Gobindpura, Punjab: Fact-finding Report on Land Acquisition by Poena Power Company

August 30, 2011

This report has been prepared by the Democratic Front Against Operation Green Hunt Punjab

Background

Gobindpura – a small village of Mansa district in Punjab is in shackles. All the fundamental rights of its people – Right to speak and expression, Right to organize & struggle, Right to free movement & carry put their profession and calling, have been crippled under the jackboots of the police. Their lands and houses have been expropriated and handed over to Poena Power Company after putting up barbed wire fencing around these. When they protest against this, the police pounce upon them. Women and little girls are assaulted, beaten up and huddled in police stations. There are police barricades all around the village, so that these people can not show their injuries to outside world, could not express their grief of being rendered landless and houseless, so that none from other villages comes to support them, to raise his voice in their favor, to console them. When farmers, khet-mazdoors and justice loving people from different parts of Punjab move in their support, they are attacked with lathis and guns, the fields and roads are drenched in blood.

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Why Akali-BJP Government which came to power on the slogan of “Raj Nahi, Sewa” is resorting to such brutal repression? Why the people of Gobindpura have become an eyesore for it? Why the whole police of Punjab is after the blood of Kissan & Khet-mazdoor union activists? Why all the jails of Punjab are over-flowing with arrested farmers and khet-mazdoors? To find answers to all these questions, the Democratic Front constituted a fact finding committee. The facts collected by it reveal that all this is being done to let the Indian and foreign capitalists expropriate this country’s national wealth. Incidentally Poena Power a 100% subsidiary of India Bulls Power, which has 63% effective foreign share-holding. The people are being subjected to repression to smooth the way for implementing the M.o.U entered with this company.

Since the beginning of 90’s, when the Indian rulers started implementing Neo-liberal policies. The mineral wealth, forests, water resources, lands & other natural resources have been laid open for expropriation by the Indian & foreign corporation. In defense of the country’s national wealth, the tribal, peasants, khet-mazdoors, industrial workers & others have come forward. Through determined struggles against displacements and evictions\, they have put a halt in some cases to the evil designs of rulers backed corporations. The state too has launched an armed offensive against these people. In Chhatisgarh, Jharkhand, Orrisa, Maharashtra, Andhra and West Bengal, due to fierce struggles, the state’s offensive is in the form of Operation Green Hunt. Besides the police, para-military forces, army and air force is being deployed. In many other states, the farmer’s struggle against land acquisition are being dealt with iron fist.

The rulers in Punjab are also moving in the same direction. Whosoever may be in power – Congress or Akali-BJP combine, these anti-people policies continued. Gobindpura is a part of these policies.

BRIEF FACTS ON LAND ACQUISITION AT GOBINDPURA (PUNJAB)

1. Gobindpura, a small village in Mansa Districts of Punjab has a population of about 2500, out of which 40 percent belong to Scheduled Caste agricultural laborers and Backward Classes such as Carpenters, Blacksmith, Ramdasia Sikhs, Dom, Weavers & Chhajj-ghare, etc. It has voter strength of about 1400. Although Smt. Karamjit Kaur, a Scheduled Caste woman, heads the village Gram Panchyat, but all her powers are wielded by local Akali leaders.

2. The village has total land measuring 1458 Acres, out of which 806 Acres have been acquired by the Punjab Govt for a private sector thermal power plant, leaving behind just 652 acres. Even out of these 652 acres, 140 acres have no canal water irrigation facility, and access from either side, being surrounded by plant land on one side and railway line on the other.

3. In October 2010, the proposal to establish a 1320 MW thermal power plant by Poena Power Company, a subsidiary of Indiabulls Infrastructure Ltd was mooted by Akali leaders of the village. Incidentally in Greek mythology ‘Poena’ is a god of retaliation, revenge and punishment. The Latin word “Poena” means ‘pain, punishment and penalty’. The company has been true to its name, at least for the residents of Gobindpura. It has devastated their lives completely.

