50% of DMF fund to be utilised for fighting corona infection in Durg

The Hitavada | May 19, 2021

All the members of District Mineral Foundation (DMF) emphasized on the use of DMF’s resources to deal with the corona infection in the meeting of DMF Governing Council held on Tuesday. Members said that keeping in view the apprehension of the third wave, it is very important that adequate arrangements are made to deal with it and for this adequate funds should be made available through DMF. In the meeting, the Minister in-charge of the district, Mohammad Akbar said that with the opinion and decision of the members, half the amount i.e. about Rs 3 crores should be reserved for expenditure under this head.

After consideration of the proposals of the honorable members from the remaining Rs 3 crore 38 lakh, work on them should be started. Home and PWD Minister Tamradhwaj Sahu said that the remaining amount should be sanctioned for the development works which are of the most urgent nature. Agriculture Minister Ravindra Choubey said that DMF will have to constantly update its resources to provide help. PHE Minister Guru Rudra Kumar said that DMF have continuously worked in this direction and further preparation will be very useful for us.

Durg MLA Arun Vora kept the major demands of the area in the meeting. Vaishali Nagar MLA Vidyaratan Bhasin said that the vaccination process will be long, construction work can be started from the DMF item at the vaccination sites so that people do not face problems in the rainy season. Bhilai MLA raised the issue of drinking water in the township. Collector Dr Bhure said that the BSP management has been told to change the technology of the filter plant and take immediate measures. The administration has conducted a re-test of drinking water and the quality has improved. At the meeting, Collector Dr Bhure informed in detail about the work done so far from DMF resources. He said that works worth Rs 133 crore have been proposed so far, most of which have been completed. Out of 3475 sanctioned works, 352 works are in progress. District Panchayat President Shalini Yadav, BMC Commissioner Rituraj Raghuvanshi, District Panchayat CEO Sachchidanand Alok, Risali Corporation Commissioner Prakash Surve and other officials were present in the meeting.

In Odisha’s Sundargarh district, villagers are on a ‘do-or-die’ agitation to check coal pollution

Scroll.in | May 19, 2021

Trucks from the Kulda opencast mine pass through 19 villages, swathing them with fine coal dust.

For over a decade, the villages near the Kulda opencast mine in Odisha’s Hemgiri block in the Sundargarh district have been fighting coal pollution without respite. In a desperate bid to highlight their unrelenting situation, the people of the area are now locked in a “do or die” agitation against the project since January.

In February, Rajendra Naik, a human rights defender from Ratanpur, one of the affected villages located 10 km from the Kulda mines, filed an application in the Odisha High Court, against the central and state government and the Mahanadi Coalfields Limited, a subsidiary of Coal India, which manages the mine. He submitted that the coal transport passing by Ratanpur and 25 villages along a 30 km stretch to Chhattisgarh violated the environmental clearance for the mine in 2002 and in 2018, which stipulated that the coal transported by road, shall be carried out by covered/conveyers with effective control measures.

The Odisha High Court in its order on March 17 directed the collector of Sundargarh district to hold a detailed enquiry involving local villagers and representatives of the government of Odisha and the centre. The collector, Nikhil Pavan Kalyan, held a meeting on March 23 following which he passed an order on March 24 restricting the plying of vehicles from 6 am to 1 pm except on public holidays.

His order called for covering the vehicles, increasing the water sprinkling in the villages for dust suppression, raising the school walls high to prevent dust. The district administration was asked to assess crop damage due to dust and impact on ponds in the area.

Since 2007-’08, the residents of Taparia, Ratanpur and other nearby villages in the Hemgir block of Sundargarh district have suffered incessant dust pollution from the daily 3,000 dumper trucks of coal which pass through their villages.

On January 19, they launched an agitation that is still going on, even though the authorities have tried to suppress it in many ways. Despite the collector’s order in March, the restriction on trucks plying is already being violated, according to local residents. Earlier court directives to control coal pollution have failed due to administrative apathy.

The villagers affected by pollution had opposed the expansion of the mine’s capacity, citing non -compliance with an earlier environmental clearance for a year in 2018, which increased the mine’s capacity from 10 million tonnes per annum to 14 million tonnes per annum. There were many conditions attached to this clearance that included regular medical camps, controlling fugitive emissions along the road with mechanised sweeping and spraying and creating a thick green belt in the downwind direction of the project site.

