About 40% of India’s districts have some form of coal dependency

Mongabay | July 05, 2021

The government had mandated that 60 percent of the DMF contributions collected by each district should be applied in high priority areas including health care, education, skill development, and sanitation.

— India has been under international pressure to rapidly phase out coal and scale up the installation of renewable power systems. However, much work remains for a fair transition of coal-dependent communities.

— A latest study has found that close to 40 percent of India’s 736 districts have some form of coal-dependency whether it is money collected through District Mineral Foundation or the direct and indirect jobs the coal sector provides.

— Experts argue that for a just transition in the coal sector, long-term planning for a period without coal, needs to start now, while keeping in mind the interests of the coal-dependent communities.

As countries around the world are gearing up to attend the crucial 26th United Nations Climate Change Conference of the Parties (COP 26) in Glasgow this year to deliberate strategies to combat the climate crisis, there is increasing pressure on India to reduce its coal dependency. However, if India takes steps to phase out coal, it has implications for several Indian states and their local districts.

A latest study finds that close to 40 percent of districts in India have some form of coal dependency as they are either home to coal workers or pensioners, collect funds under the District Mineral Foundation (DMF) or are benefitting from coal mining companies spending billions of rupees under the Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR) programmes.

The study was published by Sandeep Pai, a researcher, as part of his doctoral dissertation at the University of British Columbia. He analysed data collected from coal-mining company Coal India Limited (CIL), power utility company NTPC, Coal Controller’s Organisation and India’s Ministry of Coal, among others. The analysis shows that India’s transition away from coal cannot be ‘just’ for people and the environment unless comprehensive interventions are planned and implemented, addressing the concerns of millions of people involved directly or indirectly.

“There are 284 districts (38.5 percent) in India that have some form of coal dependency. They are either home to coal workers or coal pensioners or collect DMF revenues, or benefit from the CSR spending by coal companies. Out of these 284 districts, I found that 33 districts are among the most coal-dependent and would be central for any just transition planning,” Pai told Mongabay-India.

In India, so far, coal mining is largely led by government-owned companies. For instance, in 2018-2019, CIL, Singareni Collieries Company Limited (SCCL), and Neyveli Lignite Corporation (NLC), the three largest government-owned coal mining companies, produced 93 percent of the total coal produced in India. According to the study, the coal sector provides millions of direct, indirect, and induced jobs. The study states that CIL directly employs 270,000 people but “the number of indirect jobs (such as people working for contractors who repair coal mining equipment) and induced jobs (involving people working in local retail industries in coal towns such as in tea shops or grocery stores) … are common in all coal-producing regions.”

In terms of jobs, the study estimates that 3.6 million people are either directly or indirectly employed in the coal mining and power sectors in 159 districts in India. Of the 3.6 million people, nearly 80 percent of these coal jobs are linked to the coal mining sector located in 51 districts while the rest 20 percent of coal jobs are linked to coal power plant jobs. “This is an important finding as it shows that the coal mining sector’s socio-economic contribution in terms of jobs is much higher than the power sector but that it is more concentrated in a smaller number of districts,” said Pai.

Some of these 159 districts exhibit a heavy coal dependency on account of direct and indirect coal mining and coal power plant jobs. For instance, there are seven districts with over 100,000 direct and indirect coal mining and coal power plant jobs while there are 43 districts (including the seven) that have over 10,000 such jobs and 83 districts have 1,000-10,000 such jobs.

According to the study, the Dhanbad district in Jharkhand is home to the largest number of coal workers at nearly 500,000, the majority of whom are employed in the coal mining sector.

The concept of ‘Just Transition’ from coal to clean energy has gained pace across the world with many governments and international organisations formulating strategies to help fossil fuel workers and their communities navigate such a transition in a fair manner.

For India, the issue is critical as the country is trying to increase its domestic coal production as well as step up the installation of renewable power. Experts have, however, said that the increase in coal mining is not in conformity with India’s climate goals and will increase the coal dependency, making the implementation of just transition harder.

In 2015, India had promised a reduction in the emissions intensity of Gross Domestic Product (GDP) by 33 to 35 percent; achieving about 40 percent installed power capacity from non-fossil fuel-based energy resources; energy efficiency; and creating an additional carbon sink of 2.5-3 billion tonnes of carbon dioxide equivalent through additional forest and tree cover.

