Polavaram project: Andhra high court stays eviction, demolition in affected areas

Down to Earth | Ishan Kukreti | March 16, 2021

At least 15 villages in two districts of the state have been demolished since 2016

The Andhra Pradesh High Court stayed the demolition of houses in villages falling in the way of the Indira Sagar Polavaram Irrigation project, popularly called the Polavaram multi-purpose project, in East and West Godavari districts of the state.

The court was hearing a petition filed against eviction and demolition of villages in the Schedule V areas of the two districts March 8, 2021. The petition was filed by Andhra Pradesh-based environmental justice non-profit Search for Action and Knowledge of Tribal Initiative (Sakti).

Polavaram multipurpose project, a storage scheme for the Godavari, aims to build a dam at Polavaram between East Godavari and West Godavari districts in Andhra Pradesh and Khammam district in Telangana.

The project was given a hydrological clearance in 1982 by the Central Water Commission. In August 2005, the Andhra Pradesh High Court issued a stay order on all work related to the project, on grounds that the government had not obtained the necessary clearances from the Union Ministry of Environment and Forests. The project was revived in October 2005, after it received an environment clearance.

The Polavaram project was accorded national status in 2014 in the Andhra Pradesh Bifurcation Act and its design was changed. The environmental impact assessment (EIA) of the project stated that 276 villages will be affected by the project. As many as 177,275 people live in these villages.

At least 15 villages in the east and west Godavari districts in the submergence zone of the project have been evicted and demolished since 2016, according to Sivaramakrishan, the petitioner in the case.

Villagers were evicted from Sitaram village in Devipattanam block of West Godavari and their houses demolished last week.

The counsel of the Andhra Pradesh Water Resource Department, however, told the court that no eviction took place. To this, the court directed the advocate representing the respondent authorities to produce in writing his reply on March 24. The court stayed the eviction proceedings till then.

A 2015 High Court order had stated that until the provisions for rehabilitation under the Right to Fair Compensation and Transparency in Land Acquisition, Rehabilitation and Resettlement Act, 2013 (LARR) were implemented, the fixation of gates of the dam could not take place.

Sivaramakrishan said:

“The implementation of LARR and settling of claims under the Forest Rights Act has been ignored. They are forcing people out of their houses and demolishing them in front of their eyes.” 

Forest dwellers, under the Scheduled Tribes and Other Traditional Forest Dwellers (Recognition of Forest Rights) [FRA] Act, 2006, cannot be displaced unless their rights have been settled under the law. The petitioner, however, told the court that 520 individual claims covering an extent of 2,773.02 acres were pending at sub-divisional level committee in Chintoor and VR Puram blocks.

As many as 1,382 community claims covering an extent of 4,966 acres were pending in Khammam, Kothagudem, Palvancha and Bhadrachalam divisions in Telangana, he added.

This was among the largest displacements in the country, said Ravi Rebbapragada of Samata, an Andhra Pradesh-based non-profit working on tribal rights while welcoming the court intervention.

He added that even after 75 years of independence, the tribal communities were being forced to vacate their villages without proper resettlement and rehabilitation.

DMF funds projects execution slow in mining dists

The Pioneer | March 16, 2021

There has been tardy progress in the implementation of projects under the District Mineral Foundation (DMF) funds in the State.According to the Government of Odisha’s Rural Development Department Annual Activity Report (2020-21) tabled in the State Assembly on Saturday, four important DMF active districts, such as Keonjhar, Sundargarh, Jajpur and Koraput, have made some progress even though they are lagging behind on the project implementation front. Assessments were done on three important infrastructure, road, bridge and building.

It is revealed that out of 222 approved road projects, 94 projects are completed and work is under progress in 91 projects. While out of Rs 56,196 .96 lakh sanctioned, utilisation certificates (UCs) have been given in respect of only Rs 18,817.57 lakh though the spending is to the tune of Rs 23,763 lakh.

