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Farmers block Rs.55 bn power project in Chhattisgarh

By Sujeet Kumar, IANS,

Raipur : Power producer GMR Energy’s plans to build a 1,200 MW coal-fired power project in Chhattisgarh’s Raipur district has hit a major roadblock, with local farmers vowing to go to “any extent” to block the Rs.55-billion (Rs.5,500 crore) facility.

The government’s efforts to acquire about 1,100 acres for the project in Raikheda village, some 35 km from state capital Raipur, have been opposed by the farmers, who say the plant will pollute the region, endangering the health of thousands of villagers.

The government held a public hearing on Jan 15 at Raikheda on land acquisition. But the farmers not only refused to hand over their holdings but also asked the company to recall its “agents” urgently.

However, GMR officials said most villagers wanted the project.

“A majority of families are in favour of the plant. Those who are opposing it will be convinced of this. The company is also looking into the demands and concerns raised by the farmers at the public hearing,” GMR Energy vice president Anil Kumar Jain told IANS over phone from Bangalore, where the company is headquartered.

“We want to commission the first unit by 2012, and are directly purchasing land from the farmers,” he said.

Jain said nearly 60 percent of the project land belongs to some 250 families of Raikheda village, while the remaining 40 percent is owned by the government.

GMR Energy signed the deal with the mineral-rich state for the project in June 2007.

Ganguram Baghel, who is leading the protest, said residents of Raikheda and adjoining villages are already facing health problems due to pollution caused by units in the neighbouring Siltara industrial area.

“For years, people have been suffering from skin cancer and other serious diseases caused by severe pollution,” Baghel said.

“Villagers don’t want to commit suicide by allowing another major project that will consume about 17,000 tonnes of coal daily.”

Added Raju Sahu of Raikheda: “We don’t like any power plant here. We have to stop the GMR project anyhow. If the plant is allowed to come, the pollution will kill us.”

Industry department officials said farmers would withdraw from the agitation if good jobs and attractive compensation packages were offered.

According to the state’s industrial policy, those who give up land for industries will be given jobs and attractive compensation.

“They (farmers) can be persuaded if good jobs are offered in the project and heavy compensation for land is paid besides an assurance that the plant will not add to the pollution in the area,” the officials said.