“Beyond jobs, policymakers also need to focus on economic, social, regional, demographic, and other aspects of just transition. The study finds that just transition is not only a jobs problem. It requires a holistic understanding of different social, economic, demographic, and other issues. Just transition also requires a spatial, geographic lens. What is required for a just transition may vary at the regional level within a country; different regions may have different just transition considerations,” Pai said.

He said proper implementation of just transition strategies for fossil fuel workers and their communities may help “increase the general acceptability of climate policies among fossil fuel-dependent communities.”

Coal mining contributes heavily to the DMF funds and CSR

In June 2015, through an amendment in India’s central mining law – the Mines and Minerals (Development and Regulation) Act (MMDR Amendment Act 2015) – DMFs were introduced in all districts in the country that were affected by mining-related operations. These district mineral foundations were tasked with managing and utilising the funds for the interest and benefit of people and areas affected by mining.

The government had mandated that 60 percent of the DMF contributions collected by each district should be applied in high priority areas including health care, education, skill development, and sanitation.

Pai’s study claims that in at least nine Indian states, the coal mining industry pays considerable taxes and royalties to state and district governments. The royalties paid at the district level are direct contributions to the DMF funds.

For instance, in 2019, the CIL paid approximately Rs. 500 billion (Rs 50,000 crores) in total taxes and royalties to federal, state and district governments – which is about three percent of federal governments’ annual revenue collection. According to the study, the coal industry collectively contributed Rs. 33.46 billion (Rs. 3,346 crore) towards DMF in 52 districts in India. In 2019-2020, coal mining and power companies also spent Rs. 10.11 billion (Rs. 1,011 crores) as CSR spending in sectors such as health, education and infrastructure development.

Of Rs. 10.11 billion, about Rs 6.8 billion (Rs. 680 crore) was spent by companies in 90 districts while the remaining Rs. 3.3 billion (Rs. 330 crore) was spent on national and state projects that were not tied to any particular district, the study said. The study shows that “some districts are more heavily dependent on jobs, while others have large numbers of pensioners or depend more on DMF contributions or CSR spending.”

Pai said that “money collected and spent under the DMF or CSR component is critical for development work in some districts.”

“Take the case of Angul district in Odisha – it has the highest level of CSR spending. In 2019-20, about Rs. 1.31 billion (Rs. 131 crore) were spent. So, if a state in India loses coal royalties and this revenue is not replaced by other sources, overall cuts in state spending may impact coal-dependent districts as well. This might be more severe in states like Jharkhand where there is heavy coal dependency in multiple districts and the state government itself relies on coal royalties,” the study notes.

Srestha Banerjee, who is the Director, Just Transition at the International Forum for Environment, Sustainability and Technology (iForest), a think-tank working on issues related to the environment and ‘Just Transitions’, said the DMF funds are not going to dry up tomorrow but what is needed is proper planning.

“DMF money is not going anywhere for the next 15-20 years (this depends on the district’s mining activities/ mine life) at least. What is required is to plan about its proper usage right now so that there can be a focused endeavour on creating long-term assets, and diversify income opportunities at the local level. Once such provisions are carved out then even if the DMF money is not there tomorrow the villages or towns won’t feel their absence,” Banerjee told Mongabay-India.

She explained that many local officials also explain that the DMF money comes without any conditions attached and they can do wonders with that but what they lack is their capacity to plan with long-term goals.

“Districts should use five percent of the DMF annual budget for proper planning and implementation. There is a need to create dedicated capacity for DMF planning and implementation. Also, our districts should create a future corpus using DMF funds for long-term security. We also need to ensure the participation of the public, specifically from mining-affected communities, in the bodies deciding the usage of the DMF funds. Basically, we need to plan for the future and maximise the resources by ensuring optimum usage today,” she said.

About 500,000 people depend on pensions from the coal sector

According to Pai’s study, there are nearly half a million coal industry pensioners in India living in 199 districts, whose pensions depend on the continuation of the coal mining industry.

The pension fund for coal miners is run by Coal Mines Provident Fund Organisation, a government organisation that collects equal contributions from coal mining companies and workers, then pays pensions to coal mine workers after their retirement. This means that money from existing workers and coal companies is paid out to retired workers and thus any transition away from coal would lead to consequences for coal industry pensioners.

