By Renuka Saroha:
So, if someone asks you who pays for your electricity bills, what would your answer be? Until recently, my answer would have been ‘My father pays for electricity’. But then I had a small conversation with Shri Dhaneshwar Lal from Sikri village of Hazaribagh district in the state of Jharkhand, India. His story made me realize what cost is being paid for the electricity we use and who is paying for it.
Shri Dhaneshwar Lal used to own little less than 1/3 hectare of fertile agricultural land in his small village Sikri. However, in year 2011 he was forced to give his ancestral agricultural land, ‘willingly’ to the 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.”Â His family was one of the first families who refused to leave their land for the proposed coal mine by NTPC. His relatives near villages in 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 government. However, his resistance to live a healthy life was not encouraged by many others in his village as they have seen atrocities of police force and company sent goons on people refusing to give their land. They know that they would have to give up and surrender their land ultimatelyÂ at a throw away price. Moreover, any uprising in the village might threaten their chance of getting timely compensation. It’s been 2 years since his family lost the legal right to their agriculture land for a small price of Rs 262,500. As he signed the papers selling his land to the National Thermal Power Corporation, he was promised a job in the upcoming mine. Though 3 members of his family lost their livelihoods while giving away the land, only one was promised a job. However, till now the entire village is waiting to hear from NTPC about the job opportunity.
In May 2011, the Coal Ministry deallocated five blocks – Chatti Bariatu, Chatti Bariatu (S), Kerandari, Brahmani and Chichiro Patsimal – awarded to state-run power producer NTPC, as it could not develop the mines within the stipulated timeframe. After immense pressure from the state government and NTPC, the ministry reallocated 3 coal blocks to NTPC in January 2013. NTPC 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.
The story of Dhaneshwar and his fellow villagers is not the only 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 power plant. Farmers across the 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 to take a step back and assess the actual cost of energy production in India. Since independence, India has witnessed mass displacement for energy projects, be it Hirakund Dam in the state of Odisha or the upcoming Ultra Mega Power Plant at Cheyyur in the state of Tamil Nadu. People who use electricity only to light a bulb or two end up paying the highest electricity bill. It’s time that as electricity consumer, people living in urban cities understand their 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 the power to demand justice for our fellow citizens and support them in their struggles. We have to stand with the millions of families like that of Shri Dhaneshwar and challenge the existing energy situation in India. The fight for a democratic and decentralized energy solution needs to start from us.