Gond Tribals Defend Their Land Rights

An energy company is trying to buy villagers’ land to build a massive solar plant in Chhattisgarh.

Bhan Sahu had gone for some personal work to Hadwa village. On the way she had passed Chawaldhal where the power plant is being built. The plant is meant to occupy an area of 150 acres, 20 of which belong to a tribal community. Her friend in Hadwa told her that the villagers were trying everything they knew to protect their land from the grip of the government and energy company, Lanco Infratech Ltd, who are surreptitiously trying to get the villagers to sell them this land.

The plant will produce purified silicon and photovoltaic facilities and will have a capacity of 250 megawatts a year. About 13.7 billion rupees is being invested in the primary phase of this project and production is meant to start in 2012. In the meantime, officials keep visiting the site and promising the villagers that they will give them jobs, build toilets, make their lives better. Bhan Sahu says the people in Chhattisgarh have heard enough of these kinds of promises to know that they are empty.

“They are all Gond tribals,” says Bhan Sahu, “and they are bitter because this power plant is not going to be set up to help them. It’s just for the big industries and factories. The construction workers you see in the video are from neighbouring villages but their jobs are not permanent.” 300 people depend on this land for their sustenance – they make their living from crushing rocks and selling the material to construction companies. During the rainy seasons, the land is used for grazing cattle.

Representatives of the villagers have filed a complaint with the panchayat, and every time people from Lanco come around to do surveys or start building an electric fence, all the villagers get together and prevent them from starting work. But Bhan Sahu is not sure how long this will work. She wants the government and the solar company to consider the livelihoods of these people and leave their land alone.

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