HC stays e-tender for calcite mining in Visakhapatnam

The Hindu | Sumit Bhattacharjee | April 11, 2021

The Andhra Pradesh High Court has put on hold for three weeks the e-tender for ‘working of calcite mining lease’ in 8.725 hectares at Nimmalapadu village in Ananthagiri mandal of Visakhapatnam district, on ‘raising-cum-sale contract basis’ floated by the Andhra Pradesh Mineral Development Corporation (APMDC).

The High Court passed the order after hearing a writ petition filed by Sri Abhaya Girijana Mutually Aided Labour Contract Cooperative Society on Saturday.

The cooperative society has been trying to get the lease for mining since the last two decades. But, it was rejected by the APMDC every time. Earlier, the Birla group had the lease over the mines and it was passed to the APMDC after a Supreme Court order in 1995.

Earlier, the cooperative society had also proposed a tripartite agreement with the State government and a private party, but it was rejected, said Ravi Rebbapragada, Executive Director of Samata.

Mr. Ravi had played a key role in getting the Samata judgement from the Supreme Court which protects the tribal rights and acts as a benchmark for all tribal related issues along with the Panchayat Extension to the Scheduled Areas Act (PESA) and the Scheduled Tribes and Other Traditional Forest Dwellers (Recognition of Forest Rights) Act (FRA).

‘No grama sabha held’

According to Mr. Ravi, the cooperative society’s pleas were ignored and neither did the APMDC care to hold a grama sabha with the tribal people from the region, before floating the e-tender, in violation of the PESA, FRA and Samata and Niyamgiri judgments of the Supreme Court.

Moreover, the cooperative society contested that one of the clause in the e-tender said that the lease would be be given to a tribal person, not to a tribal cooperative. “This provision will facilitate benami trading, as no tribal person has the mining equipment listed in the contractual clauses,” he said.

The members of the cooperative society said that clauses should be modified and cooperatives be allowed to place their bids, and grama sabha be held as per the laws embedded in the Fifth Schedule of the Constitution. The area earmarked for mining is rich in mineral and the calcite is pure and free of silica. The tribal people need to get the benefit of the resources, said Mr. Ravi.

APMDC has no right to issue tender for calcite mining in scheduled area: EAS Sarma

The Hindu | April 09, 2021

‘It should be first discussed in the local adivasi Gram Sabha’
Former secretary to GOI and former Commissioner for Tribal Welfare, A.P. Government, E.A.S. Sarma, has taken strong exception to the way in which the AP Mineral Development Corporation (APMDC) has issued an E-Tender for ‘Working of Calcite Mining Lease’ of 8.725 hectares at Nimmalapadu village in Ananthagiri mandal in Visakhapatnam district, on ‘Raising-cum-sale contract basis’.

In a letter to the Chief Secretary, he stated that the APMDC has no right to unilaterally issue such a notification and it was in gross violation of the provisions embedded in the Panchayat (Extension to the Scheduled Areas) Act (PESA) and the Scheduled Tribes and Other Traditional Forest Dwellers (Recognition of Forest Rights) Act (FRA).

Speaking to The Hindu, he said that both the Acts are applicable to the Nimmalapadu village, as it lies within the notified Scheduled Area of Visakhapatnam district.

According to him, in the Scheduled Areas, as per the provisions of PESA, the question whether any mineral should be extracted and, if so, by whom, should be discussed first by the local adivasi Gram Sabha.

Such a prior discussion had not apparently taken place, he alleged. Even under the FRA, it is necessary that the individual and community rights to the land and the forest resources should be subject to prior discussion by the local adivasi Gram Sabha, which appears to have been bypassed, he added.

As such, the e-tender notice is patently illegal and liable to be set aside, he said.

The Samata Judgement and the judgement in the case of bauxite mining by Vedanta in the scheduled area of Odisha, holds good in this case also, said Mr. Sarma.

It is learnt that a local tribal cooperative has approached the AP High Court to obtain a stay on the e-tender.

A few years ago, the same tribal cooperative had approached the government for lease for mining and was denied.