Sanjay Namdeo, who is the head of the Communist Party of India (CPI) in Madhya Pradesh’s Singrauli, a district with high coal dependency, said: “The conversation around energy transition is good but we need to remember that a coal sector worker who spends his or her entire life working in the coal mines should get the pension or health benefits. Taking that right away from them is not right.”

“If that happens their life will be in a disarray. When a politician who is elected can get a pension why not these workers who spend their entire life in this sector. Any plan for the transition of such workers or areas needs to focus on ensuring that the workers get these benefits till they are alive,” Namdeo told Mongabay-India.

Pai said that it is important to understand the socio-economic dimensions of coal transitions in order to create just transition plans for coal-dependent communities that will facilitate justice in transition, and help mitigate potential political resistance these communities may raise against such low carbon policies.

Tribal people seek cancellation of e-tender notification issued for calcite mining

The Hindu | June 01, 2021
‘No resolution was passed on the issue in grama sabha’
The tribal people of Nimmalapadu, Karakavalasa and Rallagaruvu villages of Anantagiri mandal in the district have appealed the to the Vice-Chairman and Managing Director of AP Mineral Development Corporation (APMDC) to cancel the e-tender notification for calcite mining at Nimmalapadu issued by the APMDC without a resolution by the ‘gram sabha.’

Referring to the e-tender notification issued by the APMDC in a Telugu daily on May 19, 2021, they noted in a memorandum to the VC and MD, that they had been cultivating lands for the past several years on the land proposed to be mined for calcite. They recalled that they had opposed the calcite mining proposal by Birla company in the past by approaching the Supreme Court and sought protection of their lands under the Samata Judgment.

The Samata Judgment clearly states that the right of local resources is vested with the ‘gram sabha’ under the the Panchayats (Extension to Scheduled Areas) Act (PESA Act). Any business done in the Agency areas, should have prior approval of the ‘gram sabha’, failing which it would be considered a violation of the Constitution. As calcite is a mineral, mining should invariably have the approval of the ‘gram sabha.’

They noted that neither a ‘gram sabha’ was held on the issue nor a resolution passed in this regard. The Fifth Schedule of the Constitution says that tribal people alone would have the right over local resources. When that was the case, they wondered as to how the APMDC could issue the e-tender notification that too during the COVID-19 crisis and the curfew imposed by the government.

Administrator’s laws put Lakshadweep in the middle of nowhere

The Federal | May 26, 2021

Take a close look at what he has proposed in the name of development – a larger picture being communally polarized in a small tribal territory

Lakshadweep’s new Administrator Praful Khoda Patel’s draft proposals have drawn huge public outcry with many criticizing them as a product of a communal agenda against the majority Muslim population in the island with an intention to tarnish their culture and tradition. A reading of the proposed laws brings out a larger picture that has multiple objectives aimed at creating polarisation in the guise of development.

Here are the proposed laws in chronological order:

The Goonda Act (January 28, 2021): The draft law named as a The Lakshadweep Prevention of Anti-social Activities Prevention 2021 which is colloquially known as ‘Goonda Act’ provides arbitrary powers to the Administrator of the island. It empowers the police to detain a person for seven days without giving him the opportunity to represent before a court of law.

“It is meant to terrorize people and prevent protests. Goonda Act is the beginning of their saffronisation project in the island,” says Mohammad Faizal, MP from Lakshadweep, while talking to The Federal. He alleged the Administrator was trying to impose authoritarian rule in the island.

Under this law, several offences under IPC which are bailable and those amounting to punishment of less than three years are included. The law empowers the police to keep any person in detention even if there is an apprehension that he may commit an offence causing harm to public interest.

As per this proposed law, a “cruel person” and a “dangerous person” can be taken into custody on the grounds which appear satisfactory to the authority under the Administrator. Section 2 of the draft law defines “cruel person” as one who violates or intends to violate the ‘Prevention of Cruelty to Animals Act of 1960’.

A dangerous person is defined as one who commits a range of offences such as theft, unlawful assembly, mischief, criminal intimidation, breach of trust, criminal trespass and misconduct by a drunken person in public. In addition, the proposed Goonda Act creates a new category of offence as ‘property grabber’. Section 2(O) of the draft law defines ‘property grabber’ as one who illegally takes possession of land belonging to the government or local authorities.

