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regular-article-logo Saturday, 15 June 2024

Jharkhand's growth boom: Where the dust never settles as coal, dam projects change life for worse

Villagers in Dewlagada under Saradhu panchayat in Chatra district are not only facing threats of displacement but also suffering from air pollution because of Magadh Open Cast coal mines. Similarly, villagers of Meral in Latehar district are facing displacement because of the ambitious Mandal Dam

Animesh Bisoee Chatra, Latehar Published 21.05.24, 10:29 AM
The Magadh Open Cast coal mines in Chatra.

The Magadh Open Cast coal mines in Chatra. Pictures by Bhola Prasad

Homes lost, land taken away and pollution that has curbed the will to breathe — tribals in this coal mine hotbed are choking on the idea of elections.

Hum badlav chahte hai jeene ke liye (We want change to live),” is the common refrain among tribal villagers whose existence is under threat because of coal and dam projects in the Chatra Lok Sabha constituency of Jharkhand.

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Villagers in Dewlagada under Saradhu panchayat in Tandwa block of Chatra district are not only facing threats of displacement but also suffering from air pollution because of Magadh Open Cast coal mines, the operational area of Central Coalfields Limited, a PSU under Coal India Limited.

Similarly, villagers of Meral in Barwadih block of Latehar district are facing submergence challenges and displacement because of the ambitious Mandal Dam, the foundation stone of which was laid by Prime Minister Narendra Modi on January 5, 2019.

Hum vote dene zaroor jayenge. Hum badlav chahte aur aisa neta ho jo hamari baat sadan main utha sake (We shall vote. We want an MP who can raise our problems in Parliament),” said Kailey, 35, a homemaker from the Oraon clan of tribals and a resident of Dewlagada village, whose husband had to give up farming. She earns a meagre wage of 250 as a casual worker.

“Our land was taken away and whatever land we have we cannot cultivate on it because of coal dust,” Kailey said.

Belu Oraon, 70, who is unable to walk because of weakness in both legs aired his concerns over the health problems arising out of the coal dust from open-cast mines.

“We were not paid any compensation for our land taken away for the coal project. Now, we face breathing problems and weakness because of the coal dust. No leader stood by us ever since the coal project started 10 years ago. We will vote with the hope that a new leader will understand our pain,” said Oraon.

Surendra Tirkey, a human rights activist in Tandwa, sp­earheading the fight for the tribals under Adi Haq Jan Sa­ngarsh Morcha, said eight villages are facing direct health consequences because of the Magadh open-cast coal project.

“It was started by the erstwhile Raghubar Das-led BJP government (in 2015) and several villagers complain of not being compensated for their lands. Plus, life has become miserable because of the coal dust and smoke emanating from the plants. We have been protesting and fighting against Central Coalfield Limited for proper rehabilitation and compensation packages. Sadly, they lodged police cases against us,” said Tirkey.

He added that tribals living in the Chatra area under the north Karanpura coalfields (Amrapali, Ashoka and Sanghamitra open-cast mines) have similar tales to tell.

“The BJP MP from Chatra, despite knowing the problems, has never bothered to visit the affected villages or raise the issue in Parliament. The villagers have decided to vote for the INDIA-bloc candidate,” said Tirkey.

Villagers facing displacement because of the Kutku Mandal Dam also known as North Koel Dam project falling under the Palamu Tiger Reserve in the neighbouring Latehar district (also in Chatra Lok Sabha constituency) are seeking a leader who would raise their grievances in Parliament.

Mahendra Oraon, whose house would submerge after the Mandal Dam becomes operational.

Mahendra Oraon, whose house would submerge after the Mandal Dam becomes operational. Picture by Bhola Prasad

“Government officials want us to part with our ancestral land by giving us only 15 lakh per family. We want money, a house and a patch of land so that we can start our lives afresh somewhere else. They do not understand that we used to have our livelihood from forest products. What will we do with only 15 lakh without a proper house and land to cultivate?” asked Mahendra Oraon, a native of Meral village in Latehar district, which will be submerged after the dam becomes operational.

Chatra is locked in a contest between INDIA-bloc-backed Congress candidate K.N. Tripathy and BJP’s fresh face Kalicharan Singh.

Chatra voted on May 20

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