When hope becomes the biggest threat

Bijapur Taluk

The wait for the jobs and electricity promised by the National Thermal Power Corporation seems never ending for the residents of five villages in Vijaypura’s Basavana Bagewadi.

22-year old Maheboob Hattarakihal has lived all his life in Vijaypura’s Kudagi village. He works as a maintenance helper in the village’s controversial National Thermal Power Corporation (NTPC) plant.

“They (NTPC) came to us in 2010. They assured us permanent jobs in the plant and also a continuous supply of electricity. We readily gave away our lands. Today, neither have we got the jobs we were promised nor the electricity.”

Where did it all start?

Land for the coal-based plant by NTPC was acquired from the villagers of Kudagi, Telagi, Masuti, Muddigi, and Golasangi. The construction and commissioning structure of the plant is as follows:

StagePhase/Unit NumberCapacityStatus
 

 

I

1 

 

 

800 Megawatts

Commissioned in Dec 2016
2Commissioned in March 2017
3Could potentially be commissioned in 2018
 

II

4
5

Maheboob’s family gave away 11 acres of their land to the NTPC. His father cuts betel leaves in nearby farms and mother works in the local, government Urdu school as a cook. He adds, “We have got our compensation. However, the lands are worth more than what the Corporation gave us as compensation.” Maheboob and other villagers also accuse the Corporation of beginning to acquire lands without prior intimation or order.

 

The Corporation has built several such public utility services across the five villages around the plant. This is a solar highmast in Kudagi.

The compensation paid by the NTPC to the villagers is as follows:

Type of LandCompensation Amount (Per acre)
Wet LandRs. 9,00,000
Dry LandRs. 7,00,000

The first unit began commercial generation of power in July 2017. However, the plant and the Corporation have been rocked by protests since the phase of commissioning. So much so, protests in 2014 turned deadly and police intervention resulted in two people getting shot by the forces. The second unit began generation of power in late-2017.

The Nirodi Gald Dharni Satyagraha, which is a community of affected villagers, came together and protested outside the plant, which stood like a fortress, demanding that they be heard by the authorities of the Corporation in November 2017.

Jobs and Electricity

Permanent jobs are the basic demand of the villagers. Arif Talikoti, a resident of Kudagi and an organizer of the protests held in November 2017 said, “NTPC gave us verbal assurances of jobs. We insist not only on jobs for those whose lands have been acquired by the Corporation but also jobs to those whose lands have not been acquired. The plant has workers from states like Tamil Nadu, Telangana, Uttar Pradesh and Bihar. But, not a single local is getting a permanent job”

The notion of locals not being qualified does not hold true in this context. Maheboob and a lot of others have got trained in the Industrial Training Insitute (ITI) in Bijapur. Maheboob works with the maintenance division on a contract basis and fetches Rs. 12,000 a month, as salary.

Not everybody is lucky like Maheboob. People like Tausif A Inamdar are jobless despite training in ITI Bijapur. He said, “I can’t sit at home. I am 22-years old and this is the time to work. I don’t want to leave my people and my village. However, I am still waiting for a job.”

A toilet complex built near Kudari Salawadgi by the Corporation. Locals allege that the Corporation has been investing in such efforts to compensate for the other ill effects on lives in the area.

While the protests were ongoing in November 2017, protesters even mentioned about 30 new workers being inducted into the plant’s operations.

Harpreet Singh is a worker in the plant from a village next to Amritsar in Punjab. He gets Rs. 22,000 per month and is happy with the job. “We are picked up by agencies. I have been here for six months. I will be for two more months and then move to the next job. I drive machines which pick up heavy machinery and objects in the plant,” he said.

Harpreet also dismissed the allegations of locals that the plant has been unjust. He added, “As far as I know and believe, the plant has offered jobs to one member of every affected family in these five villages. I don’t know see the scope to complain. We are also on a contract basis.”

Villagers explain that the whole of Basavana Bagewadi, the Taluk in which Kudagi falls under, is sparsely industrialized. People who did not own lands ended up working on lands owned by others. With NTPC not offering jobs, landowners and those, who worked on these lands, are jobless.

Locals also demand free and continuous supply of electricity for the five affected villages. Maheboob says, “We have so much electricity being generated from these two units. A few kilometers around and all our villages have only seen severe load shedding.” They allege that the generated power is transported to Bangalore, Kolhapur, Ratnagiri, and even Chennai.