Similarly, out of 312 building projects, 233 projects have been completed and work is under progress in 63 projects. By the end of January 2021, out of total Rs 17,817.92 lakh sanctioned for these projects, Rs 10,596.59 lakh was spent and UCs were given only for Rs 9,425.91 lakh.

And out of 39 bridge projects, 17 have been completed and work is under progress in respect of 13. Though Rs 5,867.48 lakh was sanctioned for these projects, UCs were given for Rs 2,866 lakh, while the actual spending was Rs 3,070 lakh.

Data available for these districts reveal that Keonjhar and Jajpur have done significant progress in building road projects. Out of total Rs 13,271.64 lakh sanctioned for Keonjhar, the actual spending was of Rs 5,369.00 lakh but UCs were given for only Rs 3,900.57 lakh.

Of the bridge projects, out of 38 approved projects for Sundargarh, 17 projects were completed within the stipulated time and work was under progress in 12 more projects, but UCs were given for Rs 2,823 lakh whereas actual spending made was of Rs 3,027 lakh.

The total sanctioned amount was Rs 5,789.48 lakh. In Koraput out of 39 approved projects, 17 have been completed and work is under progress in 13 projects. Out of the total Rs 5,867.48 lakh approved cost, only Rs 3,070 lakh was spent and UCs were given only for Rs 2,866 lakh.

The building projects were done in a fairly better way as far as completion of the projects is concerned. Out of 312 sanctioned projects, 233 were completed and work was under progress in 63 projects in the leading DMF active districts like Angul,Jajpur,Keonjhar,Sundargarh and Jharsuguda. While Angul, Jajpur, Keonjhar and Jharsuguda did better in project completion, Sundargarh lagged behind. In utilisation of money Angul,Keonjhar and Jharsuguda did better whereas Jajpur and Sundargarh did perform poorly.

Though Rs 996.94 lakh was spent in Jajpur, the administration submitted UCs for only Rs 467.14 lakh. Similarly, Sundargarh produced UCs for Rs 1,785.65 lakh out of sanctioned amount of Rs 2,206.65 lakh. The report of RD Department states that since implementation of the scheme in 2016-17, in total 423 road works, 312 buildings and 89 bridge works (total 824 projects) have been sanctioned by the district level DMF headed by the Collectors in these districts.

The main objective behind the setting up the DMF was to implement various development and welfare schemes and projects in mining affected areas to minimise the adverse impact caused by mining to socio-economic, environment and health of the people and the area.

Is Modi Government Planning on Selling State Govt. Owned Mineral Resources to Corporates?

News Click | Ayaskant Das | Feb 17, 2021

A draft notification by the Ministry of Mines says mineral blocks not auctioned by state governments can be auctioned by the Centre.

New Delhi: In an attempt apparently aimed at helping corporate houses appropriate a greater pie of natural resources of the country, the Modi government has proposed a law whereby the Centre can auction mineral blocks that belong exclusively to states. On February 9, the Union Ministry of Mines had issued a draft notification proposing a series of mining reforms, including the transfer of rights to auction mineral blocks to the Central Government.

The Mines and Minerals (Development & Regulation) Act, 1957 will be amended to “provide the power to central government to conduct auction (of mineral blocks) in cases where the State governments face challenges in conduct of auction or fail to conduct auction”. Among other reforms, the government has proposed to allow commercial trading of up to 50% of coal extracted from blocks allocated exclusively for captive mining. The Centre has also sought to do away completely with the mandatory requirement to conduct fresh assessments and obtain new clearances whenever successful new bidders take over mineral blocks from old leaseholders.

Even though the draft notification makes it amply clear that all proceeds from auctions of mineral blocks by the Centre will fully accrue to respective state governments, it is being claimed that the proposed legislation undermines the federal structure of the country: state governments not only own minerals (except coal and uranium) but are also fully empowered to decide when and how to utilise those resources.

Experts have questioned the intention of the Central Government in bearing the costs and rigours of the auction process if all proceeds will ultimately accrue to state governments. “State governments are trustees of mineral resources. They can use the power at their disposal to auction mineral blocks in accordance with their own needs,” said senior Supreme Court lawyer Sanjay Parikh.