Several of these offences listed in the draft law are bailable; even non-cognizable which attract punishment for less than three years or six months or fine. The offences like ‘unlawful assembly’ are often used against protesters who gather for any social or political cause.

Under the proposed ‘Goonda Act’ any person can be detained even before committing any offence on the grounds that there was reasonable apprehension of his committing any of the offences. The person can be kept in custody without even being informed the reasons for his arrest for seven days.

Lakshadweep Town & Country Planning Regulation 2021 (April 28, 2021): The law proposes formation of a development authority which is to be empowered to notify any area of land classifying into any of the four categories as ‘residential, commercial, agricultural and industrial’.

In the guise of development, the authority is empowered to acquire any land notified under the Land Acquisition Act of 2013. Under this law, the government is entitled to declare any land as planning area by notification.

According to Section 35 of the draft law, the people — owners of the notified land — have to seek approval of the town planning authority for any ‘change of use’ of the land. This includes even the alteration of houses in the exterior. The permission is granted only for three years which has to be renewed; failure or delay in renewal will lead to a fine of up to ₹ 2 lakh (section 37). “This literally takes away one’s right over one’s land,” says Advocate Rohit, a lawyer at the Kerala High Court who handles law suits in Lakshadweep as well.

Rohit argues that the new law is brought to overrule the land rights entitled to the tribal community in Lakshadweep by the Land Revenue and Tenancy Regulation Act of 1965 pertaining to Lakshadweep and Minicoy islands. (Only revenue land can be used for any development activity by the government according to this Act).

“Lakshadweep, a tribal majority Union Territory with a 94.8 per cent tribal population should enjoy protection under Article 244 of the Constitution as it is notified as a scheduled area under the Fifth Schedule and PESA Act of 1996,” says C.R. Bijoy, an expert on land rights.

Besides, the authority of town planning is vested in the local bodies according to 73rd Amendment of the Constitution.

Notification for the transfer of powers from the PRIs to the Administrator (May 5, 2021): Many say the notification has close links to the proposed law for creating an authority to have the powers to take over the land. The notification transfers the entire establishments of agriculture, fisheries, animal husbandry, health and education with immediate effect to the hands of the Administrator. The order explains that the transfer of powers to the PRIs in 2012 ‘had overburdened the PRIs which caused an adverse impact upon the efficiency of the execution of schemes’ which is cited as the reason for this current decision.

The proposed beef ban, omission of meat from the noon meal and the lifting of liquor ban in the name of tourism are widely criticized as provocative steps challenging their culture, tradition and religious practices.

The creation of a new category of offence as ‘property grabber’ and bringing the same under Gunda Act, the suppression of fundamental rights, the introduction of a law that empowers the authorities to acquire any land for development and the shifting of powers from the PRIs to the Administrator set the alarm bells ringing for the people of the island.

Children raise voice against MP govt to save Buxwaha forests

Web India 123 | May 27, 2021
Children in Madhya Pradesh have come forward to raise their voice against the proposal by the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) government to handover the forests of Buxwaha located in Chhatarpur district of Bundelkhand to a private company for mining diamonds.

Children have not only pointed out the impact of cutting down forests to the state government but have appealed to it not to cut them.

In the past Bundelkhand was vastly rich in terms of water and forests. Unfortunately, the area is no longer covered with greenery and has scarcity of water sources. This exploitation of the environment continues and now the last green cover left is being slowly plundered.

The Buxwaha forests have been given on lease for diamond excavation but protests have also started growing against it. This is probably the first time in Bundelkhand when public awareness to protect the environment is taking centrestage because the Covid-19 pandemic has made the people realise the importance of oxygen.

Oxygen is considered to be essential for the survival of Covid-infected patients which is emitted by trees.

To protect the forests of Buxwaha, people are raising their voices not only in Bundelkhand but in many parts of the country. The children which are the future of the country are also not far behind.

Several videos of children have gone viral on social media where they are trying to tell the government about the significance of trees for the people. Children have penned poems to save the Buxwaha forests and urged the government with folded hands to reconsider cutting down trees through these videos.