4. In the original notification issued u/s 4 of the Land Acquisition Act on 15/10/2010 (No. 88/210- OS 6/3246) the Government intended to acquire a total of 1237 acre land. Earlier the Dy CM Sukhbir Badal has announced on 16/8/2010 at Mansa to locate this plant in the area of village Bhupal, Tamkot & Khiala. However, due to stiff opposition from farmers of that area, it was shifted to Gobindpura. According to this notification 783 acres 7Kanal 4Marla land of Gobindpura, 434 Acre 5K 19M of Phulluwala Dod & 18 Acre 5K 18M land of village Sirsi wala was acquired. In the second notification issued on dated 4/1/2011, under Section 6 of the L.A. Act 223 Acre 2K 9M land of Gobindpura was left out & only 507Acre 4K 15M was acquired. There was no mention of the land of village Phullewala Dod in the award announced by LAC-cum SDM Budhladha on 25/3/2011, meaning that 434 Acre 5K 19M land of the village was also left out from the preview of the acquisition. It is also on record that the Naib Tehsildar Bareta & SDM Budhladha wrote to Deputy Commissioner Mansa on 3.1.11 & 4.1.11 respectively recommending that as the land of village Phullewala Dod is fertile, it should not be acquired. On 17.1.11 another notice was issued by the LAC where under 166 Acre 1K 16M land of village Gobindpura, 29Acre 1K 13M of village Sirsiwala, 16Acre 5K 19M of village Jalbahera, & 27Acre 2K 9M land of village Bareta was also acquired.

5. Govt has not given any reason for reducing the original requirement of 1237 Acres to 880 Acres and then excluding the land of some villages and including that of others. The farmers of Gobindpura were also seeking exclusion of their 166 Acres 1K 16M land on the same ground on which land of Phullewala Dod has been excluded but of no avail.

6. Punjab Govt has declared that multi-crop yielding lands are not to be acquired, and that no land is to be acquired without farmers’ consent. But the entire land acquired at Gobindpura is irrigated, fertile and multi-crop yielding. More than 90 percent of the farmers are unwilling to give their lands. It is evident from the stiff resistance offered by the villagers and the necessity to deploy thousands of police-men to crush it. Casting its own land acquisition policy to the winds, the Govt is resorting to forcible land acquisition, brutally repressing all resistance to it.

7. With the acquisition of this land, 62 families of the village have become landless. Another 123 families have been left with very small holdings.

8. Besides the farmers, families of 14 Dalit agricultural laborers have also been devastated. The houses in which they were living for the last many decades have been acquired by the Govt for this project, rendering them homeless. No compensation has been paid to them on the excuse that the land on which these houses were constructed was not in their name.

9. Total compensation package ranging from Rs. 23.23 lakhs to Rs.23.77 lakh per acre, including displacement allowances and no litigation incentive etc has been announced, which is very meager. The Govt is paying Rs. 23.77 lakhs per acre for 80 acres, Rs.23.54 lakhs for 560 acres and Rs. 23.23 lakhs for 166 acres to the landowners.

10. In October 2010, when the 1st notification was not yet issued, the prevailing price in Gobindpura was Rs. 11 lakhs/acre for un-irrigated (Barani) land and Rs. 15 lakhs per acre for irrigated land. An agreement to sell land at the rate of Rs.15.10 lakhs per acre was executed just before the notification was issued. Those who involuntarily consented to the project were promised a compensation of Rs. 50 lakhs per acre by local Akali leaders. Now they feel cheated. Even Akali leader Balwan Singh admits the inadequacy of the compensation awarded.

11. In the meantime, land prices in the adjoining villages have shot up to Rs.30 lakhs per acre and the project displaced persons are unable to buy good land with the amount of compensation received.

12. There is no provision for providing employment to the project affected families in the Rehabilitation Policy. In fact the Govt has not announced any Relief & Rehabilitation policy for these people.

13. Besides a few influential Akali leaders, property dealers, Banks, Agriculture Service Societies, Commission Agents, and Automobile and Arms dealers are the beneficiary of this project and the land acquisition. The Banks, Agriculture Service Societies and Commission Agents have got their outstanding loans against the farmers recovered from the amount of compensation paid to them. To induce the farmers to accept compensation, the administration used all possible tactics, including grant of Arms License. A large number of fire-arm licenses were issued in the village, in a short span of a few weeks.

14. Establishing of six thermal power plants in a radius of 50-60 Kms of Bathinda, has raised environmental concerns also, due to wide prevalence of cancer in the region. Chief Minister Parkash Singh Badal’s own wife, Smt Surinder Kaur Badal also died of cancer, although more than Rs.4 crores were spent from State exchequer on her treatment in India and abroad. Thousands others are not so fortunate. They are dying without getting any assistance from the state for treatment. In this Malwa region of Punjab, two thermal power plants already exist at Bathinda and Lehra Mohabbat in public sector. Now a 2640 MW thermal plant is under construction at Banawali (Mansa District). Besides Gobindpura, two more thermal plants are to come-up at Kotshamir 1320 MW (Bathinda Distt) and Gidderbaha 2640 MW (Mukatsar Distt). It will cause environmental catastrophe in the already heavily polluted region. For Gidderbaha plant 2004 acres of land has been acquired at Thehari, Ghagga & Babani villages adjoining Gidderbaha. This plant is being installed by NTPC. The compensation to be paid for this plant was earlier 20 lakh per acre (Rs. 14 lakhs as land price and Rs.6 lakhs as other allowances and no litigation incentive). Now it has been raised to 21.60 lakhs. About 100 dalit agriculture laborer families are also going to be uprooted as their houses are being acquired without paying them any compensation, employment or rehabilitation assistance.

