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.

How Modi Government’s Thermal Power Reforms Aggravate Pollution

News Click | Nov 20, 2020

The push for the use of domestic coal is directly focused on revitalising coal mining and thermal power companies, including addressing their sluggish response to the coal auctions, said experts

New Delhi: Even as most of India is gripped by severe air pollution, reforms by the Modi government for the thermal power sector, particularly those undertaken to push the use of domestically-produced coal, could further aggravate the situation. In the latest in a series of relaxations, the BJP-led Central Government has granted thermal power plants leeway to change their sources of coal without amending environmental clearances.

The restrictions on sourcing of coal were lifted through an office memorandum issued by the Union Ministry of Environment, Forests & Climate Change (MoEF&CC) on November 11. Instead of seeking an amendment to environmental clearance, a thermal power plant will now simply need to ‘inform’ the ministry that it would be changing over to a new coal source, irrespective of the potential environmental hazards such a change would entail.

“Details regarding change in source (location of the source, proposed quantity, distance from the power plant and mode of transportation), quality (ash, sulphur, moisture content and calorific value) shall be informed to the Ministry and its Regional Office. The quantity of coal transported from each source along with the mode of transportation shall be submitted as part of EC [Environmental Clearance] Compliance Report,” the memorandum stated.

The memorandum also allows for transportation of coal along road routes, albeit in lorries covered with tarpaulins, which, nevertheless, could also be a potential source of air pollution.

In June, Prime Minister Narendra Modi had announced the auction of 41 coal blocks for commercial mining by private players. The auction process for allotment of the blocks is still underway even as the number of blocks were later scaled down to 38, primarily due to environmental concerns raised by the Chhattisgarh government.

However, in the run up to the auction of coal blocks, the Centre brought about policy changes that laid greater impetus upon usage of domestically produced coal. Coal mined in India has a higher percentage of ash as compared to high-grade imported coal, which is of better quality and hence, expensive. Environmental hazards from fly ash are only expected to increase over the next few years as more thermal power plants shift to domestically produced coal.

Experts say the move to allow thermal power plants to change the quality and source of coal at will, needs to be understood alongside the pool of reforms for the coal sector in India, including carte blanche approvals for road transportation where precautions, prior approvals or impact assessments do not exist.

“The push for domestic coal is directly focused on revitalising the mining and coal power companies, including addressing the sluggish response to the coal auctions,” said Kanchi Kohli of the Center for Policy Research, a Delhi-based public policy think tank.

Reforms for thermal power and coal mining industries have been brought into effect notwithstanding the fact that combustion of fossil fuel is one of the major sources of environmental pollution. Fly ash, which contains highly toxic elements, is one of the byproducts from coal combustion in thermal power plants. Improper management of gargantuan quantities of fly ash accumulated over several decades has resulted in large scale air and water pollution in areas close to thermal power plants. Apart from fly ash, thermal power plants are also cause air pollution from sulphurous emissions, where coal containing high percentages of sulphur is used.

In April 2020, the Modi government had come out with a policy which encouraged thermal power firms to switch over from imported coal to domestically-produced coal. The Union Ministry of Power, which issued the policy advisory, had also set up a mechanism to ‘deal with difficulties faced by the power companies in obtaining required quantity, quality of domestic coal including logistic bottlenecks’.

In May, the central government did away with the mandatory need to use coal with ash content below 34% in thermal power plants. Domestically-produced coal has an ash content in the range between 35% to 40% or above, while most coal imported to India has an ash content between ten to fifteen per cent. The notification, issued on May 21 by the MoEF&CC, also did away with the mandatory requirement of washing coal before its usage in thermal power plants. As per experts, coal washing is a procedure that helps remove ash percentage by around eight per cent.

Though usage of domestically-produced coal is expected to generate larger quantities of fly ash, the central government has, however, ruled out any entitlement for thermal power plants to increase capacities of their existing fly ash ponds unless they expand their electricity generation capacities.

In the latest office memorandum issued on November 11 too, the Centre has clearly ruled out any provision for additional ash ponds other than that which have been allowed in the environmental clearances to respective thermal power plants.

These relaxations have been granted even as several regions in the country are battling with air and water pollution caused by thermal power plants. There have also been numerous instances of fly ash pond dyke breaches in which toxic slurry has spread over farmlands and habitations resulting in loss of lives, damage to agricultural crops and pollution of nearby water bodies.