People of all classes and age groups have joined the campaign to save the Buxwaha forests and are trying to give the message that they will not allow forests to be cut.

On the one hand, the forest is an important part of the environment and on the other hand, it is also a means of livelihood for thousands of families living in villages in the Buxwaha area besides being the habitat of wildlife. There are rich water sources and these forests are revered in Indian culture so everyone is coming forward in the campaign to save the forests.

There is a huge stock of diamonds in the forests of Buxwaha with nearly 34.4 million carat diamonds believed to be buried here estimated to be worth several thousand crores of rupees.

The private company which has shown keen interest in taking up diamond mining has demanded nearly 382 hectare of land in the area. If this happens then 2.5 lakh trees in this area will be cut down.

Make-up’s ugly secret: The plight of India’s poor miners behind the beauty industry

CNA | May 22, 2021

Mica is the mineral that gives a sparkle to an array of products, from eye shadow to lip gloss. But what consumers do not see is a deadly trade involving even children. The programme Undercover Asia investigates.

JHARKHAND, INDIA: It sounds like an innocuous ingredient, a word among many hidden on the back of the packaging of your eye shadow palette.

Mica: A mineral that can be ground down to make sparkly powders, and found in everything from eye shadow to lip gloss to foundation. Cosmetic companies value mica for its properties: Refractive, superfine and naturally occurring in different colours.

It can be found all over the world, including India, which is known for having some of the world’s largest and finest deposits. But in India, there is a heavy price to pay for it, the programme Undercover Asia investigates.

Thousands of miners working illegally in the country’s mica mines shoulder this burden, far away from the bright lights of cosmetic counters.

‘WE DON’T HAVE ANYTHING’

Jharkhand, a north-eastern India state rich in mineral resources, is the country’s leading producer of coal, copper and mica. But close to half its people live in poverty.

One of them is 40-year-old widow Basanti Mosamat, who picks and sells scrap mica for a living. It is her family’s only source of income.

Once a week, Mosamat, her father-in-law and her five children make a 10-kilometre trek into the forest bordering her village to set up camp, where they would spend the next few days sifting for the mineral.

“We have difficulty finding food and trying to survive,” she said. Picking mica from dawn till dusk without any protective equipment has left her hands scraped and bruised.

Her oldest daughter, Karishma Kumari Birhor, has been picking mica since she was five — out of necessity. The more hands at work, the more likely it is the family will have food on the table.

“One person picking mica isn’t enough,” said the 14-year-old. “My father passed away, so I have to help my mother.”

Each kilogramme of mica scrap sells for seven rupees (S$0.13). On a good day, her family hope to earn around 150 rupees.

They are also less fortunate than most. They are part of India’s 100 million indigenous people known as Adivasis, who live on the fringes of society with limited governmental support in terms of health, education, job security and food.

“We don’t have anything here. We eat only every other day,” said Karishma. “Dreams don’t come true.”

DANGEROUS AND UNPREDICTABLE

Poverty has driven some miners to turn to abandoned caves and mine shafts, where mica is more plentiful. But there is no lighting or safety gear, and they often rely on their knowledge of the terrain to guide them.

Mukesh Bhulla, who has been going into abandoned mines since he was a boy, is still afraid. “People could slip and fall somewhere, or stones could fall on their head … It’s very tough,” he said.

“We have to be aware of our surroundings. Sometimes mines collapse. If one person makes a mistake, many could die.”

In January, there were at least three reports of mine collapses in Jharkhand’s Koderma district. It is estimated that 10 to 20 people die in such mishaps each month in the country’s north-eastern mica belt.

But for every accident reported, many more are covered up for one big reason: It is illegal to mine mica from land under the Forest (Conservation) Act, which came into effect in 1980 with the intention of protecting India’s forests.

The miners, however, have no choice but to continue. “If we don’t work here, then we’d all die,” said Dimpi Devi, a mother of three who mines mica from the forest and from deposits in her garden.

There are no other options for work. What would we do?

She struggles to make ends meet. Her family’s weekly expenses can go up to 2,500 rupees, but they barely earn 1,000 rupees.

This makes miners like her vulnerable to exploitation, especially when faced with additional family or health expenses. Without access to formal banking systems, they turn to unlicensed moneylenders, whose interest rates are as high as 200 per cent a year.

