A blue­print for a new ur­ban land­scape

Morwa town, built to serve min­ing com­pa­nies, faces the ugly truth of its own dis­place­ment


PERHAPSFOR the first time, an en­tire town will be brought down for min­ing de­vel­op­ment. The Coal Bear­ing Ar­eas (Ac­qui­si­tion and De­vel­op­ment) Amend­ment Act, 1957, is threat­en­ing to wipe Morwa—a town in Mad­hya Pradesh—off the map. The Act has be­come the fo­cal point of all con­ver­sa­tions among the peo­ple in the re­gion, whether hote­liers and veg­etable ven­dors or trib­als liv­ing on the out­skirts of the town. North­ern Coal­fields Lim­ited ( ncl), a sub­sidiary of Coal In­dia Lim­ited, is set to ac­quire the en­tire town and 10 ad­join­ing vil­lages un­der the Act, turn­ing the area into a coal mine.

Morwa is si­t­u­ated at the heart of Singrauli district, which is home to abun­dant re­serves of power grade coal and is known as In­dia’s en­ergy cap­i­tal. The town was born in the 1950s when rapid in­fra­struc­ture and in­dus­trial de­vel­op­ment in the re­gion dis­placed peo­ple by the thou­sands (see ‘Dis­placed, again’). They flocked to the seven vil­lages in Morwa, and grad­u­ally the area mush­roomed into a bustling town­ship of 11 mu­nic­i­pal wards with a pop­u­la­tion of 50,000 res­i­dents.

Sur­rounded by 40-storey-high mounds of min­ing waste and a per­ma­nent haze of min­ing dust, Morwa to­day has five schools, three hos­pi­tals, a bus stand, a railway sta­tion and a part of Na­tional High­way 75E which runs through the town. Most peo­ple are em­ployed in servicing nearby coal mines as work­ers or as trans­porters of mined coal and ho­tel owners who cater to vis­it­ing ncl of­fi­cials. But the same mines that have sus­tained Morwa till now will soon ex­pand to swal­low it com­pletely.

Ac­qui­si­tion process

To­wards the end of 2015, lo­cal me­dia first re­ported that Ward num­ber 10 of Morwa and 10 vil­lages dom­i­nated by the Gond tribe would be ac­quired for ex­pan­sion of coal mines. The move would af­fect ar­eas on the out­skirts of the town and dis­place 400 fam­i­lies. On May 4 this year, the Min­istry of Coal is­sued two ex­tra­or­di­nary gazette no­ti­fi­ca­tions un­der Sec­tion 4 of the Act for the ac­qui­si­tion of 19.25 sq km of area in two phases. This is an emer­gency pro­vi­sion that al­lows im­me­di­ate takeover of land and will cover the en­tire town.

The res­i­dents protested the takeover, claim­ing that the ac­qui­si­tion no­tice vi­o­lated many legal pro­vi­sions. As the Act al­lows the res­i­dents to file their ob­jec­tions within 90 days of the no­tice, they sent a let­ter to ncl in June. But ncl re­fused to even talk to them. “We filed our ob­jec­tions, but ncl of­fi­cials didn’t ac­cept them,” says Vinod Singh, sec­re­tary of the Singrauli Vikas Manch, an as­so­ci­a­tion of lo­cal res­i­dents. Af­ter pur­su­ing ncl of­fi­cials for sev­eral days, the res­i­dents fi­nally ap­proached the Singrauli district col­lec­tor, Shiv­narayan Singh Chauhan, on Au­gust 15. Though the date for fil­ing of ob­jec­tions had passed, Chauhan al­lowed an ex­cep­tion.

This prompted ncl to is­sue a re­ply on Septem­ber 10. It stated that the land in Morwa had been iden­ti­fied as a coal-bear­ing area in 1960 and was re­quired for meet­ing the coal pro­duc­tion tar­gets of ncl. In a let­ter, ncl chair­per­son Ta­pas Ku­mar Nag said, “The min­ing-af­fected peo­ple will be ad­e­quately com­pen­sated un­der the Coal Bear­ing Ar­eas Act.” But ncl of­fi­cials are mum on when the land ac­qui­si­tion will be­gin and how res­i­dents will be com­pen­sated and re­ha­bil­i­tated. Kalki Shukla, a lo­cal bjp leader, says, “De­spite sev­eral ap­pli­ca­tions, un­der the Right to In­for­ma­tion Act, we have not re­ceived any in­for­ma­tion on re­ha­bil­i­ta­tion.”

