Tribals in 3 states against Centre’s decision to auction coal mines, say it would displace them
Close to 20,000 families would be displaced because of the commercial licenses given for coal mines in Odisha, Jharkhand and Chhattisgarh, according to the official estimates of these states.
In addition, the officials in these states said that thousands of trees will have to be cut for these mining projects, which could adversely impact the local environment.
The central government had, on June 18, approved auction of 41 coal mines for commercial usage to private players. Jharkhand government has filed a petition in the Supreme Court challenging the Centre’s decision saying it will have adverse environmental impact on the tribal areas and revenue generation will also be less than expected.
Of the 41 coal blocks, there are nine each in Jharkhand, Odisha and Chhattisgarh. In each state, 8,000 to 10,000 families will get displaced depending on how much land is acquired for the mining purpose, officials of these states privy to the mining work said.
The nine coal blocks in Jharkhand is spread over 47.55 square kilometres in 10 districts. Of these, four coal blocks are in Latehar district, and one each in Dumka, Pakur, Palamu, Giridih, Hazaribag and in Bokaro.
“About 30-32 villages need to be shifted in the 10 districts of Jharkhand for mining operations, as per the details of exploration documents of various drilling companies engaged to prepare the road maps,” said a Jharkhand government official, who was not willing to be quoted.
Eight of the nine mines in Odisha are in Angul district, where about 32,000 hectares of the land will have to be acquired for mining, which could lead to displacement of up to 10,000 families. Odisha steel and mines secretary RK Sharma said the state government is yet to estimate how many people would be finally be affected.
Environmentalists say the proposed auctioning of nine coal blocks - Machhakata, Mahanadi, Chhendipada-I, Chhendipada-II, Brahmanbil-Kardabahal combined, Phuljhari (East & West), Radhikapur (East), Radhikapur (West) - in Angul and Kurloi(A) North in Jharsuguda district may turn out to be the largest-ever displacement exercise in eastern India more than 10,000 families are likely to be displaced by the open cast coal mining in these coal mines.
“The auction of these coal block at one go would not just devastate the lives of thousands of families, they would alter the landscape for all time to come putting in peril the lives of wildlife in the region. Angul district is already among the most critically polluted areas of the state as per Central Pollution Control Board due to coal mining in Talcher area. Once these 8 blocks are mined, living in Angul would be nothing less than a nightmarish experience,” said noted environmentalist and wildlife activist Biswajit Mohanty.
All the nine coal blocks in Chhattisgarh were allotted to different companies before 2015 and have got all relevant clearances of the Union government, said a state government official, who was not willing to be named. The Chhattisgarh government is opposing auction of five coal blocks in Hasdev Arand Forest division as they would lead to diversion of forest land from Lemru Elephant Reserve. Last Friday, Chhattisgarh forest minister Mohammad Akbar had written a letter opposing auctioning of mines in the reserve saying it will destroy the Hasdev Arand forest spanning across 170,000 hectares.
The state government officials say a large number of people will be displaced but activists put the number to about 7,000-8,000 people. “As per my estimate around 7,000-8,000 people will be displaced in these area and around 25-30 lakh trees would be logged in this process, if all the nine coal blocks are auctioned,” said Alok Shukla, convenor of Chhattisgarh Bachao Andolan, who is working for tribal rights in these area for last 10 years.
However, Chhattisgarh government has no issues with auctioning of other four coal mines - Gare Palema (4/1), Gare Palema (4/7), Shankarpur Bhatgaon (second extension) and Sondhia - which fall in the Surguja region and are not part of Hasdeo Arand forest.
In all the three states, opposition at the local level has started against auctioning of these mines and trade unions have called for a three-day strike against the Centre’s decision.
Centre for Indian Trade Unions (CITU) leader, D Ramanandan, said it’s a unilateral decision of the Centre to provide the coal blocks to a select group of companies at throwaway prices. He said the trade unions will oppose the decision till the government shelves its plan.
Fearing the worst in terms of displacement, large scale impact on environment and livelihood, the leaders of Jharkhand Janadhikar Mahasabha (a people’s organisation), said that the move will adversely impact the ownership right of local leaders. “The decision was taken without consulting the gram sabha (a decision making body of all villagers),” said mahasabha leader Elina Horo.
Smita Patnaik, a woman leader who heads an NGO called Nari Suraksha Manch in Odisha’s Angul district, said people will oppose the auction as price for mining was already being paid. “We are already facing the perils of coal mining by Coal India in Talcher as the coal dust is polluting our water-bodies and air. There is already rising number of cancer cases and several respiratory diseases in the district due to coal mining. Once 8 blocks in Chhendipada are mined, the area would literally be hell,” said Patnaik.
Environmental lawyer Sankar Pani said the auction will displace the farming community in Angul as 80 per cent of the people in the district are farmers. “These people get two crops a year as there is irrigation facility. What is likely to trigger public opposition is the auctioning of all the coal blocks at one go, rather than in a staggered fashion,” said Pani.
In Chhattisgarh, gram sabhas of villages falling in Hasdeo Arand have written to Prime Minister Narendra Modi last Tuesday, asking him to stop the auction of five coal blocks in the region for commercial mining as it would hamper their livelihood and culture.
“As per my estimate about 25-30 lakh trees are there in the area of these coal blocks. The mining will pollute the Hansdeo river. And the mining will impact the home of elephants in Hansdeo Arand and its catchment area,” said Sudeip Shrivastava, an environment lawyer and activist of Chhattisgarh.