“Some miners told us they’re only allowed to sell mica to specific traders, those they’d borrowed money from and at a price decided by that trader,” said investigative journalist Peter Bengtsen, who has tracked the mica trade in Jharkhand for more than a decade.

“That agreement would basically last until they’d repaid that debt to this trader.”

Raids by forest authorities are also common, and miners sometimes must pay bribes in order to continue working. “The police don’t visit often, but the forest rangers are always after us,” said Mosamat.

Jharkhand’s mining areas are also run by different syndicates.

“There’s a whole network of people who make this mining happen, and they’re very powerful,” said Deepak Bara, a freelance journalist based in Jharkhand. “It can be very dangerous — it can be life-threatening — because there are so many stakeholders.”

It is estimated that 70 per cent of India’s mica output is illegally mined.

‘A SYSTEMIC PROBLEM’

Mica’s controversial reputation started to emerge in the mid-2000s, following investigations into the use of child labour in the industry.

According to the International Labour Organisation, India has more than 10 million working children. And with international organisations shining the spotlight on the issue, the plight of children in the mica industry attracted the international media’s attention.

“The stories came out — children going to mica mines, helping out their parents. So many documentaries were made (on) the issue of child labour,” said Bara.

But local journalists and politicians argue that these reports fail to address one critical detail: The marginalisation of the Adivasis. Children growing up around mica mines “have only one option”, noted Bara: To pick mica.

“They have to earn their family some income,” he said. “There’s no childcare support from the government. If there’s any, it’s not functioning.”

The problem around mica is a systemic problem. It’s not like you do a small campaign and things would get sorted out. The ground reality is very different.

In response to the growing public concern, several global coalitions were formed. One of them, the Responsible Mica Initiative, intends to eradicate child mining in Jharkhand by next year through better regulation and practices. Its members include Chanel, L’Oréal and Sephora.

Several brands have also pledged stricter compliance in their supply chains. But some also acknowledged the difficulty in tracing their mica and checking whether it is free of child labour.

In 2019, India exported more than US$37 million (S$49 million) worth of mica powder, according to World Bank data. Given the vast quantities bought and traded, it can be impossible to track where a brand’s mica comes from exactly.

Nonetheless, traceability has become a key issue for some manufacturers.

In January, European Union regulation of gold, tungsten and tin as conflict minerals took effect, so companies are now obliged to source these minerals responsibly. But similar legislation for mica has yet to be addressed.

“Mica is quite a cheap raw material to produce,” said Yue Jin Tay, the business development director of Circulor, a responsible sourcing company that uses blockchain to verify the origin of goods and minerals in supply chains.

“The cost of making sure that it’s been responsibly sourced as a proportion of the cost of the product sometimes does not make economic sense compared to other raw materials like gold or cobalt.”

Technology can be part of the solution, he added. But more work is needed to make ethical trading a common practice.

“To ensure that responsible sourcing practices are happening, they might have to be legislated for, and organisations will need to build the cost of compliance into their value chains,” he said.

“And we consumers need to accept that there’s an increased cost to us.”

WHAT ELSE CAN BE DONE?

Back in Jharkhand, demand for mica has not let up, and the state government is pushing for mining to be one of its economic growth initiatives.

With the problems faced by mica pickers becoming too grave to ignore, more and more community rallies are being organised to give them a voice. At some rallies, calls to legalise mining are growing louder.

Sudivya Kumar, a legislative assemblyman from Jharkhand, is using this momentum to continue lobbying for the legalisation of mica mining.

“Jharkhand has always been covered with forests, and its protection and welfare have been in our DNA forever,” he said. “We must find a way to save both the community and the forests.”

Mica was once classified as forest produce, but the Forest (Conservation) Act made mica picking a non-forest activity. India’s indigenous people are hoping its status will be restored.

“If picking mica is our only option, then the government should legalise mining here so that we can work without any fear or pressure,” said Devi.

Former mine owner Deepak Kumar Singh agreed, saying: “Mica scraps are basically residue from previous mining activities. It doesn’t harm the forest, but it’s still not legal.”

But without any real action being taken, mica pickers like Devi and Mosamat continue to work amid uncertainty for now.

1 2 3 36