15. ISSUES OF CONCERN:

a. As already mentioned a considerable section of agriculturists’ families of the village (about 185) have turned landless or marginal farmers after the acquisition of their lands. They are not able to buy lands in adjoining villages at the rates on which their own lands have been acquired. So they are bound to suffer displacement & loss of livelihood.

b. About 40 percent of population of the village belongs to Scheduled Caste & Backward Classes. They were mainly dependant upon agricultural labor and allied professions for their livelihood. With the area under cultivation shrinking from 1458 acres to 652 acres, they will also loose livelihood and shall be forced to migrate to other places.

c. Fourteen families of poor agricultural laborers have lost their houses, without getting any compensation or relief.

d. The social trauma of being uprooted and deprived of the only source of livelihood and community support is writ large.

e. A large number of farmers did not receive full amount of even the meager compensation granted, because the State Govt., banks, Agriculture Service Societies, & Commission Agents have got deducted their outstanding inflated loans.

f. Out of 652 acres of remaining land of the village, there is no irrigation facility and access to 140 acre land, adjoining railway track. The authorities have done so deliberately to force the land-owners to give this land to project owners later.

g. There have been corruption & nepotism in awarding this power project, without calling open tenders, to a little known Poena Power Company, a subsidiary of Indiabulls Infrastructure, having very little or no experience in power sector. Various political parties have raised this issue and have demanded CBI Inquiry in the matter. Under the SAD-BJP regime in Punjab, corruption is rampant at all levels. There have been numerous instances where political bigwigs have got included themselves as partners in upcoming projects, without contributing anything or have got fat commissions.

h. The process of land acquisition is also suspicious. Varying notifications have been issued at different stages with regard to the land to be acquired, without assigning any reason. Punjab Govt has laid down in para No.5 of its policy for Land Acquisition, formulated in 2006 that “The land for Industrial parks, projects and urban development projects such as residential colonies and commercial establishments for development by private sector will be acquired through negotiation with the land owners. However, land not exceeding 20% of the total project, may be compulsorily acquired by the government at their cost to provide contiguity and connectivity for such projects after paying adequate compensation to the farmers and undertaking their rehabilitation.” But this provision has been violated as complete land for this project has been compulsorily acquired by the Govt.

i. The compensation package is woefully inadequate, particularly if viewed from the angle of Draft Land Acquisition Bill recently circulated by the Central Govt, the observations made by the Supreme Court in Noida land acquisition case and the recommendations of National Advisory Council.

PART –II

1. Fact Finding Committee contacted a cross-section of villagers, Kissan & Khet Mazdoor union activists, political leaders, police officials, employees of concerned departments, journalists & others. From the information gathered through these sources, the Committee has arrived at the conclusion that the whole process of land acquisition at Gobindpura is mired in suspicion & controversies. People have openly complained of cheating, fraud, nepotism,, bribery, political black-mail, intimidation & repression, by an unholy combine of Indiabulls, Akali leaders, Civil & police officials etc.

2. The people of Gobindpura alleged that a few local Akali leaders brought this project to their village, when the people of Bhupal & other villages refused to have it. They further held the same Akali leaders – including an Ex-MLA, responsible for their present woes, as they connived with the revenue officials to acquire more land of Gobindpura and release the land of other villages, where people vehemently opposed. They also allege that a local Akali leader got their signatures /thumb impressions on a letter, purportedly for installing an R.O. water system in the village, but fraudulently used it as their consent to the present power project.

3. At State Govt.’s level too, this project has been awarded to Indiabulls’ subsidiary Poena Power Co., not through competitive bidding, but through the arbitrary Memorandum of Understanding route. The Punjab State Electricity Regulatory Commission has warned the State Government against MOU route saying it was “purely aimed at encouraging private investment in generation sector in the state, a step that would result in higher power rates to the consumers.” The Central Electricity Regulatory Commission has also opined in its advice to Union Government that thermal plants set up through the MOU route are costlier than those set up under state sector.