Despite the residents’ opposition, in January, an expert appraisal committee of the Indian government’s environment ministry recommended the expansion of Kulda mine’s capacity from 14 million tonnes per annum to 19.6 million tonnes per annum.

A news report in January mentioned “the economic blockade at Taparia village by locals who disrupted the movement of coal-laden trucks on Bankibahal-Taparia road”. It said that initially, the protestors were demanding repair of the damaged road but now are adamant about stopping the transportation of coal through their village.

Coal dust pollution
Far from it being an issue of road repair or merely transportation or even an economic blockade, it is a critical issue of coal pollution which the scheduled tribe and scheduled caste communities which live in these villages near the Kulda and Basundhara mines have suffered for over a decade. The coal is transported to various places in Chhattisgarh and the 25 km road stretch between Bankibahal and Tiparia on the Odisha-Chhattisgarh border has dwindled to an unmotorable mess of potholes and stones.

Every day the trucks from the opencast mine at Kulda pass through 19 villages, and swathe the villages with fine coast dust which affects thousands of people, said Naresh Meher, one of the protestors. The road, which is the main bone of contention, is not the only thing at stake for the communities. The intense coal pollution disrupts every single minute of their lives.

It is after a decade-long struggle against pollution and exploring legal avenues that the affected villages embarked on a “do or die” agitation as one of the protestors, Naresh Meher told Mongabay-India. He is among those jailed and harassed for the protests.

Odisha has the second-largest coal reserves (24%) in the country with stocks of almost 80 billion tonnes. On April 2, at the Mahanadi Coalfields Limited annual press conference, PK Sinha, who is the Chairman-cum-Managing Director, said that coal production and despatch of the Mahanadi Coalfields Limited during the financial year 2020-’21 was the highest ever at 148.01 million tonnes and 146 million tonnes respectively.

Earlier in October 2020, it had bagged five Coal India awards, including two corporate awards for Corporate Social Responsibility and Quality and also the first prize for the CSR implementation in Coal India.

Despite these sterling qualities, the company has clearly fallen short of controlling coal pollution. A site inspection and monitoring report of 2019, by the Union Ministry of Environment, Forests and Climate Change shows that concentrations of particulate matters PM10 and PM2.5 are above permissible limits in the area and it was suggested that more sprinkling and control measures needed to be carried out. Also, the company was not monitoring fugitive dust emissions from the mining operations, among several shortcomings.

Moreover, the promised green belt is also nowhere to be found and there is no proper health assessment on the impact of coal pollution, said Meher, from the Janshakti Vikas Sanghatana, a coalition of affected communities from 25 villages in the area. He alleged that the health situation has worsened over the years. He suffered from tuberculosis as do other people in Ratanpur village and two of his uncles passed away due to cancer. His younger brother died after he contracted tuberculosis and then cancer.

Finally, unable to take it any longer, the community formed a group this year mainly to deal with the long pending issues of pollution, livelihoods and health.

Meher said that his father owned seven acres in Ratanpur, which was acquired for the mines, about ten km away. “We have lost land in the mine but there are no jobs for us,” he pointed out. “In Ratanpur village alone, there were some 19 acres of cultivated land which was acquired for mining.”

This area had a dense forest with panthers but since a few years, there has been no sighting, said Sarita Barpanda, a lawyer with the Human Right Law Network who is helping Meher and others in the local region with their legal cases.

Impact on agriculture
The pollution is not only impacting the health of the people but is also affecting the livelihoods of the people. The dust from coal has adverse impacts on the cultivation of paddy and kendu (or tendu leaves used for rolling tobacco in beedis) leaves.

Often they are discoloured and do not fetch good prices in the market, Meher said. But this is not all, as there is an additional problem of slag being dumped on the roads from a sponge iron factory, one km away from Ratanpur, in the name of road repairs. The scheduled castes and tribes in the area do not own much land and they cultivated the nearby forests. Meher said their claims for titles for the forest land under the Forest Rights Act, 2006, have been unsuccessful.

“We have scaled back the level due to Covid-19 but the agitation continues,” Meher said. “Many of us were detained and some including me went to jail. When we started our protest in January in Taparia village, false cases were filed against us and 16 persons were jailed. Then the police enforced prohibitory orders, so we moved to another village – Kandadhoha – to protest.”