The ministry has justified its proposal to take over the power of auctioning all blocks on the grounds that state governments have displayed tardiness in selling minerals. The notification stated that Central Government exploration agencies have – since the year 2015 – handed over geological reports for 143 mineral blocks which are ready for auction to various state governments.

However, only seven blocks from this list have been auctioned so far. The draft notification also stated that leases of 334 mineral blocks, out of which 46 were working mines, expired in March 2020. However, despite repeated prodding by the Centre, only 28 of those blocks had been auctioned by the states so far, it said. The idea to auction a greater number of blocks on a regular basis has been justified on the basis of the assumption that this will ensure continuous supply of minerals in the country. It has further been reasoned that a delay in conduct of auctions has a substantial impact on the availability and prices of minerals.

“Where will the concept of inter-generational equity go if all mineral resources are auctioned together? Mineral resources have to be extracted in a very reasonable manner in accordance with our requirements. Otherwise it will lead to zero balance of resources for future generations. In the past there have been instances of fake letterhead companies buying over coal blocks even if those firms had no involvement in manufacturing activities of any nature. Immediate and wholesale auction of mineral blocks will result in precious natural resources going under the control of only those corporate houses who not only have very deep pockets at the moment but also have the power to compete for bids. There will be manifold adverse impacts on the local environment too if, by any imagination, all mineral blocks are subjected to extraction at the same time,” Parikh told Newsclick.

It has been speculated that any attempt by the Centre to take over powers of state governments, as far as ownership and management of mineral resources are concerned, will be vehemently opposed. In the wake of an attempt by the Central Government to undermine federalism, which forms a basic structure of the Constitution of India, it is likely that state governments would challenge the amendment in court, thereby resulting in a complete derailment of the mineral block auction process. On the other hand, an alternative exists for the Centre in the form of extending assistance to states for conducting e-auctions, which is a faster and cost-effective process if at all there exists the need to sell more mineral resources.

In the proposed amendment to the Act, a provision has also been made to allow leaseholders of captive mines to sell up to 50% of minerals extracted in any particular year, after meeting end-use requirements, provided that an additional royalty, as prescribed by the Central Government, is paid. In continuation of this provision, captive coal block leaseholders will now be able to use 50% of extracted minerals for commercial trading. This proposal has been justified by the Centre on the assumption that it will reduce the import bill of coal and help bridge India’s trade deficit.

“There are numerous thermal power plants in India that have been designed to operate only with imported coal. Many plants are strategically located along the country’s coastline for easy availability of imported coal through the sea route. These plants can never switch to domestic coal. Further, there is no reason why the government should charge additional royalty for coal (or any other mineral) that is commercially traded after meeting end-use requirements. It will lead to an artificial increase in the cost of minerals and the burden of additional royalty will ultimately be transferred to the consumer. This goes against the spirit of Atmanirbhar Bharat. If at all, the government should withdraw all captive conditions from upon existing leaseholders,” said R.K. Sachdeva, former advisor (Coal) to the Government of India.

In March last year, soon after a total lockdown was imposed across the country on account of COVID-19, the Central Government had issued a notification giving a two-year holiday for new mining leaseholders wherein they could continue extracting minerals on the basis of old clearances provided they obtained new clearances by the year 2022.

The new draft notification proposes to completely do away with the requirement of obtaining new clearances: the old set of clearances can be used by new leaseholders till all resources are exhausted in the mineral block. It stated that new leaseholders are “facing difficulties” in obtaining fresh clearances which not only happens to be a “lengthy process” but is also “time consuming”.

“The proposal that no fresh clearances are required for new leaseholders is pro-industry and pro-development. Any break in mining operations for the sake of new clearances would have led to a discontinuity in business. Mine operators would have had to begin the entire exercise afresh after getting new clearances. It would have become difficult for mine operators to find ore again,” added Sachdeva.

Sections of the industry have welcomed the move to continue extraction on the basis of old clearances even though those pertaining to environment and forests are not within the domain of the mines ministry.