“Substitution of imported coal with domestically produced coal is good from the point of view of increasing our forex reserves. However, there are certain plants located along the coasts of the country that have been designed to have the natural advantage of using imported coal. A few ultra-mega power projects have also been specifically designed to use a certain quality, quantity and blend of coal. The correlation between fly ash generation and its utilisation is important. The economics of fly ash utilisation should not work to anyone’s disadvantage. Transportation of fly ash not only blocks rail capacity but also involves rail freight charges. And there is obviously the threat of environmental pollution during the loading and unloading processes,” former Advisor (Coal) to government of India, R.K. Sachdev, told NewsClick.

At the same time, most thermal power plants in the country have missed the December 2017 deadline for 100% fly ash utilisation. The Union Ministry of Environment and Forests, as it was called during the previous Congress-led United Progressive Alliance government, had in November 2009 issued a notification regarding fly ash utilisation. The notification had set a five-year time period with staggered deadlines for thermal power plants to utilise fly ash. For existing plants, a maximum period of five years was set for 100% of fly ash from November 2009. For new plants, the ministry has set a deadline of four years for 100% utilisation within a period of four years from the date of commissioning. This notification was later amended by the Modi government in January 2016 to extend the deadline for existing plants further, till the end of 2017.

However, as per the latest report of the Central Electricity Authority, fly ash utilisation in the country was only 78.19% during the first half of financial year 2019-20. Only 39 out of 105 thermal power plants had fly ash utilisation in the range of 100% or above.

On November 6, the National Green Tribunal reiterated its earlier order upon the Central Pollution Control Board (CPCB) to compute and recover environmental compensation from thermal power plants that have missed deadlines for the 100% utilisation of fly ash. This order was issued following a CPCB report, submitted to the tribunal in September, as per which 102 of 112 thermal power plants had refused to pay environmental compensation on various grounds (including appeals pending in the Supreme Court). Eight plants never responded to the CPCB notices while only two plants paid up the penalties.

“Ironically, this comes at a time when there is a global move away from coal-based power, including financial support. It also comes with complete knowledge that Indian coal which is high in ash content will only add to the huge backlog of fly ash mismanagement,” said Kohli.

DMF funds to be utilised for welfare of people: Odisha CM

The New Indian Express | Nov 08, 2020

Chief Minister Naveen Patnaik on Saturday said funds from the District Mineral Foundation (DMF) will be utilised for welfare of the people.

BHUBANESWAR: Chief Minister Naveen Patnaik on Saturday said funds from the District Mineral Foundation (DMF) will be utilised for welfare of the people. Inaugurating the mini-hydro power project at Singhanali in Keonjhar district through video conference, the Chief Minister said the State grid will get 100 million units of power from this project.

Stating that the project is a milestone in green and renewable energy sector, the Chief Minister said such small energy projects will help the State tackle the environment that changes well. Implemented by the Hyderabad-based Baitarani Power Project Pvt Ltd, it will benefit the people of Anandapur.

Stating that Keonjhar has made immense contribution to the State as well as national economy, the Chief Minister said the government is taking steps for overall development of the district. Minister of State for Skill Development and Technical Education Premananda Nayak, Minister of State for Energy Dibya Shankar Mishra, Chief Secretary Asit Tripathy and 5T Secretary VK Pandian were present.

Tribal Rights Compromised for National Highway in Andhra, Say Locals and Activists

News Click | Ayaskant Das | Nov 07, 2020
Locals and activists allege no public hearing is being conducted for NH 516-E while officials say full transparency is being maintained since the project is partially funded by the World Bank.

New Delhi: A 390-km long national highway project is being developed by the Andhra Pradesh government in the Eastern Ghats, in a predominantly tribal area, allegedly without proper public consultations. The proposed two-lane highway, National Highway (NH) 516-E, partially funded by the World Bank, will link Rajahmundry with Vizianagaram in Andhra Pradesh and affect several tribal-dominated villages alongside its alignment.

The allegations, made by locals and activists, have however been denied by the Union Ministry of Road Transport & Highways (MORTH) who have claimed total transparency in their operations. Though the project is 390 kilometres in length, ministry officials said it needs no Environmental Clearance as per law because none of the individual packages are over 100 kilometres in length, nor more than 60 metres in width.

In October, a group of activists wrote to the collectors of three districts of eastern Andhra Pradesh alleging non-compliance of laws in the execution of the project.

The proposed highway would run through three districts—Vizag, Vizianagaram and East Godavari. Two of these districts, Vizag and East Godavari, have regions under their jurisdiction that have been declared as Scheduled Areas by the Union government owing to preponderance of tribal population and their economic backwardness.

