Damodar Valley Corporation (DVC) emerged as a consequence of the century old efforts to contain the unpredictable and violent Damodar River. The course of the river covers an area of 25000 square kms in the districts of Jharkhand and West Bengal. The Rs 7000 crore DVC, a PSU under the joint propriety of the Union Power Ministry, the State of West Bengal and the State of Jharkhand, is the second largest power producer of India (essentially thermal).
Plans for the Koderma Super Thermal Power Plant of DVC in Jharkhand:
The project for the Koderma Super Thermal Power Plant of DVC was ratified by the Ministry of Power for official functioning, in the twelfth Five Year Plan. However, the plans for the second stage of the Koderma Super Thermal Power Plant were shelved because of a water scarcity. The second stage of the power plant consisting of twin units, each with a power generation capacity of 600 MW, was proposed to be set up in Koderma, Jharkhand, in a collaborative effort with Bharat Heavy Electricals Limited (BHEL). But after a prolonged discussion with the Deputy Chief Minister of Jharkhand, Raghubar Das, who incidentally also manages the energy portfolio of the state, DVC Chairman had alluded of moving the location of the proposed second stage of the power plant to Raghunathpur, Purulia district, West Bengal.
Such a decision was arrived at, by the DVC, upon confirmation of a dearth of water, necessary for the second stage of the plant, by Raghubar Das. However, Raghubar Das, in an attempt to hold fast to the prospect of further industrialization of Jharkhand, had put in a request with the Water Resources Department, to come up with a viable source of water supply, required for the said second stage of the project. Envoys of several power corporates like the Tata Power, Essar Power and Adhunik Group had attended the first reassessment meet, organized by Raghubaran Das. All these corporate were potential investors in the power sector, and had drawn up Memorandums of Understanding with the Jharkhand Government, regarding the second stage of the proposed power plant.
Plans of DVC to set up the second stage of the power plant in Raghunathpur on the verge of being shelved:
As of 6th November, 2013, in what seems to be a re – enactment of the Singur Drama, involving the Tata Nano Factory, West Bengal is looking at the possibilities of DVC, pulling out of the Raghunathpur Power Plant project. The said project had commenced in West Bengal six years ago, and DVC has already made investments amounting to a substantial Rs 5500 crore, in the said project. In 2007 Shushil Kumar Shinde, holding the portfolio of the Power Ministry, with the active backing of the ex- Chief Minister of West Bengal, Buddhadeb Bhattacharya, had proclaimed of the DVC Purulia Project. The then ruling Marxist CPM Government in West Bengal had advantageously got hold of 1,534 acres of land, for the DVC Purulia project. Of these 1,534 acres, 926 acres were allocated for setting up of the four proposed power plants, 51 acres were allocated for a water aisle, 508 acres were allocated for the ash dump and 49 acres for the construction of a proposed railroad. DVC bought this land from the Government, at the rate of Rs 2.2 lakhs per acre. However, problems started brewing upon the implementation of the 51 acre water corridor in 2012. As it turned out, landowners of 11 mouzas inclusive of Monagram, Sidhpur, Guniara, Ayodhya, Hatapathar and Ranibandh lost their lands, as a result of the 51 acre water corridor and impeached DVC of abjuring from its initial commitments of offering employment which, as the affected landowners claim, was a part of the antecedent indemnification pact. DVC, however, contravenes any such claims. Emulating the Singur situation, the affected landowners are perpendicularly divided into two factions, with 800 ready to accept reimbursements and 800 refusing any compensation from DVC, gunning for employments. The two factions are namely, Raghunathpur Thermal Power Landlosers Association, who are in for the power plants, and Ranibandh Jamihara Sangram Raksha Committee, who are advocating the issue of employment. Both the factions have a strong Trinamool Congress backing.
Meanwhile, the deadlock created by the discontented factions, with a demand for both employment and reimbursement, had compelled the DVC Chief Engineer and Raghunathpur Project Head Debashis Mitra to report his higher authorities to the effect, that working conditions are practically impossible in the proposed project. He added that Jharkhand was a better option, and also put forward a suggestion of moving the project to Jharkhand. Mitra further commented to the media that, despite repeated attempts to seek administrative intervention in the said situation, the State authorities have turned a blind eye to the whole issue.
Reaction of the Trinamool Congress Leaders and Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee:
The State Minister of Industries, Partha Chatterjee retaliated strongly to this action of Mitra and termed it ‘irresponsible’ as evident from his statement, “….I wonder how the DVC Chief Engineer could make such an irresponsible comment without taking the effort to sort out the impasse with landloser families. How is it that work is going on smoothly at three other locations? I have asked our men in the Zilla Parishad and colleagues such as Santiram Mahato to look into the matter”. Underlining the fact that DVC should adhere to its commitments, he added, “I am not sure if DVC had promised jobs to the landlosers. I would only expect them to stand by their agreement”. It is to be mentioned here that, the demonstrators from Ranibandh Jamihara Sangram Raksha Committee, led by one Nikhil Mahato, had obstructed the main gate of the power plant, and had ceased all operations pertaining to the water corridor, in October 2013. Appalled by such actions, Rabindranath Sen, Chairman, DVC sought the help of the Minister of Industries, who organized a meet between the Chief Minister of West Bengal Mamata Banerjee and the Chairman of DVC. While the CM advised the Chairman to diffuse the situation ‘through dialogues’, Mandal had emphasized his solemn pledge to protect the interest of every one of the affected landowners, as evident from his statement, “Most of them come from the poorest families. We want DVC to give them compensation and a job.” On the other hand, Chinmoy Chatterjee of the Raghunathpur Thermal Power Landlosers Association is not chasing the issue of employment. In fact, he openly criticized the demand of another group, trying to legalize the compensation issues and expressed his intentions of calling in the District Magistrate’s (DM) intervention in the matter. The DM Tanmoy Chakraborty instructed DVC to lodge specific reports or complaints, if they wanted administrative intervention.
Ex – Chief Minister Budhhadeb Bhattacharya, in a desperate bid to commence industrialization in West Bengal, had attempted to secure a foothold for the Tata Nano Project in Singur, in 2007. But the project turned sour, in the face of the strong protests from the opposition parties and other social activists and the Tata Nano Project was forced to withdraw from West Bengal. The Raghunathpur Power Plant Project was also announced in 2007 but at the end of six years, with DVC already investing Rs 5500 crores, it seems to be Singur, all over again. Considering the bigger picture, industrialization in West Bengal is a necessity of yesterday. Setting up an industry is a complicated process, and there are many angles to it. There will always be discontented land owners and other deterring factors. But the industrialists should have some stern policies in place to counter such factors. Active cooperation of the Government is also essential, to make an industry a success. Irked by the factions of discontented landowners, DVC is on the brink of shifting the entire Raghunathpur project, back to Jharkhand. This decision of DVC has effectively jarred the State authorities, who are now scurrying around, seeking truce measures. They fully understand that losing a DVC thermal power plant, over some feud involving a 51 acre water corridor, is definitely not worth it. Besides, if the Raghunathpur project turns out to be another Singur, no industrialist is ever going touch West Bengal, even with a ten foot barge pole!!