to governmental conspiracy the tillers had to lose crores of money. And on the other hand, Adani profited by almost seven and a half thousand crores from it.


‘We first started talking about it in the Legislative Assembly. We had to fight almost like Ekalavya in the Assembly. We were able to increase the price of the land through this fight. The second aspect of our fight was the demand for electricity. It was a movement against a policy that approved 100% export of power to Bangladesh without giving anything to the native state. And the third reason for the movement was that the land seizing operation actually violated the provisions of the Land Acquisition Act 2013, which stated that for such an acquisition of land the support of at least 80% of tillers is needed. Our movement started with the demand of justice in these three aspects. The movement lasted for a long period. The Government had given support to the company. They started repression. They trapped me in false cases. I was in jail for 6 months. But we never got frightened. And that fight is still alive. But the adjoining lands are losing their erstwhile fertility. The groundwater level is going down each day.’


Yes, yesterday we heard in the villages that the groundwater level has reduced by a considerable amount. People are worried about what will happen in the coming years.


‘It is true. The results will be dangerous. The fight has not stopped, but now is in a dormant phase. This is normal. However, it is true that we will try our best to establish the rights of those people. The fight will go on.’


‘Lands were forcibly seized  many-a-times. But the success of the movement is that while previously they demanded the lands of 12 moujas, now it has reduced in only 4 moujas. That means, they had to leave out 8 moujas. I want to thank those landowners, tillers, irrespective of their castes, who were able to save 8 moujas with a consolidated and united fight. However, Adani has grabbed 4 moujas.’


But once the factory will start the brokers of Adani and the administration will try to acquire lands of the adjoining areas. We have seen it in other places. The factory has to be enlarged, housing and other infrastructure has to be build, etc.

‘No, I just said that the movement is now in a dormant phase. Let us see what can be done in the future.’


What is the reason behind this ‘dormant phase’? Is it a strategy or is it because of the upcoming election?

Yes, the election is also a factor. People are also in a ‘wait and watch’ mood. They are trying to understand the amount by which they stand to profit or lose.’


We have seen in the mass movements in West Bengal like Singur or Nandigram, in the anti-POSCO movement in Odisha, or in Khunti of your own state where the Pathalgari movement is going on that people from every strata of the society have joined in the movements. Did the same thing happen here or something else?

‘See, you can find it everywhere. Today in this situation all types of people are present. If you see the freedom struggle you will find that some people were there who supported the British. On the contrary, there were some others who were mad for freedom. Negative people are there in any positive work. But if you can convince people you can get the support of the maximum. I am hopeful.’


To be continued…


To read the first part of the report click here.


Acknowledgement: Durbar Mahila Samanwaya Committee (DMSC) and AAMRA


The author is a social researcher and activist. 


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