“An environmental clearance, once granted, is valid irrespective of change of ownership of a mine. But consent for establishment and operations have limited validity and need to be renewed periodically. These cannot be bypassed. Further, any mining plan approved by the Indian Bureau of Mines does not come with a lifelong validity. It has to be reviewed every five years. Each project proponent has to submit mining plans for the next 20 years, including a closure plan. The Indian Bureau of Mines reserves the right to revoke a prior approval in the event of deviations from the original plan,” said Rebbapragada Ravi of mines, minerals & PEOPLE, an alliance of individuals, institutions and communities affected by mining.

Questions have also been raised about the issue of the safety of workers engaged in mining activities while allowing continuous extraction on the basis of old clearances. Shouldn’t safety standards be reviewed periodically as leaseholders dig deeper into the earth to extract minerals? The Directorate of Mines Safety reserves the right to cancel operations in the event of safety norms not being followed properly or being violated intentionally.

Further, there exist a certain set of mining clearances that are granted by state governments including handing over of the lease itself, through agreement, by the respective Directorate of Mines & Geology. “If there is any change in ownership, the new leaseholder has to sign a fresh agreement with new terms and conditions. This includes the amount of royalty and also the issue of mining permits at regular intervals. Any extension of mining lease or change in ownership has also to be done through issue of government order by the concerned department which cannot by bypassed,” added Ravi.

Need to prioritise sustainable living to protect planet: expert

The Hindu | February 15, 2021

‘Planned urbanisation in countries such as India could serve as a great adaptation method’

Climate change and urbanisation are two of the most important phenomena facing the world today and they are inextricably linked, observed Fulbright fellow in Environmental Studies at Yale University (USA) Suman Chandra.

She participated in the discussions during the national webinar on ‘Climate Change Adaptation: Traditional Wisdom and Cross-Scale Understanding,’ jointly organised by GITAM School of Gandhian Studies and United States India Education Forum (USIEF), here on Monday.

She pointed that India ranks fourth in the list of countries that produce highest greenhouse emissions and this could be a result of massive urbanisation.

Ms. Chandra, who earlier served as District Collector of Buldhana district in Maharashtra, emphasised that we are on the cusp of a rapidly changing world and we need to prioritise sustainable living and make it a part of our lifestyle in order to protect the planet. She suggested that a planned urbanisation in countries such as India could serve as a great adaptation method.

A. Rama Mohan Reddy, former forest service officer, who extended his services in the Himalayan region, focussed on the impact of climate change on forests which include frequent fires, unforeseen floods, untimely flowering of various plant species and the likes. He also spoke about various measures taken by the Forest Department to mitigate the long-term effects and to improve forest cover.

Visakha Society for Protection and Care of Animals (VSPCA) member Priya Tallam spoke about resilience in coastal communities and various activities undertaken by the VSPCA towards the betterment of the ocean and the marine life along the coast of Visakhapatnam.

The panel of speakers included IIM (Ahmedabad) Professor Rama Mohan Turaga, Samata Executive Director Ravi Rebbapragada, Ashoka Trust post doctoral research associate Vikram Aditya, Tata Institute of Social Sciences (TISS) researcher Bijayashree Satapathy and Stanford University researcher Krti Tallam.

AP Bauxite issue: A deep mine of tribal unrest, biz interests, eco concerns

The Federal | Suresh Dharur | Dec 26, 2020

Repeated attempts by successive governments in the past to take up bauxite mining in Visakhapatnam district had triggered anger among tribals. In fact, it has remained a political issue for long

Bauxite mining in Andhra Pradesh has been a touchy political issue for decades because of its far-reaching implications on environment and the livelihood of tribal communities.

The repeated attempts by successive governments in the past to take up bauxite mining in Visakhapatnam district had triggered anger among tribal communities. In fact, the issue was one of the key rallying points for the opposition parties as well.