NGT team visits Polavaram project

The Hindu | March 31, 2021

A six-member team, constituted by National Green Tribunal (NGT), visited the Polavaram project in West Godavari district on Tuesday.

The team, headed by former High Court Judge Justice B. Seshasayana Reddy, members Harsha Kota, Mannivaram, T. Sasidhar, H.D. Varalakshmi and D. Suresh, visited Mulalanka dumping yard.

The committee directed the project officials to raise plantation in the dumping yard and take steps to prevent damage to agricultural crops. They also visited the spillway bridge and coffer dam at the site.

Amid protest, Odisha Cabinet okays mineral foundation fund for hockey stadium

The Hindustan Times | March 25, 2021

District Mineral Foundation fund for an international hockey stadium in Rourkela is just one of the many projects taken up even as environmentalists protest that the money should be used for improving the lot of people directly affected by mining, which was the purpose of this fund

On Monday, the Odisha Cabinet approved the development of Bhubaneswar’s Kalinga Stadium and construction of an international hockey stadium in Rourkela ahead of Men’s Hockey World Cup in 2023. Of the ₹356.38 crore the project requires, ₹266 crore will come through District Mineral Foundation (DMF) Trust of Sundargarh, and Odisha Sports Development Fund.

The decision has renewed the questions that have been raised over the alleged misuse of DMF funds for a various other projects but those for mining-affected public, which was why the DMF was created. For instance, in January last year, Rourkela city police got 25 Innova Crysta vehicles at a cost of ₹4.65 crore with Sundargarh DMF fund.

“How would building stadium or buying police vehicles help mining-affected areas? People in Sundargarh don’t have access to safe drinking water and proper roads. Should the funds not be used for better purposes,” asked Laxman Munda, CPM MLA from Bonai in Sundargarh.

Munda’s protests have come at a time when the Shivraj Singh Chouhan government in Madhya Pradesh is using the DMF funds for the construction of an airstrip in Singrauli district, one of the biggest and most polluted coal mining and thermal power hubs in the country.

DMF was instituted through an amendment to Mines and Minerals(Development and Regulation) Act 2015 to “work for the interest and benefit of people and areas affected by mining”. The funds of DMF trust come from mining companies operating in the respective districts and they pay an equivalent of 30% of the royalty amount for leases granted before 2015, and 10% for leases granted after that. DMF fund is to be spent on improving human development indicators through investments in high-priority areas such as healthcare, education, women and child development, improving sustainable livelihood, and income opportunities in areas adversely affected by mining.

Till January this year, Odisha collected ₹11,984.87 crore in its DMF fund, the highest in the country, and spent ₹5,364 crore out of it, around 44.76% , a little less than the national average.

Yet, there are murmurs of protest over the alleged misuse of funds.

Kusum Tete, BJP MLA of Sundargarh, one of the districts where DMF money is being spent, said, “Rourkela city is not a mining area while most of my electorate bear the brunt of pollution due to coal and iron ore mining. The government is using DMF funds for sports infra in Rourkela, and policing. Should it not have used the money for providing piped water in Sundargarh?”

Tete said Hemagir, one of the blocks in her assembly constituency, suffers from pollution from trucks carrying coal to neighbouring Chhatisgarh. “The first priority should have been using the DMF funds to prevent pollution in the area. The tribals have been agitating for the past two months, but the government is the least bothered,” she said.

Chinmayi Shalya, who works with the International Forum for Environment, Sustainability and Technology (iForest) on DMF issues, said DMF fund is not meant for stadium construction and beautification projects. “It is a targeted fund for mining-affected communities. Using it singularly for hockey World Cup would potentially be a misuse,” she said.

Chief secretary Suresh Mohapatra and Sundargarh district collector Nikhil Pawan Kalyan did not comment on the allegations.

Activists are also severely critical of the state government’s decision to use DMF funds for integrated traffic management system to check road fatalities in the state.