There, he alleged that the local transporters and members of a coal mafia, operating in the region, filed cases of attempted murder and dacoity against the protestors following which the police arrested 12 men and 12 women.

After that, the protest soon moved to Ratanpur where they voiced their concerns about poor roads and pollution. On 23 March, the district collector arrived with many police personnel.

Barpanda said: “We spoke to the tehsildar but he supported the Mahanadi Coalfields Limited while saying the company will suffer losses if they do not run the trucks,” she said. “He had no sympathy for the villagers.”

Though the protesters are all geared up to take their latest protest to a meaningful conclusion this is not the first time they have voiced their concerns. The community had filed cases in court to divert the trucks away from their place of habitation but even then, Meher said, the timings were not being adhered to and nothing changed except the police repression.

In 2016, an order by the Odisha High Court had said that the road should be repaired and till then, no vehicle should ply on it. It had reviewed the road from Bankbihal to Taparia and said that two-ton multi-axle vehicles should be stopped till it was repaired.

Prior to that, in 2015, a memorandum of understanding was signed between the Odisha government and the Mahanadi Coalfields Limited for the construction of a four-lane coal corridor from Bankibahal to Bhedabahal (in Sundargarh district where an ultra-mega power plant is proposed), as the existing road is not fit for multi-axle heavy vehicles.

Since that was not done, the heads of 26 gram panchayats filed a writ petition in the Odisha High Court in 2016. On that, the court ordered the formation of a committee that inspected the road from Sundergarh to Bankibahal/Taparia and submitted its report in March 2017.

The report ordered stopping the movement of trucks from Bankibahal to Taparia till the road was widened and repaired. The court ruled that a coal corridor must be built within a period of two months of the order and must be completed by the end of 2018 “on a war footing basis”.

It had also asked the collector to restrict the movements of vehicles and said that one of the conditions should be that multi-axle vehicles would only ply from 11 pm to 6 am. But none of this happened and orders to restrict truck movement has been wilfully disobeyed.

A Mahanadi Coalfields Limited spokesperson said that there is no alternative to this road and it was being repaired by Jindal Power. He claimed that the timings regarding the movement of trucks are being adhered to and the Mahanadi Coalfields Limited was cleaning the ponds and spraying water to control coal dust. He said there was some proposal for a coal corridor but did not have any details.

The spokesperson said the problem the people are facing should be resolved in a few months. Mahanadi Coalfields Limited was also dealing with the pollution, and while there will be some pollution due to coal dust, the company was doing all it can to improve the matter, he said while stressing that the Mahanadi Coalfields Limited holds health camps for the people as well.

US Swaminarayan network ‘responsible’ for deadly silicosis at Rajasthan mining site

counterview.net | May 19, 2021

Top civil rights network, Occupational and Environmental Health Network India (OEHNI), which is known to work for occupational safety and health (OSH) rights, has said that not only are the Swaminarayan temple owners in New Jersey responsible for “violating” the labour law of the US by paying a meagre $1 per hour to its workers, it is should also take the responsibility for high level of silicosis in Sirohi, Rajasthan, where stand stone for the temple is mined.

In a statement, Jagdish Patel, national coordinator, OEHNI, said, stones so carved in Rajasthan are exported to the sites where this temple is being built. More than 200 workers who were taken to New Jersey site were made to work for long hours and not paid minimum wages, even as “silica dust levels at work were neither monitored nor maintained as per US standards.”

Text:
OEHNI was shocked to learn about the plight of the Indian migrant workers who were flown to the USA by their employer to build a Hindu religious sect Bochasanwasi Akshar Purushottam Swaminarayan Sanstha (BAPS) temple in the New Jersey state. We thank and congratulate the International Commission on Dalit Rights for filing a law suit for violating labour laws like minimum wages and safety at work. We appreciate and congratulate the brave workers who have dared to bring this challenge on foreign soil where they have poor political and social support.

BAPS has their workshops in Sirohi district in Rajasthan where sand stone in mined and worked on by the local craftsmen to carve the arches, designs and statues as per the drawings provided to them. They are exposed to dangerous levels of silica dust which is not monitored. Hundreds of stone workers have been victims of silicosis and have died prematurely. Most of these workers in India are not covered by social security and are not paid any compensation by the employer. Instead the state Government in Rajasthan pays them some relief.

