Eight poor Gond tribals suddenly find themselves in the spotlight: they are the ‘owners’ of 43.7 hectares of land worth several crores of rupees, at Pusaur in Raigarh district of Chhattisgarh. Ironically, they still seek employment under the welfare scheme MGNREGA.
The land in question was used for constructing the 600-MW Korba West Power Co Ltd, a coal-fired power plant, by the Avantha (Thapar) group. Last month, Adani Power signed an agreement to buy the Korba plant for Rs 4,200-crore but the deal has not yet been completed.
The eight tribals in question live at Abhanpur block of Raipur, about 250 km from the purchased land.
The Chhattisgarh High Court recently issued a notice to the state government and Korba West Power Co Ltd, seeking a reply before January 13, 2015 on whether the people in whose names the land was bought, could, in fact, have bought it. The Avantha Group did not respond to HT’s emailed queries for three days despite several reminders.
According to the petitioner in the case, Alok Prakash Putul, the tribals did not know anything about the transaction. “The village landlord took the eight villagers to Pusaur and asked them to put their thumb impressions on blank documents,” said Putul. “None of them is aware that Avantha Group is setting up its 2x600 MW thermal power project on 43.7 hectares land purchased in their names.”
Putul, a senior journalist, feels that this may have been a strategy to get around the time-consuming land acquisition exercise. Tribal land cannot be sold or leased out to non-tribal people in Chhattisgarh. He alleged that Avantha Group had paid for the land.
One land registry document accessed by HT is in the name of Salik Ram, one of the eight tribals, who has no idea that he owns a plot of land worth `74 lakh that forms part of the 43.7-hectare Korba power property.
The Pusaur incident shows how private companies are depriving tribals of their lands, alleged activists. “The company is illegally occupying land that belongs to the tribals, who were used as puppets. The government is not safeguarding the rights of tribals,” claimed Pravin Patel, national convener, Forum for Fast Justice, a six-year-old NGO that is pushing for judicial reforms to ensure a fast justice delivery mechanism for the people. It is present in 11 states as of now, and plans to cover the remaining states in 2 years.