By Bashir Ahmed
Affectees of the Thar Coal Power Project have been continually protesting for past sixteen months over their agricultural land being forcefully acquired by the government of Sindh. The land area of about 2,700 acres is being utilized near Gorano village to dispose of water waste from coal mining activities from Thar Coal Block-II.
The work on the pond started in mid-2016 by Sindh Engro Coal Mining Company (SECMC) against the wishes of the villagers. The protesters allege that they were forced and threatened to evacuate the land and were stopped from further cultivation. It was a communal land which was used for agricultural purposes by the fifteen villages and was a major source of income for them.
After losing their agricultural land, the protesters fear that their villages sheltering a population of about 15,000 people will be inundated too. They believe that the pond water is rising and soon it will flood their homes. The villagers also believe that the pond water is contaminated and has caused sudden death of their livestock.
One of the lead protesters, Advocate Leelani told PakVoices that they have been demanding ENGRO and the Sindh government to share environmental assessment report and map of the pond area with them, and formulate a compensatory policy for the affectees accordingly.
He said that neither ENGRO nor Sindh government has offered any compensation to the villagers yet.
On the other hand, spokesman for ENGRO, Mohsin Peer told this scribe that affectees of Gorano pond will not be displaced; and in case of displacement, the affectees will be compensated as per the resettlement policy approved by the government of Sindh. However, he did not comment on the acquisition of agricultural land of the protesters.
He further clarified that the pond water is saline but not toxic and it is being used for agricultural and fishing purposes. He also dispelled the impression that the water is harmful to livestock.
The affectees of Gorano pond had also filed a petition in Sindh High Court in June 2016 praying the court to declare the construction of the pond illegal. In their petition, they have termed the land occupation as a violation of the Land Acquisition Act, 1984, and plead for issuing a stay on the construction of the pond.
The court did not issue a stay order at the time when construction of the pond was in initial stages. The protesters still expect the court to decide in their favor and declare the pond illegal and stop ENGRO from utilizing the pond for further use.
Protesters maintain that the government should have taken them into confidence before grabbing their land. The Sindh government had issued the land acquisition notification in September 2016 to legalize their act, after the protesters went to the court to seek justice. Disappointed from the court, they are using their democratic right to protest against the injustice done to them.
They have been gathering in front of Islamkot Press Club every day since October 2016 but ENGRO representatives haven’t been able to address their fears yet.
Bashir Ahmed is working with Pak Voices as a citizen journalist from Islamkot, Tharparkar.