Coalmines stuck for land

Asansol, Jan. 2: At least 10 mining projects of the loss-stricken Eastern Coalfields Limited (ECL) are stuck for around two years because of problems over land acquisition.

ECL officials said the company had paid Rs 15 crore to the land and land reforms department about two years ago for 416 acres in Durgapur and Asansol but the acquisition notice was yet to be issued.

ECL, a Coal India subsidiary, needs to implement the projects to cut down on the losses at a time it has been referred to the BIFR, the central agency that helps sick units to return to profit.

In most of the areas where land is required, residents have refused to part with their plots unless they are rehabilitated or given jobs.

The developments come at a time the state government's hands-off policy on land acquisition has hit industry plans hard.

"We paid around Rs 15 crore as advance to the government for land but are still waiting for it. Around 10 mining projects, most of them open-cast, are supposed to come up on the land. It will give a boost to our productivity. Demand for coal is increasing rapidly in the power sector across the country. It will definitely help us come out of BIFR," said Niladri Roy, director (technical) of ECL.

ECL officials said the company had reduced its accumulative losses of around Rs 8,000 crore to Rs 5,500 and hoped to come out of BIFR by 2014-2015 if the projects took off soon. They said there were 40 lakh tonnes of underground coal reserve in the land sought. (See chart)

"We will be able to meet the target of raising 33 million tonnes of coal this fiscal if the new projects and the expansion work are started soon. But we will be in trouble if we cannot do so as the target will be increased in the next fiscal," a senior ECL official said.

Now, ECL supplies 25 million tonnes of coal per annum to the power sector.

A land department official in Burdwan said the acquisition notices could not be issued because land was a "very sensitive issue". "In many places where the projects have been planned, villagers have opposed land acquisition. They have demanded jobs and rehabilitation," the official said.

"The chief minister has said there will be no forcible land acquisition, so we are treading carefully. We are already facing trouble acquiring land for the construction of an NH2 bypass in Panagarh (also in Burdwan).

"A coal-mining project in Birbhum's Loba is also mired in acquisition problems. So we have to be cautious," he added.

In Asansol's Mohanpur, where ECL needs around 34 acres to expand an open-cast mine, the villagers are nursing a grudge against the company. "Our houses are getting damaged because of blasts triggered by ECL to extract coal. Our children cannot breathe properly because of pollution. If ECL needs our land, it will have to rehabilitate us first. We also want jobs and money as compensation," said Amarnath Mishra, 60, a resident.

The villagers have got the backing of political leaders in several places. Bidhan Upadhyay, the Trinamul MLA of Baraboni, under which Mohanpur falls, has demonstrated outside the local ECL office several times in support of the villagers' demands. "We will support the villagers' demands for jobs and rehabilitation," he said.

In Hansdia, near Durgapur, where ECL requires around 42 acres to expand the Sonepur Bazari open-cast mine, the villagers, mostly tribals, have refused to part with land demanding jobs for all 200 families. The CPM is backing the demand.

ECL sources said that in many areas, coal smugglers pretending to be residents were resisting land acquisition. "If we start the mines, the racketeers' business will be hampered. The administration should look into it," an ECL official said.

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