90% of villagers at new site are willing to swap property for jobs.
Kuswaha lost Rs 21,000 in potato cultivation last year and there are many like him — all owners of either barren or single-crop land — who are finally facing the ground reality that they may be better off selling their land than cultivating it for diminishing returns.
They have incentive to do so because Petarwar is the proposed site for ArcelorMittal’s 12-million tonne mega steel project, which has been relocated from Khunti-Gumla, 120 km southwest of Petarwar, where land-holders have proved resolutely unwilling to give up land.
Jobs are what everyone is eyeing in Petarwar. “Our family will give land for the project. You can see this land, it does little to support our livelihood. If ArcelorMittal gives us jobs, we will all give land,” said Bindeswar Mahato, whose family has 30 acres.
And it’s not just for themselves. ArcelorMittal has agreed to support land losers for up to three generations, as part of a rehabilitation package being discussed with the land owners. Apart from employment, land losers will also get a pension till the plant becomes operational. Schools, colleges, hospitals, peripheral development are all being discussed.
An ArcelorMittal spokesperson says the company has held multiple discussions with landowners and residents of Petarwar. “This ongoing dialogue of exploring ways to address local needs and aspirations will help us devise a sustainable package for both sides,” he said.
Moreover, the people have been made to understand that they would not be losing land to the project. Lakhanlal Mahato said, “The land will belong to the company as long as the smoke comes out of the furnace in the plant. The day it stops, the land will be returned to us.” In other words, if the plant stops functioning the land would be returned to the people."
ArcelorMittal has learnt doing business in India the hard way. The company signed a memorandum of understanding (MoU) with the Jharkhand government in 2005, but land agitation prevented it from making any headway. The situation in Orissa is no better.
Why are residents here so willing to give up what their counterparts just 100 km away were not.
First, unlike Petwarwar, Khunti-Gumla is fertile with the double-crop and multi-crop land in places. Also, in Petarwar's case, proximity to the Bokaro steel city, 40 km away, would have also made the environment more conducive to industrialisation.
Even though 90 per cent of the people are willing land losers in Petarwar provided the company accepts their 20-point charter of demands, ArcelorMittal is taking a cautious approach. The company’s original land requirement was 11,000 acres. Now, the requirement in the first phase of six million tonnes is about 2,000 acres. “The plant will be built in phases,” the company spokesperson said.
That’s not to say that there is no resistance to the project. The project site covers essentially five villages : Kojram, Lukaiya, Jarwatar, Bendotar and Hanslata. Residents of Kojram, the smallest of the villages, are resisting the project.
They have strong support from tribal activist, Dayamani Barla, who spearheaded the agitation in Gumla. “The public meeting went off well for the company because it was attended by middlemen. The adivasis called me, for support,” said Barla.
Barla is not against development. “Around 8 million tribals have been displaced so far in Jharkhand, of which only 3-4 per cent has been rehabilitated.”
But it seems that ArcelorMittal has more people on its side, for now. If the company manages to bag 70 per cent of the land through direct purchase, then the Jharkhand government could step in to acquire the rest, says N N Sinha, industry secretary.
Still, in east India, land acquisition is an emotive issue and the tables can turn any moment.
Consider this: Bokaro Steel Plant’s (BSP’s) expansion to seven million tonnes is held up because people displaced from the 32,000 acres of land way back in the 1960s are demanding jobs. The number of displaced families has grown from 3,000 back then to 30,000 now. The steel plant has already accommodated 15,000, but the list is open-ended and the backing, more so. There are about 30 political groups representing them.
The industrial scenario is also a reflection of the states’ politics. Carved into a separate state in 2000, the state has had seven governments since then, making continuity in policy an impossible task.