LACK OF PUBLIC CONSULTATION
An analysis of Environment Impact Assessment (EIA) reports for two sections of the proposed highway, that is, the Bowadra-Vizianagaram section and the Paderu-Araku section, shows that not only were many villages kept out of public consultations but the number of attendees in the hearings were abysmally low. Reports for these two sections prepared by the Andhra Pradesh Roads & Building Department are dated November and December 2019, respectively. These two sections will be funded by the World Bank.

As per the EIA report of the Paderu-Araku section, which is 49.37 kilometres long, public consultations were conducted in October 2018 only for Gram Sabhas of four of the nine affected villages. Each hearing was attended by 30-50 people. The cumulative population of all nine villages, as per Census 2011, is 16,307. However, the number of people from amongst this population who belong to the Scheduled Tribes category is 12,365, which is a whopping 75.82%.

This Paderu-Araku section of the existing road is in an unusable condition and roughly four per cent of it is double-laned. According to locals, the region through which the road would traverse is moderately rich in wildlife as well. Boars and bears are found in the forested areas of the region apart from isolated instances of sightings of cheetahs and tigers.

The proposed highway in this section will affect local vegetation, forest cover, agricultural crops and human habitations too at certain locations. Most of the land along the project road is adjacent to agricultural area, built up area and forest area, whereas there is nominal barren land.

The EIA reports further state that widening of the existing unusable road to a double-laned highway will require land acquisition that may lead to loss of property and livelihoods apart from loss of standing productive crops and vegetations.

Similarly, as many as 18 villages are located along the proposed highway’s Bowadra-Vizianagaram section, which is 26.94 kilometers long. Yet, public hearings through Gram Sabhas were held in March 2018 in only five of those villages in this section, according to the EIA report. Each hearing was attended by 15-30 persons only. The EIA report does not even mention the names of the people who attended these public hearings as is required under the law.

The entire highway project is being developed in nine packages, out of which 209 kilometres will be built with assistance from the World Bank. Officials said construction will soon commence on three packages for which work orders have been awarded.

“There are a number of coffee plantations alongside the proposed highway where farm owners are reluctant to part with their productive land. Even if land is acquired, a good rate of compensation is expected as per the new land acquisition act. Several bridges and culverts are part of the proposed highway project,” said Venkat Rao, a resident of Araku, expressing his concerns over the project’s impact.

“Also, where are the environmental safeguards for quarrying stones and boulders that will be used to build these bridges and culverts?” Rao asked.

Quarrying of minor minerals will also be required for black-topping of the entire stretch of the highway.

ALLEGED VIOLATION OF TRIBAL RIGHTS
Activists say that public consultations are a must in all project-affected villages as per a judgement of the Andhra Pradesh High Court. In 2013, the high court had reversed a notification of the Union Ministry of Environment and Forests (MoEF), as it was called back then, ruling out the need for public consultants in case of linear infrastructure projects like roads, bridges, canals and so on.

“Notwithstanding the MoEF guidelines dated 5th February, 2013, Authorities responsible for implementation of PESA Act [Panchayats (Extension to Scheduled Areas) Act] in the state and central government are required to ensure consultation with the gram sabha or the panchayats at appropriate level as required under the PESA act even in case of projects like construction of roads, canals, laying of pipelines, optical fibers, transmission lines etc. in scheduled areas where linear diversion of use of forest land in several villages is involved,” stated the high court order.

The proposed highway would run in close proximity to coffee plantations and deciduous forests of Araku and Lambasingi. The project is also close to Borra Caves in the Ananthagiri Hills which are considered the deepest caves in the country. Locals from tribal-dominated villages have been asking for proper public consultations while activists have demanded the state government to ensure compliance with rules.

“Not conducting Gram Sabhas in all project-affected villages is a direct violation of the PESA Act. In the Samata judgement, the Supreme Court had held that transfer of land to non-tribal people in Scheduled Areas is illegal,” said Rebbapragada Ravi of mines, minerals & PEOPLE (mmP), a network of individuals and organisations affected by mining. “There is a need for black topping of the entire stretch of the highway. The quarry leases for minerals that would be needed for black topping have not been considered in the EIA report. These leases cannot be given to non-tribal people either as per law,” he added.

The Supreme Court had, in the landmark Samata judgement in 1997, held that in accordance with the PESA Act, “tribal autonomy of management of their resources including the prevention of the alienation of the land in the Scheduled Areas and taking of appropriate action in that behalf for restoration of the same to the tribals, is entrusted to the Gram Panchayats.”