“The commerce and transport department has asked all districts to install CCTV surveillance system for enforcement of traffic violations at vulnerable stretches and black spots on highways from the DMF or Corporate Social Responsibility fund where DMF is not available. How will CCTV surveillance help the lot of tribals?” asked activist Pradip Pradhan.

The state government also plans to construct integrated infrastructure complex, including old age homes in all the 30 districts, with the funding support from DMF. In Keonjhar, locals pointed out the district authorities are building a handball stadium in Keonjhar. “At least 56% of the people in Keonjhar district are Dalits and tribals and sizeable section of them is below the poverty line. Yet the district administration does not take the suggestion of the common people while finalising the plans for DMF use,” alleged Kiran Sahu, president of Keonjhar Citizen’s Forum.

Even as there have been protests over the expenditure on stadiums and police vehicles, the Odisha Commerce and Transport department has sought the permission to build a new railway line project for iron ore transportation in Keonjhar district from DMF fund, triggered another controversy.

In a letter to the Keonjhar district collector, the department has asked if the DMF trust can sanction ₹363.38 crore for building the 18 km Banspani-Barbil line that will provide direct rail connectivity to iron ore loading stations on the Noamundi-Bolani Khadan section from Banspani for movement to steel plants in Odisha or to ports. The railway line is proposed to be built by Odisha Rail Infrastructure Development Limited, a state government-led joint venture with Indian Railways.

Environmentalists and right activists are decidedly against the project. “When DMF fund is supposed to be spent for the benefit of those affected by mining-related operations, seeking permission for spending it on railway project connecting iron ore loading stations to steel plants is a mad idea. The DMF fund is meant to uplift the living standards of mining-affected people, not make their lives more miserable,” said Prafulla Samantara, rights activist who was awarded the Goldman Environmental Prize in 2017.

Prominent environmental activist Biswajit Mohanty said it is laughable to propose spending DMF fund for iron ore transportation when miners are asked to contribute to the fund for the damage they are causing to local environment.

CPM MLA from Bonai constituency of Sundargarh district, Laxman Munda said, “Lack of transparency can result in wasteful expenditure, misuse of funds and sub-standard quality of work and corruption.”

Shalya pointed out that decision-making needs to involve those directly affected by mining. “There are some good investment examples from Odisha, such as, the use of DMF to increase MGNREGA wages at par with state minimum wage in Keonjhar. States should guide and equip districts for a long-term planning of DMFs so that funds are used wisely and effectively to improve the well-being of local communities,” she said.

Are Polavaram Affected Tribal Communities Short-changed by Govt for Their Land?

News Click | Ayaskant Das | March 21, 2021

The Andhra Pradesh High Court has asked the state government to clarify by March 24 if project-affected families are being provided with decent rehabilitation and resettlement facilities.

New Delhi: Is the YS Jagan Mohan Reddy government in Andhra Pradesh evicting tribal communities for the Polavaram project without providing adequate amenities for rehabilitation? Residents of several villages near the under-construction multi-purpose irrigation project have allegedly been forced to move to resettlement colonies that are yet to get drinking water supply, street lights and roads.

Resettlement of habitations, which will ultimately be submerged under the 194 TMC (thousand million cubic feet) reservoir of the Polavaram project, is being undertaken by the Andhra Pradesh government. A dam is being constructed across the flood-prone Godavari River for the project in order to divert water for irrigation, drinking purposes and industrial use for around half-a-dozen districts of Andhra Pradesh, apart from generating electricity.

But, the project also involves displacement of reportedly 98,818 families spread over 371 habitations in East Godavari and West Godavari districts with the total number of project-affected persons coming to 1,88,012. More than half of this population belong to the Scheduled Tribe category while Scheduled Castes also comprise a significant proportion.

In the second week of March 2021, matters came to a head when administrative officials of East Godavari district asked local residents of Seetharam village in Devipatnam Mandal to vacate their houses and move to a government-built resettlement colony. Reportedly, project-affected families of Seetharam, one of the several habitations that will be submerged by the Polavaram reservoir, were reluctant to move to the new colony as it lacked proper amenities. However, 56 project-affected families finally moved to the new colony after being assured by officials that all amenities will be soon provided.

