Girja Saket, a Dalit, committed suicide three months ago by jumping into a nearby well after his hut was allegedly demolished to make space for the Essar Power MP project at Bandhoura village.
The villagers at the agitation site alleged that Saket, a small-time farmer, had inherited the land from his grandfather and was so perturbed by losing his only shelter that he opted to kill himself.
The police admitted it was a case of suicide, but disagreed that it had anything to do with the company’s taking possession of the land.
Whether Singrauli develops into another Singur or not, this shows that the displacement of tribals and farmers is set to follow the same pattern of disappointment among people, who have been living there for decades.
Ironically, Madhya Pradesh Chief Minister Shivraj Singh Chouhan had assured the interest of tribals and farmers would be protected.
“In the slum cluster, 27 huts were demolished without paying any compensation to them; the government should take care of it,” alleged Badri Prasad, a local activist.
Kanti, another tribal, was allegedly arrested for protesting against the administration after his hut was gutted. “He was in lock-up for 10 days and a case has been registered against him,” Rampati, his sister-in-law, said.
The administration, however, termed it a drive against encroachers on government land. Essar officials said they had already paid money to the government for the land, but encroachers were not ready to vacate it.
Essar officials felt that farmers had got a fair deal. “There going rate of land, they point out, was Rs 1 lakh per acre about three years ago. With Government offering a compensation of Rs 3 lakh per acre the land prices have already gone up by three-times in just three years,” said Essar Power MP CEO Rajendra Prasad Gupta.
He also said the company had offered sustenance allowance in place of job. “There are also people with vested interests who’ve constructed houses on allotted land after issuance of notification under Section (4) of the Land Acquisition Act,” Gupta said.
Essar officials pointed out that the project would bring development to the backward region, besides fulfilling the much-needed power demand of the state.
But these words are of no solace to people like Kheman, a 55-year-old tribal, who has already faced displacement in the late 1960s when his ancestral land was acquired for the NMDC coal project. Now, he is likely to be displaced again.