The Jawaharlal Nehru National Solar Mission, launched in 2010 by the then Prime Minister, Manmohan Singh, as part of India’s plan to combat climate change, is considered one of Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s current pet projects. Across the country, States (especially those governed by the Bharatiya Janata Party [BJP]) have been vying—at least on paper—in the race to achieve the revised target of 1,00,000 megawatts (MW) by 2022. Large tracts of land have been earmarked for the setting up of exclusive solar power parks, and plans are afoot to amend land use regulations and tenancy laws in order to facilitate aggregation and leasing of land by farmers/developers for these projects.
In order to understand the impact of one such solar power project set up by Welspun in 2013, Frontline visited Neemuch district in Madhya Pradesh.
Located 60 kilometres from Mandsaur, the nerve centre of farmers’ protests across the country in June, the village of Bhagwanpura in Neemuch district is home to over 200 families from the Adivasi/nomadic communities of Gurjars and Bhils. For generations, they had grazed their cattle on government land, subsisted on rain-fed corn and jowar and water drawn from the ponds nearby, lived in homes hewn out of the rocky terrain, and worshipped their gods in little stone shrines. In short, they had been self-sufficient communities who lived well within their means, and with dignity.
When prime ministerial candidate Modi arrived in early 2014 to inaugurate a solar power plant by the Gujarat-based group Welspun on 1,600 bighas of land, the villagers’ lives took an irrevocable turn for the worse. Located between the villages of Bhagwanpura, Chirmikheda, Diken and Khatikheda, the mammoth Welspun Solar M.P. project is now complete, but the local population is a dejected lot. As many as 70 people lost their lands to the solar power project, and once self-sufficient communities now face the prospect of abject poverty. A few of the villagers who had penalty receipts from the tehsildar’s office, which proved that they had lived and were dependent on the said land, were promised land elsewhere; however, nothing has materialised to date. The villagers also recalled the solar power plant official Manish Pandey’s promise of jobs for “each and every ration card holder of Bhagwanpura panchayat”, but that has not come about either.