Tweak in coal project over relocation
The Bengal government has decided to tweak its plan to kick off the coal mining project in Birbhum’s Deocha-Panchami as it doesn’t want to take the risk of relocating more people ahead of Assembly elections next year.
The government intends to kick off ground work on the site from January 2021.
The state government has decided to start the project from an area spread over 600 acres in three mouzas — Chanda, Harinsingha and Deocha — of Mohammadbazar block, instead of Harinsingha from where the project had been slated to be launched earlier.
“The place is on the northern side of Deocha-Panchami. If we start the project from this place, we would have to relocate only about 2,000 people. We have had to relocate 6,000 people according to our original plan,” said a senior government official aware of the development.
Relocation of 2,000 people is much easier than that of 6,000 people, added the source explaining the trigger behind the change of plan.
“Some of these people are against relocation.... The government doesn’t want trouble over relocation of people ahead of the polls and that’s why the project plan has been tweaked,” said the source.
Besides, the new area, which was selected for the first phase of the project, has a lesser quantity of overburden of stone — beneath which lie the coal reserves — compared to other portions of the 3,500 acres of the project.
There are about 100 meters to 350 meters of stone overburden and there is a reserve of 400 million tons of coal reserves in the area. The Deocha-Panchami area has a coal reserve of two billion tons. But a major problem of extracting coal from the area is the huge overburden of stones that is up to 3km in some areas.
“The area that has been selected for the first phase of the project has about 100 meters to 350 meters of stone overburden. Coal can be extracted through open cast mining, which would not require major foreign technologies,” said an official.
On Thursday, the chief secretary, Rajiva Sinha, along with land reforms commissioner Manoj Pant and the managing director of WBPDCL (West Bengal Power Development Corporation Ltd) had visited Mohammadbazar and held a meeting with the landowners of the area.
“The villagers have been apprised of the government’s plan and they have been promised that the government will never deviate from its assurances and compensation packages being offered to the stakeholders,” said another official.
Sources said the initial plan was changed to ensure that the project did not get delayed because of unnecessary troubles.
“There a large tract of forest land where the project was initially planned. It requires a clearance from the ministry of environment and forest before starting the project. It is a time consuming process and the state does not have enough time in hand,” said a source.
Besides, the government wants some visible activity on the field by January.
“This will help the Trinamul-led government send a message ahead of the Assembly polls,” said a senior bureaucrat.
The state has also decided to engage the Central Mine Planning and Design Institute (CMPDI) to conduct an assessment of the project.
“The project is set to start by September and it is expected that some ground activities could be started by January next year,” said an official.
Sources in the government said relocating people would be easier said than done.
“The people who are mainly tribals are still hesitant of relocating from the place. If the government wants to start ground activities in January next year, it has to earn confidence of the populace at the earliest,” said a source.