When contacted, officials of the Andhra Pradesh Roads & Building Department told Newsclick that the project is being directly implemented by the central government through the MORTH and that the Department’s role is limited to land acquisition matters only. A senior official of the MORTH in Andhra Pradesh said the land acquisition procedure is underway – notification has been issued in some of the villages while many other villages are awaiting notification.

“Land acquisition is not complete in any case and compensations are yet to be awarded. The allegations that public consultations are not being conducted are totally baseless. Gram Sabhas are being conducted in each village. Since this is a project funded by the World Bank, total transparency and accountability are being maintained. These are Scheduled Areas and consent of local villagers for land acquisition is a must for the World Bank before it renders assistance for the project,” SK Singh, Regional Officer of MORTH in Vijayawada told NewsClick.

Centre Signals Over Rs 35,000 Crore Fund Cut for Polavaram Project, Affected Families Still Await Compensation

News Click | Prudhviraj Rupavath | Oct 24, 2020

As per government records, just less than 4% rehabilitation works have been completed in the last six years.

Hyderabad: The Union Finance Ministry has reportedly said that it will only sanction the project cost of Polavaram irrigation project at the 2013-14 price level which was Rs Rs 20,398.61 crore against the revised cost estimates of the Polavaram Project Authority (PPA) at the 2017-18 price level (Rs 55,548 crore) which was also approved by the Union Jal Shakthi Ministry. In other words, the finance ministry has signalled that there will be a fund cut to the tune of about Rs 35,150 crore.

While the YSRCP led Andhra Pradesh state government is yet to respond on the differences between the union ministries and the cut in project funding, activists are sensing a political conspiracy in the state which will not just delay the construction of the project but worsen the situation of lakhs of project oustees who are awaiting the government compensation for their villages, agriculture and forest lands acquired for the project.

Reportedly, Union Finance Minister Nirmala Sitaraman told Andhra Pradesh Finance Minister Buggana Rajendranath Reddy on Friday, October 23, that the Centre will reimburse only Rs 7,053.74 crore, which is pending as per the project cost at the 2013-14 price level.

“It seems like the central government is signalling that it would further delay the project, perhaps for the benefits of its party’s politics in the state,” said J Babjee, state secretary of Andhra Pradesh Vyavasaya Vruthidarula Union (APVVU), who has been organising the project affected families for claiming their legal rights. “But, the project affected families will be devastated as they have been waiting for compensation for years as they were not even provided with alternative livelihood sources,” he said.

In 2014, the Polavaram multipurpose irrigation project was declared as a national project during the bifurcation of erstwhile Andhra Pradesh into two states. The previous Telugu Desam Party government in the state took over the responsibility of the execution of the project as agreed by the Union government. The project cost was revised several times in the last 10 years both under the United Progressive Alliance and the National Democratic Alliance led governments.

In March, the Union Jal Shakti Ministry stated in Parliament that out of 1,05,601 Project Displaced Families of Polavaram project, rehabilitation and resettlement (R&R) works with respect to only 3,922 families has been completed.

Notably, 50% of the affected people are adivasis belonging to Koya and Kondareddy communities, and nearly 30% of the remaining belong to Scheduled Castes and Other Backward Castes.

After coming to power in 2019, YSRCP led government under Chief Minister Y S Jagan Mohan Reddy had called for reverse tendering of the Polavaram project and also enhanced the compensation to be provided for the project oustees.

In September last year, infrastructure major Megha Engineering and Infrastructure Limited (MEIL) acquired the contract for construction of the irrigation project including hydel power project for Rs 4,358 crore through a reverse tendering process called by the state government.

“In spite of being aware of the developments in the state concerning the project cost, the Centre has remained silent and is now reversing its own ministries approvals,” said Babjee, while expressing concerns about a “political conspiracy”.

As per the government records, less than 4% of the rehabilitation works have been completed in the last six years.

Further, in August 2019, the YSRCP government through a government order (GO) number 350 has enhanced rehabilitation entitlements for project affected families ensuring Rs 5 lakh more compensation and additional 25% benefits for SCs, STs living in the scheduled areas.

“Non implementation of the GO Ms No 350 will amount to breach of contract on the part of the state government,” said Babjee.

NewsClick has earlier reported that the recent floods this year in East and West Godavari districts have devastated thousands of families including those living in the Polavaram region.

The project affected families have also led numerous movements for compensation against over 51,000 acres of community forest land which was acquired from Tribes for Polavaram project.

1 7 8 9 10 11 37