Is Centre Violating Peoples’ Rights for Acquiring Coal-Bearing Land in Chhattisgarh?

News Click | Ayaskant Das | Jan 08, 2021
There is no clarity yet on whether gram sabhas will be consulted to acquire 700 acres of land for the Madanpur South Coal Block in Korba.

New Delhi: On December 24, 2020, the Central government invoked the Coal Bearing Areas (Acquisition & Development) Act, 1957 for acquiring over 700 hectares of land in tribal-dominated Korba district of Chhattisgarh, with no clarity yet on whether consent from gram sabhas will be sought through public consultations.

The land, sought to be acquired by the Union Coal Ministry, is for developing the greenfield Madanpur South Coal Block which had been allotted by the Central government to Andhra Pradesh Mineral Development Corporation (APMDC) in September 2016. The Aditya Birla Group’s mining arm, Essel Mining & Industries Limited, is the private Mine Developer and Operator (MDO) for the Madanpur South Block.

The coal block falls within the Hasdeo Arand area, a very dense and unfragmented stretch of natural forest that is rich in wildlife as well as coal reserves. The Chhattisgarh government has also proposed an elephant reserve spreading across this area which is, however, yet to be formally notified. It has been alleged that the land is being acquired bypassing powers of the state government as well as provisions meant to protect the rights of tribals.

“Madanpur South coal block falls in an area in Korba district designated as Schedule 5 under the Constitution of India due to its pre-ponderance of tribal population. By invoking the Coal Bearing Act for acquiring land in this area, the Central government is intending to bypass public consultations which are mandatory through gram sabhas for areas designated as Schedule 5,” said Alok Shukla of Chhattisgarh Bachao Andolan, a network of individuals and organisations fighting for peoples’ rights in the central Indian state.

The proportion of Scheduled Tribe population in Korba district is 40.90% in the Census of India data compiled for 2011. As per the Panchayats (Extension to Scheduled Areas) Act or the PESA Act of 1996, it is mandatory for governments to conduct public consultations through gram sabhas before acquiring land in Schedule 5 areas. However, the Coal Bearing Areas (Acquisition & Development) Act, 1957, which pre-dates the PESA by nearly 40 years, does not contain provisions for conducting public consultations through gram sabhas.

Therefore, in accordance with Section 7 of the Coal Bearing Act, the Central government has, through its notification last month, only given the mandatory period of 30 days for the general public to submit objections, if any, over rights on any parcel of land that will be notified for acquisition in Korba.

However, as per legal experts, local people living for centuries over land that has now been allotted for coal mining have very little say once it is notified for acquisition under the Coal Bearing Act of 1957. Some legal experts Newsclick spoke to said that rights over land practically go out of the hands of people in any coal bearing area as soon as a notification under Section 4 (for exploration of coal) of the Coal Bearing Act is issued. Further, with the notification of Section 7 (intention to acquire) of the Act, the only rights of project-affected people are to file objections within 30 days and claim their compensation amounts.

However, the Right to Fair Compensation and Transparency in Land Acquisition, Rehabilitation and Resettlement Act, 2013, does contain special provisions for Scheduled tribes with regard to acquisition of land. The question, therefore, is: did the Central government bypass the 2013 Act, formulated by the erstwhile Congress-led United Progressive Alliance (UPA) government, to bypass the rights of the Scheduled tribes?

“The Coal Bearing Act, very much like the Atomic Energy Act of 1962, is based on the principle of eminent domain, whereby the government has the power to take over private land and convert it into public use. These Acts work on the premise that coal and uranium are needed for the country’s energy security. Therefore, all deposits of coal and uranium are legally kept under the control of the Centre,” Rashmi Katyayan, a Ranchi-based legal expert on land acquisition, told Newsclick.

Of the 712.02 hectares sought to be acquired for the Madanpur South Block, roughly 650 hectares fall under the category of forest land. Nearly 503 hectares comprise ‘protected forest’ area. Nevertheless, the Central government has, through its December 24 notification, also notified these 650 hectares of forest areas for prospecting of coal under the Coal Bearing Act of 1957.

Activists allege that in the process of acquiring land through the Coal Bearing Act, public consultations are sought to be bypassed by the Central government in violation of the Forest Rights Act (FRA), 2006. Section 5 of the FRA bestows power upon gram sabhas to regulate access to community forest resources and stop any activity that adversely affects wild animals, forest, and biodiversity.

Besides, in the landmark Samata judgement of 1997, the Supreme Court had authorised the role of gram sabhas as democratic decision-making forums on issues of individual, community and cultural rights of tribals and traditional forest dwellers on forest land.

When asked by Newsclick on whether consent of gram sabhas will be taken before proceeding with land acquisition, Korba district collector Kiran Kaushal recused herself from making any comments on the issue. An official of the APMDC, however, said that a representation for conducting gram sabhas has been sent to the Korba district administration and that the dates for conducting the meetings have been twice deferred on account to one issue or another.

“We will not go for mining until and unless gram sabhas are held. A socio-economic assessment study has been conducted. Two villages are set to be affected by the mining project, namely, Ketma and Morga. The number of project-displaced families in Ketma is six, while the corresponding number for Morga village is 82. Nearly 90% of the population in these villages is Scheduled Tribes and Scheduled Castes. We will take all measures to ensure that these families are resettled comfortably. Whatever compensation is required in terms of alienation from forest rights will be suitably settled. Around 19 persons from Morga village have already given their consent for the project and information in this regard has been sent to the Union Coal Ministry, the district administration of Korba and the chief minister’s office in Chhattisgarh,” said the APMDC official, on condition of anonymity.