BASIC FACILITIES ABSENT IN RESETTLEMENT COLONIES

“There is no piped drinking water supply in the resettlement colony. Just a tanker of water is provided per day which is not enough to meet our requirements. We have no source of water after sundown. There is no drainage system in place and there are no street lights yet. And they have just about begun laying cement-concrete roads,” K Venkata Ramana (47), a resident of Seetharam who has moved to the resettlement colony, told NewsClick.

When residents of Seetharam were being relocated, members of 18 project-affected families were reportedly denied new shelters even as government officials went about demolishing the rest of the village. These families lacked proper documents to back up claims of their identities and residential addresses. Their old houses were left untouched, following a spat, when officials agreed to let them live there till alternate arrangements for them are worked out. Villagers claim, however, that 20 other families whose houses were pulled down, are yet to get new shelters. Their papers are pending with the government.

“These 20 families are living in anganwadi centres, school buildings or temples at the new colony. Many have taken shelter with their neighbours for the time being,” added Venkata Ramana.

In another instance, project-affected families of Yenugulagudem village have been shifted to a resettlement colony that has been allegedly built after filling a pond with earth. There have been complaints of sewer backflow in the lavatories of the shelters where families from Yenugulagudem have been resettled.

At least five villages, apart from Seetharam, in Devipatnam Mandal of East Godavari district have been relocated to newly-built resettlement colonies in February and March. More resettlements are to follow in the next few months. In February, residents of at least 25 villages, which will be submerged by the reservoir in West Godavari district, have also been reportedly issued a notice to evacuate their settlements latest by April 2021.

But many of the resettled people are not happy with their new colonies and shelters.

“We were told we have to move out since our village will be submerged by the reservoir. But we have been shifted to a colony built in a place that had been submerged by floods in the past right in front of our eyes. We had objected against this particular location. But to no avail,” K Abbaya Reddy (45), a resident of Agraharam village in East Godavari, told NewsClick.

LAND-TO-LAND COMPENSATION AGAINST PATTAS NOT GIVEN

It has been alleged that in several instances, displaced tribal families are not being provided with land-to-land compensation against pattas that they have been issued in the past in forest areas under the Forest Rights Act, 2006, known otherwise as the Scheduled Tribes and Other Traditional Forest Dwellers (Recognition of Forest Rights) Act. The 74 project-affected families of Agraharam belong to the Konda Reddi tribe, identified as a Particularly Vulnerable Tribal Group (PVTG) by the Union government.

“We are not being provided with cash compensation either against forest lands for which we have pattas. The government is providing us only with new shelters without any new sources of livelihood. Landlords who have pattas of community land, however, have managed to get cash compensation though we got nothing in lieu of what we lost,” alleged Abbaya Reddy.

Under the Rehabilitation and Resettlement plan that was devised by the government for the project-affected population of Polavaram project, individuals who had attained 18 years of age by the year 2010 were eligible for shelters and a cash compensation of Rs 6.86 lakh each. Eleven years hence, even as the project awaits completion and several habitations are yet to be relocated, many more individuals have crossed the benchmark of 18 years of age.

But, local people allege, the eligibility criteria as of the year 2010, has remained unchanged. It has been further alleged that YS Jagan Mohan Reddy reneged on his promise to hike the cash compensation amount after he was elected to power.

PIL LISTS VIOLATIONS IN POLAVARAM PROJECT

On March 16, the Andhra Pradesh High Court issued a notice upon the state government to clarify within eight days if project-affected families are actually being provided with decent rehabilitation and resettlement facilities before being evicted from their habitations. The direction was issued upon a Public Interest Litigation (PIL) filed by a voluntary organisation named Search for Action and Knowledge of Tribal Initiative (SAKTI) which works for tribal rights amongst other things.

