India Coal Indigenous People
Villagers at Gondalpura out-manoeuvre Adani coal company in game of cat and mouse
Nov 01, 2022
Villager women gather to oppose Adani coal mine that will obliterate their lands and livelihoods. Image Shot onOnePlus, Pintu Kushwaha

An intense game of cat and mouse is being played out between an Adani coal company and villagers in the north Indian state of Jharkhand. Adani intends to obliterate dwellings, fields and forests with a giant coal mine and is attempting to go through the motions of acquiring land from the residents. However, the villagers have responded by refusing Adani’s financial inducements, attending meetings in force, rejecting Adani’s demands, blocking access for Adani contractors, and even physically ejecting Adani officials from the area.

The neighbourhood of the north Indian town of Gondalpura faces an existential threat. An Adani company is proposing to excavate 300 ha of the land for a coal mine (misnamed ‘Gondulpara’). Residents of five villages will be displaced if the coal mine proceeds.

Villagers rally to defend their farms, forests and way of life from a giant Adani coal project at Gondalpura.

The Gondulpara (sic) coal block in the state of Jharkhand was ‘sold’ to Adani Enterprises Limited (AEL) as part of a huge auction initiated by the Modi government in 2020. The people who live there were not consulted.

Subsequently, residents of the villages of Gondalpura, Gali, Balodar, Hahe and Phulang have been attending village meetings and rallies, chanting:

jal, jangal, jamin hamara hai = water, forest, land are ours

jal, jangal, jamin, bachao = save our water, forest and land

company wapas jao, wapas jao = company go back, go back

'Adani company go back!' has been the cry of villagers defending their homelands from the giant Gondulpara (sic) coal project.

To gain government approval for the mine, Adani has organised a series of formal meetings. This is ostensibly a means of acquiring community approval; in reality it’s a devious way of faking it. The people are only too aware of the way in which these formal processes can be steamrolled by companies, contractors, government officials and police. They have responded with a well-organised effort to head off any bogus approval for a mine that, if it proceeds, will destroy their livelihoods and way of life.

This rundown of recent events gives an idea of the cat-and-mouse game that has played out amongst the fertile fields of Jharkhand.

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Mid-June 2022 – according to a press report dated 18 June, Adani officials met with local office bearers at the village of Gali. Those present said that they would neither sell their lands to the company nor allow the company to enter the village precincts.

26 June 2022 – a large anti-company gathering took place at Gondalpura.

Armed forces attend an encounter between villagers and Adani officials in the vicinity of Gondalpura, site of a proposed giant coal mine by an Adani company. Image Shot on OnePlus, by Pintu Kushwaha

15 July 2022 – at a public hearing organised by the Collector’s Office of the Hazaribagh district to discuss the impending acquisition of land for the coal mine, residents of Gondalpura chanted ‘Adani company go back’.

10 October 2022 – an attempt was made by the Adani company for a formal meeting at Balodar. The scheduled time for the meeting was 11 am but company officials arrived at 7 am. The villagers were alert to this possibility (the abrupt change of scheduled meetings is a ruse commonly used by companies in manipulating the outcomes of meetings). They blocked a bridge, preventing company access to the area. They remained there in silent protest until 3 pm.

12 October 2022 – a meeting was organised for the village of Gali and was basically a repeat of 10 October, with Adani and government officials being blocked.

18 October 2022 – the officials came to Gondalpura, with the same result. People turned out in their hundreds to block them.

It is feared that favourable reports of the aborted meetings will be concocted, sufficient to satisfy local pro-Adani government officials. That’s the usual way of things.

Lush agricultural lands and woodlands in the Gondalpura area - threatened by Adani's coal project.

According to the Times of India, officials have tried to win the trust of the locals through corporate social-responsibility initiatives such as health camps and distribution of medicines, but so far, their endeavours have not yielded any results. Villagers have been quick to spot any association between the influx of health initiatives and Adani and have responded accordingly.

Meanwhile, Adani has attempted to commence physical work on the project, again to little avail. In June, trucks and workers arrived with the intention of carrying out bore works. They were turned back by the ever-vigilant villagers.

The spirit of the local people in their David-vs-Goliath struggle against a giant coal corporation has brought their struggle to attention outside their home state, with coverage not just in media that specialise in human rights, but also in mainstream foreign journals such as Le Monde.