An email sent to Essel Mining & Industries Limited asking it about what measures, if at all, will be taken to ensure that rights of local stakeholders are not compromised, is yet to elicit any response. Responses are also awaited from Union Coal Ministry on email queries asking about the logic behind invoking provisions of the Coal Bearing Act, 1957 to acquire land for developing Madanpur South Coal Block and whether consent of gram sabhas will be obtained before the acquisition. This article will be updated as and when Newsclick receives responses to these queries.

From October to December 2019, local residents from at least 20 villages in the Hasdeo Arand region had sat on a protest against land acquired using the Coal Bearing Act of 1957 for Parsa coal block in Chhattisgarh. Their demands included revoking of mining clearances granted to the Parsa block without consulting the gram sabhas.

It has been further alleged by activists that applying the Coal Bearing Act to acquire land for Madanpur South is legally questionable because the block has been awarded to a public sector undertaking belonging to another state government, that is, Andhra Pradesh, while mining operations will be carried out by a private developer.

“It is a direct affront on the federal structure of the country. The Central government is acting toward concentration of powers in its own hands in taking over land under the Coal Bearing Act in favour of State public sector units having long-term MDO agreements with private companies. The Central government already enjoys unilateral powers in allotment of coal blocks and also in providing environmental clearances as well as forest clearances for projects,” said Raipur-based environmental activist and lawyer Sudiep Shrivastava.

Ahead of the Chhattisgarh Assembly elections in 2018, Congress leader Rahul Gandhi and the incumbent Chief Minister Bhupesh Bhagel had assured the electorate that no mining activities would be permitted in the state by violating rights of local people.

The Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP)-led National Democratic Alliance (NDA) Central government and the Congress government in Chhattisgarh have locked horns in the recent past over auction of coal blocks to private players for commercial mining. In June 2020, Prime Minister Narendra Modi announced the auction of 41 coal blocks for commercial mining by private players. However, this list was ultimately scaled down to 38 following vociferous opposition by the Congress government in Chhattisgarh against the auction of three blocks that are located in the densely forested areas of Hasdeo Arand. The Chhattisgarh government, has also, using powers vested to it in the Constitution, proposed the creation of an elephant reserve across Hasdeo Arand which may encompass several coal blocks that would make prospects of mining difficult in the area. This proposal, however, awaits a formal notification.

“The Central government is trying to assume absolute powers as far as coal mining is concerned because most of the coal-bearing states, including Chhattisgarh, are at present being ruled by political parties that are not aligned with the BJP-led NDA. However, it remains to be seen if the Chhattisgarh government agrees to submit proposal for Stage-I forest clearance for the project as the state government can still block the clearance,” added Shrivastava

Chhattisgarh govt begins process of framing rules for PESA Act

Business Standard | Nov 19, 2020

Chhattisgarh Panchayat and Rural Development Minister held the first meeting with tribal leaders and other representatives of panchayats in Kanker district to discuss the framing of rules for PESA Act

Chhattisgarh Panchayat and Rural Development Minister TS Singhdeo on Wednesday held the first meeting with tribal leaders and other representatives of panchayats in Kanker district to discuss the framing of rules for the Panchayats (Extension to Scheduled Areas) Act, 1996 or PESA Act.

Singhdeo along with Sarva Adivasi Samaj leaders organised the meeting in village Kherkheda of Kanker where tribal representatives from 16 blocks of 5 districts were also present.

Addressing a press conference later, the Minister said that the residents of tribal areas were waiting for a long time for the implementation of the law after its enactment.

He said that the purpose of this law is not to violate the rights of the Central or State governments but to provide the rights to the rural areas that were pending for decades.

Singhdeo said that Congress in its 2018 election manifesto included PESA Act and the government is now moving forward to implement this after some delay to lockdown.

The Minister said that when the law is for the gram sabha then the views of the villagers are very important.

“Villagers have the right on issues like water, forest, and land, hence they should ensure the right of management on these subjects,” he said.

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.

NHSRCL misses several deadlines in land acquisition for Bullet Train Project

Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP), ruling party in center, is promising a High-Speed Bullet Train corridor between Kanyakumari and Chennai through its general poll manifesto and raising hopes of better connectivity for the people but the National High-Speed Rail Corporation Limited (NHSRCL) which is executing India’s first bullet train project between Mumbai and Ahmedabad, is missing several deadlines in land acquisitions for the bullet train project. The Government has set a deadline for December 2018 to clear the land acquisition roadblock.

Around 140 km north of the Mumbai, in Dehane village of Dahanu block of the district, around 40 people of the Warli tribe gather to articulate their resistance to the project. Rupesh Rawte, a 42-year-old farmer who has 1.5 acres, asks why they should give up their land for a train that is not for them. He said that we will only be looking at it as it passes by. It is not going to stop for us and we can’t afford it. Read more

Lok Sabha polls: Gujarat tribes unhappy with govt ‘interference’ in their culture, may tilt balance in state

First Post | Bishan Kumar | April 07, 2019

Hundreds of nondescript villages in the tribal lands of south Gujarat seem lost in time. Anyone coming from the glittering cities of Ahmedabad, Vadodara and the likes, are immediately transported into a different world of Bhils, Pagris, Dhodia, Dhanka and their ilk. Living in their serene environment, largely untouched by the winds of development, the tribals are now encountering interference from the outside world, causing a threat to their culture, beliefs and unity. And this defines their current psychological state.

Till a few years back, there was hardly any temple in the areas of Dangs, Bharuch and Valsad but now, many small temples dot the small hills. Ask any local and he denies any knowledge of how and by whom these temples were built. Bharatiya Tribal Party (BTP) leader and seven-time MLA from Jhagadiya constituency is seriously upset by these intrusions. He accuses saffron outfits of trying to create dissension and confusion among nature worshippers. Read more

1 2 3 4 5 27