A se­nior ncl of­fi­cial told DownToEarth that the com­pany has al­ready planned to set up a smart city called New Morwa to re­lo­cate the dis­placed peo­ple. But the city will be spread over only 4 sq km, mak­ing the re­set­tle­ment of 50,000 res­i­dents of Morwa town and 3,500 res­i­dents of the ad­join­ing vil­lages seem im­pos­si­ble.

Peo­ple have staged four protest ral­lies since June, de­mand­ing de­tails of re­ha­bil­i­ta­tion and re­set­tle­ment from ncl. Vinod Singh, a ho­tel owner who used to transport mined coal for ncl, is aghast at the ca­sual at­ti­tude of the of­fi­cials. “This town is home to the same peo­ple who work with ncl. Even then they are not telling us how they will com­pen­sate us or pro­vide re­lief and re­ha­bil­i­ta­tion,” he says. He al­leges that ncl threat­ened to ter­mi­nate the con­tracts of those who joined the protests.

Kanti Devi, a veg­etable ven­dor, be­longs to a fam­ily of dis­placed peo­ple. Her hus­band’s fam­ily was dis­placed by the Ri­hand Dam in the 1950s, while her fam­ily was dis­placed by the Na­tional Ther­mal Power Corporation plant in Shak­ti­na­gar in the 1980s. “We started our life afresh in Morwa. But the ghost of dis­place­ment has come back to haunt us once again. Even if we get a big com­pen­sa­tion pack­age, where will we go?” she asks.

Com­pen­sa­tion hur­dles

The process of com­pen­sat­ing res­i­dents in and around Morwa is likely to be a com­pli­cated one. Only those who have pat­tas or own reg­is­tered land will be el­i­gi­ble for com­pen­sa­tion, leav­ing out the oth­ers. The res­i­dents have also no hope of get­ting good prices for their land. “Com­pen­sa­tion rates un­der the Coal Bear­ing Ar­eas Act are five times lower than un­der the Land Ac­qui­si­tion (Re­lief and Re­ha­bil­i­ta­tion) Act ( larr) passed in 2014. We should be com­pen­sated un­der larr Act,” says Awadesh Ku­mar, an en­vi­ron­men­tal ac­tivist.

In Kathas vil­lage on the out­skirts of Morwa, many land owners do not stand a chance of get­ting com­pen­sa­tion be­cause they do not have pat­tas. The col­lec­tor has also banned the reg­is­tra­tion of new pat­tas be­cause “land sharks are try­ing to usurp adi­vasi land”, ac­cord­ing to sources in the col­lec­tor’s of­fice. Shiv Ku­mar Singh Ayam, a Gond tribal and daily wage earner, says, “The big­gest prob­lem is con­vert­ing our land into patta. The pat­wari asked for 20,000 to con­vert one hectare of land. We know our rights un­der the Forests Rights Act ( fra), but our pan­chayat head may not sup­port us. Our fu­ture is un­cer­tain,” he says. The fra may also not ap­ply in this case since the ac­qui­si­tion is for the ex­pan­sion of ex­ist­ing mines, and not the dig­ging of new ones.

The Mad­hya Pradesh govern­ment has de­cided to in­vest one tril­lion ru­pees in ther­mal power plants. By 2017, Singrauli alone is ex­pected to feed around 35,000 MW of elec­tric­ity to the na­tional grid. Go­ing by the present state of af­fairs, the fate of towns such as Morwa is sealed. Gauri Shankar Dwivedi, a mem­ber of the Singrauli Jan An­dolan, says, “It took us 50 years to build this town and soon, it will be laid to waste. I won­der what kind of com­pen­sa­tion would be be­fit­ting.”

Morwa, a town of 50,000 peo­ple, has been ac­quired by North­ern Coal­fields Lim­ited for coal mine ex­pan­sion

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