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Plant-ing discontent

Khan Semra village in Bara tehsil of Allahabad is usually a 10-minute drive from the Allahabad-Banda Road.

Written by Prashant Pandey | Bara (allahabad) | Published: February 4, 2012 2:41:54 am

Khan Semra village in Bara tehsil of Allahabad is usually a 10-minute drive from the Allahabad-Banda Road. However,it now takes nearly 40 minutes to reach the village following a bumpy,gravel-filled,circuitous route along the boundary wall – still being firmed up – of the Bara power plant,which is being set up with a planned capacity of 1,980 MW. “The company (locals’ term for the power plant) has come in between,” says Vikram Singh Yadav,a resident of the village.

Vikram Singh is unhappy with the current government and so are the other villagers in Khan Semra. Like Khan Semra,other villages across which the plant are spread – Bemra,Berui,Kapari,and Jorwath – are beset with similar issues. About 1,000 acres have already been acquired by the power plant till 2009. Farmers’ agitation and litigation have kept things on the leash and work on the power plant has begun only about a year back. The power project,which is running behind schedule,may not be up and working even by the end of 2014. Its earlier deadline was April 2013. “Nobody is happy with this government.” “Zameen zabardasti le lee,raazi khushi nahin (they have acquired land forcibly,not with consent),” he says.

The proposed power plant had brought with it hopes of employment and development of the vicinity. A few still cling to that. Like Vikram Singh’s son,Ram Singh,who says: “They have promised that the ITI would begin functioning from July next year in the campus. I will get training there and get employed in the plant.” He is a graduate and jobless.

Sunita,a Kol woman,living on the village fringes agrees the company at least got a cemented lane,with proper drainage,constructed towards their locality. The local pradhan,she says,was no good; the Kols never became beneficiaries of various government programmes. “We get work for a few days. That is our only hope,” she says. Of late,however,she has been getting less work. Her son,Vinod Kumar,is trying hard to get a job in Madhya Pradesh.

Even as Vikram Singh is critical of the low compensation – at a rate of Rs 1.25 lakh per hectare – there is more bad news in store for him. His house is located on the route of the railway line that will bring the coal linkage for the power plant. “The Railways have offered me only Rs 18 lakh per hectare,which after all the calculation comes down to about Rs 50,000 for a room. Itna to chhat dhalne ke pehle hee khatam ho jaayega (the amount will be used up even before there is any possibility of casting the roof),” he says.

Of the nearly 1,800 bighas of Khan Semra,nearly 1,300 bighas has already been acquired. “We are used to grow paddy,wheat,pulses and mustard. There is a perception that the place is not fertile,” he says. With more people being forced to leave their villages due to acquisition and loss of agriculture,further hopes from the plant seem a tad unrealistic.

Motilal Yadav,a resident of Khan Semra used to live in Berui village. Owner of 36 bighas of land on which Motilal Yadav used to grow produce many crops,he has now begun selling gutkha and paan masala in a hutment on the outskirts of his new village. Close by is his new house,built on land owned by him. None of his three sons are into agriculture anymore. One has opened a nursery school in Shankargarh,the other “adjusted” in an oil depot nearby. The third does not have a job.

“I left Berui because virtually the entire village was taken by Company. Ab ke unhe hatai (who is going to remove them now)?” says the septuagenarian. Others in his village have shifted to nearby areas of Shankargarh,Lohgara and Kapari Chowk,he informs.

The villagers have fought the company hard. They have approached the Allahabad High Court demanding cancellation of the acquisition of land,which they claim,was fertile. The matter is still pending in the court,which had passed an order in November 2011,preventing any further action if the land of the villagers has not yet been taken in possession by the power plant. However,the issue is that large tracts have already been acquired.

On February 6,2011,the farmers in Bara attacked the site,which has led to a pitched battle with the administration. The agitators destroyed machines,computers and other things worth around Rs 1 crore at the site and work remained suspended for a few days. The issue,according to the administration,was rehabilitation compensation of labourers,who were displaced by the land acquisition. An FIR was subsequently registered and nine persons were arrested. More than 40 people were named in the FIR. The case is still going on. “Hum ladna nahin chahte,lekin kisaano ko prashashan pareshaan karta hai aur uksata hai (We don’t want to fight. But the administration provokes us),” says Ram Singh,recalling that day.

The “new route” to Vikram’s house is along the canal,which is part of Kamla pump canal network,an irrigation facility for which the Bara residents still remembers and thanks Hemwati Nandan Bahuguna,the then Chief Minister in the 1970s.

But any soft corner for Congress has long been evaporated. The recent rally of Rahul Gandhi in the nearby Jari area failed to enthuse locals. The rally was seen as part of Congress’ strategy to focus on the reserved seats.

Both Vikram Singh and Motilal are Samajwadi Party loyalists. Most of the villages across which the plant is located are Yadav-dominated and they prefer to go with the SP. The promise of extra compensation is more the reason for Vikram Singh to root for his favourite party.

Khan Semra also has a bit of Kol and harijan population. While Kols are yet to make up their mind,the harijans are staunch BSP loyalists.

Lal Bahadur Kol,living on the edge of the “Company’s” boundary wall,says he does not even remember whom he voted for last time. His nephew,Vinod Kumar,says he was not in town and had gone to Madhya Pradesh. “Many of us go there in search of work,or if our contractors take us,” he says. Regular work after the company came in has become a rarity,says his family,in which women also have to go to work.

But it is the Patels who hold the key to Bara,which is now a reserved constituency. BJP’s Uday Bhan Karwaria,the sitting MLA for the past two terms,had won because he had managed to get the support of the Patels,along with the Brahmins,both of whom are in fairly good numbers. With all the main parties fielding first timers,Apna Dal,laying claim to support from the Patel community,may just upset the apple cart. “People are not portraying it,but they is discontent. None of them want any of these big parties now,” claimed Bihari Lal Patel,a sweet shop owner in Gauhania,which is situated close to the Bara power plant.

Back in Khan Semra,the security guard at the plant,while refusing to allow one through the plant’s construction area pronounces proudly: “Neher ke bagal se chale jaaiye. Humne sadak to bana ke dee hai.” The same bumpy circuitous route along the boundary wall of the “company”!

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