“Even though rights of tribal communities are being violated when it comes to acquiring their land, the government has failed to rein in unscrupulous non-tribal people who are acquiring compensations through illegal means. In one instance, a particular group of non-tribal people claimed ownership of land earmarked for the Polavaram project with the use of fake documents. A criminal case was filed against them. The matter was investigated through the Andhra Pradesh CB-CID, who also filed a charge-sheet. Despite this fact, the local administration provided them with compensation even though it was tribal families that were actually living over the land that was acquired. A separate case is pending in this matter in the high court for the past three years,” said founder-secretary of SAKTI Dr P Sivaramakrishna.

The PIL lists a plethora of violations in the execution of the Polavaram project. It has been alleged that several families are being denied rehabilitation and resettlement despite their dwellings falling within a surface distance of 100 metres from the full reservoir level of the Polavaram project in contravention to an Andhra Pradesh government order issued in April 2005. Even though eviction has started in habitations, the government is yet to finalise several claims made by tribal communities over forest rights in areas that will ultimately be submerged underneath the reservoir.

Both East Godavari and West Godavari districts are designated as Schedule 5 areas – their populations thereby being entitled to special provisions – by the Union government in accordance with the Constitution of India. However, the PIL alleges violations not only of the provisions for Schedule 5 areas but also of a plethora of laws including the Right to Fair Compensation and Transparency in Land Acquisition, Rehabilitation and Resettlement Act of 2013; the Panchayat Extension to Schedule Areas (PESA) Act of 1996 and the Schedule Tribes and Other Traditional Forest Dwellers (Recognition of Forest Rights) Act of 2006.

“Without giving these rehabilitation resettlement benefits and adequate compensation, the tribals are being asked to leave. In fact, some of the villages where the alleged rehabilitation is nearing completion, do not have a graveyard, community hall and they have not been given the alternative lands, forest lands near the proposed resettlement village,” alleges the PIL.

It has been further alleged through the PIL that a lot of unmeasured deemed forest land, which is getting submerged under the project, have been acquired without updating land records, in order to avoid paying compensation.

Despite repeated attempts, the District Magistrate of East Godavari, B Muralidhar Reddy, was not available for comments. Speaking to NewsClick, O Anand, the Project Administrator & Ex-Officio Joint Collector of Polavaram Irrigation Project, however, said that a clarification has been sought from the state government on what compensation, if any, should be granted to those families against rights over forest land—acquired through pattas—which they lose at the time of relocation.

“Forest right pattas are not transferable. Forest land is vested with the government and patta owners enjoy summary rights over the land. Extant laws do not mention as to what compensation should be provided when forest rights are lost owing to whatsoever reasons including relocation or resettlement. So, we have sought a clarity from the state government on what compensation, if any, should be paid in this case,” said O Anand.

The officer further said that no force or coercion has ever been used to relocate villagers affected by the project.

“Before relocating families, we are ensuring that new shelters are provided with basic facilities like electricity, toilets and water connections. Also, we are transferring the compensation amount directly into the bank accounts of beneficiaries before they are relocated. Wherever applicable, land-to-land compensation is also being provided. A lot of infrastructure work is underway in the new resettlement colonies including construction of roads and drainage systems. Before relocation, we had held several Gram Sabhas in which consent was obtained that any project-affected family willing to gain wage employment, through labour, from these infrastructure works can shift to the new resettlement colonies. It will ensure that they get a steady source of income at least for the next few months instead of using up the compensation money directly,” added Anand.

Nonetheless, in July 2018, a special field report by the National Commission for Scheduled Tribes, which was submitted to the President of India, had noted – amongst other things – that not only was uncultivable land provided as compensation in many cases to project-affected families but many tribal families depending on minor forest produce for a living were also relocated without providing any alternative means of livelihood.

“It is a travesty of justice to see that more than 371 villages in three states and 90% scheduled areas will be submerged in this large dam once the gates are closed. To see that the very Constitution that gave protection to these communities is being misused to displace them without proper rehabilitation and resettlement is really sad even after 70 years of independence. We demand that all activities pertaining to the dam should stop forthwith until total rehabilitation and resettlement is completed to the satisfaction of tribal communities,” Rebbapragada Ravi, founder of Andhra Pradesh-based NGO Samata which works for tribal rights, told NewsClick.

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