Down to Earth

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