PhD Dissertation Defense: Vijayeta Singh
Date/Time: August 4th, 2023 at 2:00 pm
Location: 360S Renaissance Park and Zoom
Title: “Protests Over Power: The Intermediate Dispossession Regime of UMPPs in India- Case of Telaiya UMPP in Jharkhand”
As one of India’s captive coalmines based Ultra Mega Power Projects (UMPPs), Telaiya UMPP in Jharkhand was abandoned in 2015, merely five years after commencement of project implementation activities. Despite the Indian government’s sustained commitment to coal-power projects as a critical means of fulfilling India’s energy needs, driven by the expansion of neoliberal policies for driving infrastructure development and economic growth, UMPPs have largely failed to deliver. By studying the unsuccessful implementation of Telaiya UMPP in Jharkhand, this research provides insights into the factors and dynamics which led to the UMPP’s fateful trajectory shedding light on the broader implications for similar projects in resource-rich regions around the world. It emphasizes the regional context of resource extraction in Jharkhand, specifically the political economy of coal mining in Karnapura coalfields of Hazaribagh, which carry some of the largest coal reserves of the world. It illuminates the political economy of dispossession associated with the unique dispossession regime of UMPPs in India, which is neither purely developmentalist nor purely market led. It argues that UMPPs are unprecedent hybrid coal-power projects characterizing an intermediate dispossession regime where they are implemented by private developers selected through a competitive bidding process to own, implement and operate. However, the ultimate realization of UMPPs is contingent upon initial critical support of the implementing host state governments for land acquisition and government clearances as well as the sustained and timely policy interventions of the Indian government. The research demonstrates that when the intermediate dispossession regime of UMPPs is superimposed on unique regional contexts of resource extraction such as in Jharkhand, it leads to unexpected project outcomes— project slowdowns, cost overruns and partial ‘dispossession without development’.
The research is based on analysis of the project implementation narratives of the three primary stakeholders of Telaiya UMPP— the project affected people, the project developer (Reliance Power) and the local administration in Hazaribagh, Jharkhand. The stakeholder narratives are based on qualitative interviews conducted in person. The research also examines secondary data on the UMPP. The rich qualitative data reveal how and why the Telaiya UMPP reached a fateful outcome in Jharkhand. The research argues that the regional context of project implementation for Telaiya UMPP in Jharkhand was characterized by a predatory state, weak institutions and a fragile society along with the persistence of the resource curse phenomenon. The unique regime in host state Jharkhand and distinct regional context of coal mining in Hazaribagh was not conducive to realizing the UMPP. As a result of the interaction between the intermediate dispossession regime of UMPPs and the unique resource extraction regime in Jharkhand, the Telaiya UMPP got caught up in a vicious cycle of project slowdowns and cost overruns. It grappled with the politics of opposition by ‘Other Backward Castes’ (OBCs) and their co-caste political leaders, prevalent in the Karnapura coalfield region of Hazaribagh. It was under constant threat of Naxal (Maoist extremists) violence who leverage projects like Telaiya UMPP to extort money and reproduce their purported agenda of redistributive justice. After partial success with land acquisition at the plant site, resulting in ‘dispossession without development’, the Telaiya UMPP slogged and stagnated, with little to no progress at the coal site, and was ultimately abandoned by the project developer, Reliance Power.
This research draws theoretical insights from three broad literature themes. First, it builds off of scholarly insights on slow and contentious implementation of large projects, delving deeper into the political economy of dispossession for market led development projects in neoliberal India. Second, it engages with resource curse theories and state theories, particularly the predatory and weak state theories that help explain the regional context of resource extraction led development. Third, it critiques the overarching land acquisition and coal mining policies in India which collectively govern coal mining cum power projects to emphasize the dilemma and apprehensions of the project affected people which further compound local oppositions.
Professor Gavin Shatkin, School of Public Policy & Urban Affairs at Northeastern (Chair)
Professor Liza Weinstein, Department of Sociology & Anthropology at Northeastern
Professor Balakrishnan Rajagopal, Department of Urban Studies & Planning, MIT