4. Gobindpura power plant has neither yet obtained environmental clearance, nor signed a Power Purchase Agreement with the Punjab State Power Corporation Ltd. It seems to have been done deliberately, to avoid embarrassing questions about the cost-benefit analysis of the project.

5. Some of the investigative journalists of the area told the Committee that like Enron Power Corporation’s failed Maharashtra Project, the Poena Power Co. is also spending a lot of money on the political & official big-wigs, who are helping them in breaking down the resistance of the people. Evidently a large number of civil & police officials and Akali leaders are the beneficiary. These spending are in the form of highly expensive gifts, cash incentive for preparing the farmers to accept land compensation, providing boarding, lodging, entertainment & food to visiting officials etc.

6. In carrying out the land acquisition, the mainstay of the Govt has in fact been repression. Since the beginning of this project, in October 2010, and the peoples’ resistance to it, there is a trail of assaults, lathi-charge, indiscriminate arrests and detentions, mid-night knocks and even firing. The whole operation against the people is being conducted by the SSP & DC Mansa under the supervision of DIG Bathinda. All big attacks on the struggling people have been personally led by them.

7. Since June 21, 2011, the village has virtually been turned into a big jail. All roads, passages & small ways leading to Gobindpura have been heavily barricaded. Large contingent of armed police & black commandoes have been deployed. Newly recruited women police constables have also been deployed at remote Nakas around the village, and they are forced to stay there during night hours also. There have been instances of male police officials taking undue advantage of this situation and assaulting women police constables. An FIR has been registered against an ASI and a Head Constable for sexually assaulting a lady constable.

8. A war-like situation prevails. Strangers are not allowed to enter the village. Even the villagers going out for various agricultural operations, cattle grazing & fodder cutting are thoroughly questioned & searched. No known activist of Kisan & Mazdoor unions, human rights organizations & fraternal trade unions etc are allowed to enter the village. Clearly the plan is to isolate the villagers from all outside influence, except that of the Poena Power Company & the administration. On many occasions students have been prevented from going to schools/colleges. In nut shell, the people have been denied all the fundamental rights, so proudly enshrined in the Constitution and other statue books, to protect the interests of a corporate entity.

9. More than 2000 policemen have been mobilized for this operation from various districts of Punjab and stationed at Jalbahera, Sirsiwala Gobindpura, Dyalpura, Kishangarh, Kulrian, Chak Ali Sher and other villages of the district.

10. THE TRAIL OF REPRESSION:

a. On 21st June 2011, early in the morning, the administration started demarcating the project site with a strong contingent of police. The villagers – men, women, small boys & girls resisted it. They sat on railway track blocking the traffic. The police after threatening and assaulting them, forcibly took into custody 19 women, 47 men & 6 minor girls and put them into lock-up at Bhikhi Police Station. Two farmers’ organizations BKU (Ugrahan) & BKU (Dakonda), after coming to know about the developments called their workers from adjoining villages to march towards Gobindpura. The police however put barricades on all entry points of village Gobindpura and on the main roads leading to it. About 100 persons from various places were arrested and locked-up in Boha & Budhladha Police Stations. Many leaders of Kisan organizations were also arrested D.C & S.S.P Mansa reached at Bhikhi Police Station late night and started negotiations with BKU leaders.. After discussions, administration order released of all arrested protesters and fixed a meeting with them on the next day.

b. On June 22, 2011, braving the blistering sun, hundreds of farmers and residents of various villages of MSA district staged a dharna in front of the District Administration Complex, Mansa to protest the forcible acquisition of their land holdings by Punjab Government. Large numbers of policemen were deployed on all entry points of Mansa, but even then, residents of Sirsiwala, Chak Ali Sher, Bahadurpur, Gobindpura & other villages managed to reach Mansa in large numbers.

c. In the meeting held during the Dharna, administration agreed to stop demarcation and erection of pillars on 166-acre land. It was promised that this part of land would be excluded from acquisition. The farmer’s organization laid a pre-condition that until the notification excluding their lands from acquisition proceedings is issued, the demarcation process shall not be re-started. The farmers were permitted to cultivate their lands and sow crops on it. For one month, situation remained normal.

d. After one month on July 23, the administration again raided the village with a big posse of police in early morning hours, and started taking possession of the land including that of 166 acres, which were earlier promised to be excluded from acquisition. They started putting up barbed wire fencing around the entire 880 acres of lands. The police arrested 26 men & 12 women and took them to Bhikhi Police Station. Thereafter more persons including leaders of BKU (Ugrahan) and BKU (Dakonda) were taken in custody along with women & 6 girl students out of which three were minor. All of them were charged with apprehension of breach of peace u/s 107/151 Cr.P.C. The six girls were released by the jail authorities in the mid of the night, without making any arrangements for their transportation from Bathinda to Gobindpura, at a distance of more than 80 Kms. In order to create division among the arrested farmers, the Government ordered release of 26 Gobindpura residents, but they refused to be released without other farmers. Jail authorities made efforts to persuade them to accept release but they remained adamant.

