Human rights group Amnesty International has claimed that "abusive laws and the poor enforcement of safeguards" at coal mines is leading tribal communities to oppose expansion of these blocks.
Human rights group Amnesty International has claimed that “abusive laws and the poor enforcement of safeguards” at coal mines is leading tribal communities to oppose expansion of these blocks.
The NGO in a report on mining of dry fuel and violations of tribal rights has alleged that the Centre and the states “don’t seem to care to speak or listen to the vulnerable Adivasi communities whose lands are acquired and forest is destroyed for coal mining”.
“Abusive laws, poor enforcement of existing safeguards and corporate neglect of human rights are now leading Adivasi communities to oppose the expansion of the very mines they once thought would bring employment and prosperity, until they receive remedy for violations,” Amnesty International Executive Director Aakar Patel said.
Though, government plans to double coal output by 2020 and Coal India (CIL) wants to mine a billion tonnes annually, yet the Centre and the states do not seem to talk to or to listen to tribals living in coal mining areas, he added.
CIL, which accounts for over 80 per cent of the domestic coal production, is eying an output of 598 MT this fiscal. It is targeting an output of one billion tonnes by 2020.
When contacted, the Coal Ministry said: “We strongly object to the baseless canards being spread, which are part of a conspiracy to derail the development and progress of India and efforts to provide livelihood for people deprived of fruits of development for nearly seven decades after independence.”
It is always easy to provide few stray cases and exaggerate the findings instead of looking at the structural reforms which are sustainably improving the lives of 125 crore Indians, it added.
“India constitutes 17 per cent of the world’s population and is contributing less than 2.5 per cent of Green House Gas (GHG) emissions. In fact our coal consumption today is less than what the Western countries were consuming 150 years ago,” the Ministry said.
The report claims to expose a “pattern of human rights violations” in open cast mines run by CIL subsidiaries — South Eastern Coalfields Ltd’s (SECL) Kusmunda mine in Chhattisgarh, Central Coalfields Ltd’s (CCL) Tetariakhar mine in Jharkhand and Mahanadi Coalfields Ltd’s (MCL) Basundhara- West mine in Odisha.
The report is based interviews with 124 affected tribals across three mining areas; village, district and state officials from Chhattisgarh, Jharkhand and Odisha; state forest and pollution control boards; and local journalists, activists and lawyers.
It also includes interviews with the representatives of CIL subsidiaries — SECL, MCL and CCL.
Former Tribal Affairs Minister V Kishore Chandra Deo said: “Mineral reserves are not the property of any government. Development that does not include the Adivasi and that leaves out the poorest of the poor is not development, but exploitation.”
On claims of neglecting development in mining areas, Coal Ministry said: “Under Pradhan Mantri Khanij Kshetra Kalyan Yojana, the government has dedicated funds for the welfare of local people in mining areas which will generate USD 1 billion annually to support clean water, healthcare, sanitation, education, skill development, women and child care.”
The scheme will also focus on the welfare of aged and disabled people, skill development, environment conservation and sustainable livelihoods. This is an unprecedented step for which no country in the world has ever provided such large sums of money, it added.
“Also India is the only country in the world to levy USD 6 per tonne of environment cess on every tonne of coal, which provides funds for supporting clean energy and clean water programmes,” the ministry said.
It is to be noted that India has embarked on the world’s largest renewable energy programme, a strong message reflecting the commitment of Indian government led by Prime Minister Narendra Modi to balance development imperatives with concern for the environment, the Coal Ministry said.
The main findings of the Amnesty International’s report were shared with relevant state authorities and companies, but no response was received.
In the three Coal India mines examined, THE Centre acquired land without directly informing the affected families, or consulting them about their rehabilitation and resettlement, the report claimed.
“Frequently, the only official notice given was a declaration of the government’s ‘intention to acquire’ land in an official government gazette, which is virtually impossible to access for affected communities,” it further alleged.
Land acquisition for CIL mines is carried out under Coal Bearing Areas (Acquisition and Development) (CBA) Act, which does not require authorities to consult affected communities, or seek prior and informed consent of Indigenous people, as stipulated by international law, it said.
A new land acquisition law enacted in 2014 specifically exempts acquisition under the CBA Act from seeking the consent of affected families or carrying out social impact assessments, it added.
“CBA Act undermines communities’ security of tenure. Any eviction resulting from acquisition under the Act is likely to amount to a forced eviction, which is prohibited under international law,” Senior Researcher at Amnesty International India Aruna Chandrasekhar said.
India’s environmental laws require state pollution control authorities to set up public consultations with local communities likely to be affected by industrial projects. However public consultations conduced in the three mining areas suffered from serious flaws, the report revealed.
“In these three mines, authorities and companies appear to have seen public hearings more as a bureaucratic hurdle to overcome than a genuine opportunity to hear and address community concerns,” Chandrasekhar said.
“CIL knowingly benefited from land acquisition processes that violated the human rights of thousands of people,” Chandrasekhar said adding “it cannot point to the failure of the government as a defence for its own failure to respect the rights of communities.”
Under global standards on business and human rights, CIL and its subsidiaries have a responsibility to respect human rights, including by carrying out due diligence to ensure that government agencies had conducted proper consultation with regard to coal mining operations, Amnesty said.
This responsibility exists over and above compliance with national laws, it added.
However the companies appeared to have taken little or no action to either consult communities themselves or to ensure that government consultations were adequate and met human rights standards, it claimed.
Often, the companies and government authorities worked together to remove people from land identified for coal mining, the organisation alleged.
“Human rights violations that seem to accompany mining by CIL call into question the central government’s promises of inclusive development, with far-reaching impacts in the future,” Patel said.
CIL must urgently address the human rights impacts of the expansion of the Kusmunda, Tetariakhar and Basundhara-West mines, in full consultation with project-affected communities. It should ensure that these expansions do not go ahead until existing human rights concerns are resolved, Amnesty said.
The Centre must ensure that any land acquisition for coal mining involves human rights impact assessments and the seeking of the free prior and informed consent of Adivasi communities, it added.
“Coal mining is described as being integral to India’s economic progress. But development is hollow without dialogue and respect for human rights,” Amnesty International said.