Stones so carved in Rajasthan are exported to the sites where this temple is being built. It is shocking to know that more than 200 workers who were taken to New Jersey site were made to work for long hours, were not paid minimum wages in US and were working in hazardous conditions. From what we understand, the silica dust levels at work were neither monitored nor maintained as per US standards.

What is more shocking is to know that their passports were being confiscated by the employer to restrict their freedom. Most workers who do not know English must have very hard time. Their right to work with dignity was robbed from them. One of the sustainable development goals is Goal 8.8 Decent work which has been forgotten by the employer of these workers.

When they have been rescued, we hope and believe that they will be taken care of by the local Government and local supporters. We laud the statement issued by the The International Union of Bricklayers and Allied Craft workers and its Administrative District Council of New Jersey (BAC) along with the Pathar Gadhai Mazdoor Suraksha Sangh (PGMSS).
We support the action taken by the International Commission on Dalit Rights and we stand by the brave struggle waged by the workers. It will open up new windows to look at the conditions of the migrant workers brought under the name of religious volunteers. We demand quick and full justice for these workers.

We also recognize that workers in Rajasthan produce for temples in the United States and as an importing country; it should be concerned about the workers safety and work conditions. We also appeal to the Indian diaspora, who would be among the largest number of devotees of these temples to stand by the workers.

Delink ration cards and vaccination from Aadhaar: former bureaucrat

The Hindu | Visakhapatnam | May 19, 2021

‘Over 3,000 tribals in Paderu area lost opportunity to get vaccination due to linkage norms’

Appreciating the State government’s decision to deliver ration almost near the doorstep of the beneficiaries, former secretary to the Union government E.A.S. Sarma said that linking the PDS ration cards and even COVID vaccination to Aadhaar, may not give the desired result.

In a letter addressed to the Chief Minister, he pointed out that thousands of tribals have not been able to go through the verification process associated with the issuance of the Aadhaar numbers, as they reside in remote and inaccessible areas. In such a scenario, linkage of Aadhaar may not serve good for the tribals, he said.

Mr. Sarma pointed out that Aadhaar linkage in the Paderu area of Visakhapatnam district had deprived more than 3,000 tribals of their opportunity to get vaccination, as a result of which they stand severely exposed to the virus.

Substantiating his claim, the former bureaucrat said that an NGO, Lib Tech of India, has carried out a comprehensive study of the numbers of the tribals adversely affected by not being able to get Aadhaar numbers, the range of the factors responsible for it and the corrective measures that need to be taken urgently to enable those tribals to get access not only to PDS rations but also to vaccination.

Based on a field study in villages from two mandals, followed by telephonic interviews with people from 50 Gram Panchayats across four ITDAs, the study estimates that between 7,000 and 35,000 families have been excluded from the PDS in ITDA areas.

‘Involve Gram Sabhas’

Mr. Sarma suggested that the State government should take advantage of the provisions of the Panchayats (Extension to Scheduled Areas) Act (PESA) which empowers the local tribal Gram Sabhas in the formulation and implementation of all schemes meant to benefit the tribals.

The verification process in close consultation with the Gram Sabha would be simpler and more authentic and would make the scheme more meaningful and beneficial. The Gram Sabhas should be fully involved in identifying the beneficiaries in the case of all such schemes, he said.

Mineral Foundation fund to be used to buy oxygen tankers in Karnataka

The New Indian Express | May 16, 2021

The state government on Saturday decided to utilise the District Mineral Foundation (DMF) fund for the purchase of oxygen tankers, oxygen concentrators,

The state government on Saturday decided to utilise the District Mineral Foundation (DMF) fund for the purchase of oxygen tankers, oxygen concentrators, pulse oximeters and other emergency medical needs.

A meeting chaired by Mines and Geology minister Murugesh R Nirani decided to utilise funds available under the District Mineral Foundation (DMF) fund to tackle the crisis caused by the COVID-19 pandemic, said a statement issued by the minister’s office.

As per the decisions taken at the meeting, the authorities will procure 10 cryogenic oxygen tankers — two each will be provided to four revenue divisions in the state, and two oxygen tankers will be sent to the coastal region. Regional Commissioners will be given the power to manage and monitor the movements of these oxygen tankers, the statement said.

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