After four years, the decks have finally been cleared for Western Coalfields Ltd (WCL), a subsidiary of Coal India Ltd (CIL), to proceed with its 33 coal mining projects in Maharashtra, following the government’s decision to compensate farmers in the affected areas on a par with those from neighbouring states.
Farmers and politicians from Nagpur, Chandrapur and Yavatmal districts of the Vidarbha region in the state had protested the “meagre’ compensation for the land to be acquired by WCL for mining. They were being offered anywhere between Rs 20,000 and Rs 45,000 per acre, but will get up to Rs 10 lakh per acre according to the new settlement.
WCL’s chairman and managing director Dinesh Chandra Garg said, “Maharashtra’s cabinet earlier this month passed a resolution, bringing rates of the land to be acquired for coal mining on a par with Chhattisgarh and we will follow the rates approved by the Maharashtra government.”
The new rates would put an additional burden of Rs 1200 crore on WCL, he added.
Putting the debate in context, Hansraj Ahir, Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) MP from Chandrapur, said: “In 2010, the Chhattisgarh government issued a notification, making it mandatory for CIL and its subsidiaries operating in the state to offer a minimum rate of Rs 6 lakh per acre for fallow land, Rs 8 lakh per acre for rain-fed land and Rs 10 lakh per acre land for irrigated land. But WCL, which operates in the Vidarbha region of Maharashtra, was offering just between Rs 20,000 and Rs 45,000 per acre. We wanted WCL to offer rates on the lines of Chhattisgarh.”
CIL accepted the demand and adopted a new rehabilitation and resettlement (R&R) policy in March this year which authorized boards of its subsidiaries to offer higher rates which are in line with the neighbouring states, Ahir added. CIL extracts coal worth Rs 5-10 crore from a single acre of land and MPs from the areas with huge coal deposits were demanding that the farmers who stood to lose their livelihood due to acquisition of land be compensated adequately, as CIL makes a huge profit by selling the coal.
The new resettlement policy of CIL also offers a job to one family member of the farmer for every 2 acres of land acquired from him. Earlier, there was a provision of offering only one person job, whatever might be the size of land holding, said Ahir.
The move will benefit farmers. For instance, farmers of Virur village from Chandrapur district are set to get a compensation of Rs 125 crore from WCL.
Dinkar Derkar, a farmer from Virur village, who will have to give up 3 acres of land to WCL, said: “Earlier, WCL was offering only around Rs 45,000 per acre as compensation with which I would not have been able to buy even 1 acre of land in any neighbouring village. It would have forced me to work as labourer either at WCL’s mines or on someone else’s farms. But now I can easily use money to buy 4-5 acres of land in a neighbouring village, use some money for repairs and renovation of the house and give my son good and quality education.”
Raju Gharote, a farmer from Pawani village in Chandrapur district, who will lose 15 acres land to WCL, will get Rs 8 lakh per acre.
He said, “My first priority is to buy farm land and I am also thinking of starting my dairy business, so I will buy a few buffaloes and cows.”
Former dean of the business administration department of the University of Nagpur, Shreenivas Khandewale, said, “It is a welcome move by WCL to offer higher compensation to farmers but I am not sure how scientific was the method adopted by the WCL or the state government to arrive at this rate. The government should appoint an expert committee consisting of experts from the field of finance and geology who will assess the potential of coal reserves in a particular area, and profits which will be made by the WCL from the coal extraction, and land rates should be linked to the potential profits of WCL. This will ensure transparency in land acquisition mechanism and will not leave farmers bitter about profits made by WCL from their land”, he added.
Apart from this, said Khandewale, the government should also appoint a committee of bankers from nationalized banks to advise farmers on how to invest their new-found wealth, and the government should pay fees to banks for doing asset management on behalf of these farmers.
He added that the women of the house, too, should be made joint owners of the compensation which farmers receive, otherwise, as is seen more often than not, farmers fritter away their new-found wealth.