e. On July 24, both the farmers’ organizations again gave a call to march towards Gobindpura. Scuffles took place between the protesting farmer and the police at many places. Farmers from Cheema, Phaphre Bhaike, Bhikhi, Dhaipai area were marching towards Gobindpura. 60 farmers were arrested from village Burj Rathi, 70 from village Ranghrial, about 12 from Bhikhi. Some of them were released in evening, except 29 who were sent to Ferozepur jail. About 400 farmers were arrested in an operation supervised personally by Sh. Ravinder Singh DC and Sh. PS Garewal DIG. The arrests continued. On 1 August 2011, there were 140 agitating farmers jailed in Bathinda, 133 in Sangrur & about 40 in Ferozepur jail. 40 new inmates were brought to Bathinda jail on that day but only 35 were accepted. Remaining were sent to other jails.

f. The police did not allow even Congress legislators & CPI leaders to visit the village. On July 29 & 30, some Congress legislators & an MP were arrested while going to the village. They were detained for some hours and then released. Later on an Ex-MLA belonging to CPI was also detained for a few hours while going to Gobindpura along with other CPI leaders.

g. On August 2, when on a call of 17 Kissan & Khet Mazdoor organizations, thousands of farmers and Khet Mazdoors were marching towards Gobindpura, police attacked them with a vengeance. They were brutally lathi charged at village Kot Dunne in Barnala District, resulting in the death of one farmer – Surjit Singh Hamidi and injuries to more than 60. The police smashed and extensively damaged most of the vehicles in which the protestors were traveling. In another incident at Maur Kainchiyan (Crossing), the police resorted to firing & lathi charge on the protestors. Earlier to prevent this protest march massive hunt of Kisan & Khet Mazdoor union leaders was conducted and hundreds were put in jail.

h. On August 13, the police resorted to lathi-charge at Gobindpura, on the protestors, including women, who were uprooting the demarcation pillars put up by the project authorities over their land. About 80 people including women & children were detained.

i. The struggle of the people of Gobindpura continues. They have refused to part with their lands and houses, braving threats, inducements and severe repression. Most of those who were misled to accept compensation are now ready to return it.

11. The women & children, especially girls have played a very glorious role in the struggle. They carried on the struggle in very difficult circumstances when their menfolks were in jail and the entire village was turned into a police camp. In such circumstances they came out to struggle, face police lathis and assault and defeated the repression with their indomitable spirit.

PART-III

1. The Democratic Front is of the view that the present land acquisition policy and the Land Acquisition Act are antiquated and relics of imperialist past. The Indian Rulers have gone a step ahead from their imperialist masters by including the acquisition of land for private companies also in the “public purpose” clause. No amount of compensation can heal the deprivation caused due to permanent loss of land, especially to farmers & agricultural laborers, who have remained attached to land & agriculture for many generations. In fact the whole village economy centers round the land.

2. However keeping in view the sentiments expressed by the people of Gobindpura village and objective realities of the situation, we demand, that:-

a. The present process of land acquisition at Gobindpura should be immediately halted as it is illegal, undemocratic and contrary to the policy framework designed by the Govt itself. The acquired land should be returned to their owners.

b. All the houses and house-sites acquired should be returned to their owners and damage caused to them should be compensated.

c. MOU with Poena Power Co. for setting up this project should be cancelled and all new projects should be allowed only through competitive bidding in public sector.

d. Whichever Company is awarded the project it should be asked to get the land required for the project from the land owners, through direct negotiations and the Govt should not interfere in this process.

e. A thorough inquiry be ordered through CBI, in the manner this project was awarded and in the process of land acquisition, and the guilty should be punished.

f. The people of Gobindpura should be suitably compensated for loss of crops, livelihood, habitat, liberty etc., suffered by them during this period, due to repressive measures adopted by the State.

g. Appropriate criminal cases be registered against all those police officials who resorted to illegal arrests and detentions, assaults and lathi-charge, caused death of Surjit Singh Hamidi and injuries to many others, damaged vehicles, during the struggle and they should be suitably punished.

h. All police barricades and nakas should be lifted from around village Gobindpura and the liberty and democratic rights of the people be restored.

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