Soon after taking over the reins of the state in May last year, Chief Minister YS Jagan Mohan Reddy ordered the withdrawal of a Government Order (GO) on bauxite mining and assured the tribals that his government would not take up mining in the district, which is a part of the environmentally fragile Eastern Ghats.

Back-door entry

However, the controversial issue is back in limelight with environmentalists and opposition parties expressing fears that the government was trying to facilitate a ‘back-door entry’ for mining magnets in the region.

The reasons for new apprehensions are not far to seek: The YSR Congress government is preparing the ground for allowing commencement of operations of alumina refinery in the district by Anrak Aluminium Ltd.

The ruling party’s parliamentary wing leader V Vijayasai Reddy publicly stated that the private refinery would be allowed to operate with bauxite ore to be sourced from Odisha and abroad.

This statement has triggered fears that the government was ‘stealthily preparing the ground’ for bauxite mining in the state.

“We will not allow bauxite mining at any cost,” said Ravi Rebbapragada, the executive director of Samata, a local NGO which has been waging a prolonged legal battle against mining in the region.

The Supreme Court had in the past made it clear that either the State, its instrumentalities or the tribal themselves forming into cooperatives have right over forest resources in the scheduled areas.

Though Anrak Aluminium Ltd, a joint venture of Ras-al-Khaimah Investment Authority (RAKIA) and Penna Group, completed the works on the 1.5 million tonne refinery long ago with an investment of Rs 5,000 crore to Rs 6,000 crore, it could not start operations for want of bauxite ore. The refinery is located in Makavarapalem mandal, about 80 km from Visakhapatnam.

In the combined Andhra Pradesh, the then Congress government, headed by Jagan’s father YS Rajasekhar Reddy, had decided in 2005 to allot bauxite mining to AP Mineral Development Corporate and supply the ore to Jindal South West Aluminium Ltd and Anrak Aluminium Ltd, floated by Ras-al-Khaimah Investment Authority (RAKIA) and its Indian partner Penna Group.

However, the MoU was cancelled in 2015 following widespread protests from tribal groups and the opposition parties. This led to the filing of an international arbitration by RAKIA against the Centre and state governments. The government recently formed a committee with senior officials to arrive at an out of court settlement with Anrak.

“There was no provision for arbitration in the agreement. The private operator should be allowed in the mining and refinery areas keeping in view the environmental pollution,” the former union energy secretary and noted environmentalist E A S Sarma said.

“The refinery will cause damage to the environment. Any attempt to start it will face stiff resistance from people,” warned the local CPI (M) secretary K Lokanadham.

Independent probe

Sarma sought an independent investigation by Anti-Corruption Bureau (ACB) and Special Enforcement Bureau (SEB) into the alleged illegal mining of bauxite in East Godavari and Visakhapatnam districts.

“I have been cautioning the government about private individuals and companies extracting bauxite in the guise of laterite. It may be noted bauxite mining is restricted to the public sector and to tribal cooperatives as directed by the Supreme Court in the Samata judgement years ago,” the retired IAS officer said.

In a bid to circumvent this restriction, the private miners, in collusion with the local mining officials, have been producing false analysis certificates to show that the bauxite they are extracting and exporting to alumina refineries is indeed laterite.

As per the Indian Bureau of Mines (IBM) report, any aluminous mineral ore containing more than 30 per cent aluminium is defined as bauxite.

However, the State Mines department has been granting leases for “laterite” mining, thus allowing the miners to go scot-free, Sarma pointed out. He alleged that many mining leases granted in Visakhapatnam and East Godavari actually involved illegal bauxite extraction.

As per the original plan, drawn up in 2005, the state-owned APMDC was to undertake the mining in 1,212 hectares of reserve forest area in Chintapalle and Jerella blocks of Visakhapatnam district.

However, the subsequent governments chose not to go ahead with the proposal due to widespread opposition in the region.

“Minerals like bauxite/alumina are scarce resources. Aluminium is a strategic metal that is used widely in the aviation industry and other manufacturing processes in the west. The price at which Indian miners export alumina is several times lower than the global price, which implies enormous scope for corruption and black money generation,” Sarma said.

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