Problems arising out of power shortage do not remain restricted to the five affected villages. Farmers in other villages of the Taluka also express disappointment over the action of the Corporation. Shivshankar Naikodi is a farmer from Kudari Salawadgi. He pointed out how the NTPC plant came across as a very favourable prospect for the farmers of the region. He claims they all (farmers of the Taluka) believed that the plant will end their electricity woes. He said, “We get three hours of electricity for our farms. Three hours is nothing. We were hopeful that the NTPC plant would resolve our crisis. However, there seems to be no help. The Panchayat never has answers to our questions. I can only hope and request for six hours of electricity to make our lives a little easy.”

Shivshankar has two borewell units installed on his farm. But, he has never been able to make use of it because of the chronic shortage of electricity. Neither the government nor the NTPC has been able to assuage the power crisis of Basavana Bagewadi.

Activists and petitioners argue that NTPC did not and still does not have a valid Rehabilitation and Resettlement Scheme for the affected community of people. The absence of this scheme made it difficult for the local community to examine their decision to give away lands to the Corporation.

Standing outside the NTPC plant, Maheboob raises his hand towards the southern end of the street and says there is a Kudagi Township where NTPC officials and other staff live. He says there are officials from Japan and Korea who also live in the township. Personnel from Toshiba and Doosan live in the vicinity to supplement operations.

The Central Industrial Security Forces (CISF) which looks after the security of the plant has been accused of manhandling locals who try meeting authorities in the plant. Arif added, “If villagers try entering the plant, CISF officers ask them to go away and hurl abuses. If we speak in Kannada we are asked to speak in Hindi and are mocked.”

Environment

The area in and around the plant happens to be huge swarms of betel nut cultivations. Locals fear and in fact claim that betel nut plantations have been severely affected because of the emissions out of the chimneys of the plant.

Maheboob says, “In the day, you will never be able to see the smoke out of the chimneys. Towards, the end of the day you can see huge, grey clouds of smoke. We are breathing that smoke. Also, the leaves of our betel nut plantations have this black blanket of dust and particles that settle on it. We have no doubt that health hazards are any far. We are prepared for everything.”

M.P.Patil is the President of Masuti-based Parisara Rakshana Seva Vedike. He filed an appeal in the National Green Tribunal contesting the environmental clearance given to the Kudagi plant by the Ministry of Environment and Forests, Government of India.

The petition (M.P.Patil versus Union of India) says that the plant will have devastating consequences, both short term and long term, in the region. In the appeal, M.P.Patil has stated the following:

  • Contrary to the NTPC’s claims that the acquired land was rocky, barren and used mainly for single-crop cultivation, the land under question were garden lands or Bagayita with wells, bore wells and was used to cultivate two crops in a year.
  • Crops cultivated in these lands include betel nut, grapes, lemon, etc.
  • NTPC has acquired additional or excessive land without the consent of the locals of the area.
  • NTPC has not accounted for the consequences the plant would have on humans, plant life, aquatic life, soil chemistry and water bodies in the area.
  • He has questioned the future of the Almatti dam and the people who rely on it for irrigation and drinking water purposes because of the emission by the plant.
  • Water from the Almatti dam is being allegedly diverted for industries making lives of farmers in the region difficult and depriving them of their livelihood.

Mr. Patil calls the plant “ecologically and socially disastrous” keeping in mind the magnitude of environmental degradation it is actively contributing to.

22-year old Maheboob Hattarakihal lives in this house with his father, a worker on betel nuts farms, mother, who works as a cook in the local Urdu school and siblings.

What lies ahead?

The purpose of setting up this plant in an area like Kudagi was to not only boost the state’s power generating capacity but to also generate employment in a region where agriculture is the only source of local employment. With the NTPC’s current stand of not employing locals, educated and qualified locals are forced to migrate, take up agriculture or remain jobless.

The Corporation’s intonation of public announcements implies that the power generated in the plant will be directed to Bangalore to solve the city’s power woes. Half of the power generated will stay with Karnataka and the rest will be supplied to Tamil Nadu, Kerala, Andhra Pradesh, Telangana, and Pondicherry.

Despite several attempts, the NTPC remained unavailable to comment.

Maheboob and his family are one among the hundreds of families in the villages of Kudagi, Masuti, Telgi, Golasangi, and Muddigi who have been affected. “The plant is done and is functional. We have still not got our rightful,” said Maheboob.

Houses limping in darkness and load shedding in these five villages while two, mighty chimneys in the plant emit smoke and generate electricity to the rest of the world, practically, is the biggest irony of Basavana Bagewadi.

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