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

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.

Collector Launched the Baseline Survey/Micro Plan of the Mining Affected People in Sundargarh, Odisha

Orissadiary.com | Dec 07, 2020

Sundargarh: Sundargarh, Collector Sundargarh Sri. Nikhil Pavan Kalyan has launched the Baseline Survey and Micro Planning Project for the six mining affected blocks of Sundargarh district, Odisha. The District Mineral Foundation (DMF) Sundargarh has been supporting this participatory micro plan and the baseline survey, which will be conducted in 185 villages in 29 Gram Panchayats in 6 blocks (Hamgir, Koida, Lahunipada, Rajgangpur, Kuarmunda and Kutra). Youth for Social Development (YSD) an expert organization on participatory planning, local governance and development has been designing the technical tools and implementing the survey and micro planning along with two other NGOs i.e. Sarda and Niyatee Foundation.

This is the first ever participatory micro planning and baseline survey in any DMF district in the country. More than 40,000 households affected in the mining areas will be surveyed through a mobile application and micro plan will be prepared with the participation of the people in the 185 villages. The micro plan prepared by the people will be presented in the gram sabha and approved by the people in the mining affected gram panchayats.

This is the bottom-up planning approach to understand the people’s needs and include such considerations in the DMF plan based on the provisions of the Mines and Minerals (Development and Regulation) Act (MMDR), 1957, as amended in 2015, and the Odisha DMF Rules, 2015 (as amended in February 2016).

This intervention will help the gram panchayats to identify issues, needs of the people, prepare a micro plan by the people, for the people and of the people and those needs to be addressed, have been highlighted and capture the perception and need of mining-affected people in a comprehensive fashion. At the same time enable the PRI members and officials to conduct the people centered gram sabha and convergence between departments, by collecting relevant information and data from the ground and approval by the people.

In this occasion the team members of DMF-Sundargarh Sri Rasai Laguri, CEO of DMF, Sri Anil Kumar Kerketta, DIPRO Sundargarh, Sri. Sameer Kumar Patel, technical manager DMF, Mrs Munmun Dasmahapatra, Programme Manager, DMF and, team of Youth for Social Development and Mr. Bibhu Prasad Sahu, Secretary, Youth for Social Development, Sri Jeebant Kumar Project Coordinator and Sudeep Chakrabarty Coordinator and representatives of other two NGO partners were present.

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.

Dharmendra Pradhan hints at short-term ban on iron ore exports to boost construction

Financial Express | Nov 20, 2020
Domestic iron ore prices across grades has doubled from Rs 4,000 per tonne to Rs 8,000 per tonne on an average, causing a spike in the cost of steel production.

The Centre is considering imposing a short-term ban on exports of iron ore, since the steel sector is facing a raw material shortage, Union minister for steel, petroleum and natural gas Dharmendra Pradhan said on Thursday.

Domestic iron ore prices across grades has doubled from Rs 4,000 per tonne to Rs 8,000 per tonne on an average, causing a spike in the cost of steel production. Two tonne of ore are required for a single tonne of steel production.

Addressing the MCC Chamber’s annual general meeting here, Pradhan said, “India produces around 250 million tonne (mt) of iron ore per annum, whereas the requirement is around 180 mt. So the 70 mt will have to be exported,” Pradhan said, but acknowledged the present short supply situation. Higher prices of steel could be a dampener for the construction industry, which is looking up, after the cessation of activities due to the pandemic-induced lockdown.

“TMT bars, used for construction, are now being sold at Rs 50,000 per tonne. Hot roll coil prices have gone up from Rs 35,000 per tonne to Rs 42,000 per tonne during the past few weeks. There will be no buyers of iron and steel at such a high price and projects will get halted. Even the infrastructure projects will become unviable if prices of construction material go up at such a level,” said Lalit Beriwala, managing director, Shyam Steel.

West Bengal has 64 sponge iron and steel-making units and none of the units have more than 15 days of raw material stock. “ These units will close down in 15 to 30 days, if the government doesn’t take action to ensure iron ore supplies to the industry,” Beriwala said.

Pradhan made clear that pricing was a matter of market dynamics and the government had no intentions to regulate on the market forces, though supplies was its concern.

The ore supply problem has emanated from the auctioned merchant mines of Orissa, which during the first half of the fiscal has produced only 4.06 mt against a targeted 24.47 mt during the period. The government up to March this calendar year has auctioned 21 of the 24 mines but only seven mines have started production with the rest not yet starting to produce. The 11 mines of Orissa Mining Corporation (OMC) and a few other merchant mines, whose lease period are yet to expire, produce 4. 74 mt per month on an average but these mines have brought down production to 2.14 mt as of August this year, further escalating the short supplies.

The 21 operational mines, which were auctioned, after the earlier lease holders’ term expired, have the capacity to produce 90 mt per annum. But most of these mines, save that of the JSW’s and AMNS’ (earlier Essar Steel), didn’t start production. The little that JSW and AMNS produced, were carried for their own iron and steel units.

The operational mines were bid out at premiums ranging between 94 and 150% over the base price of ore as set by the Bureau of Indian Standards. Besides the winners of the bids agreed to pay a royalty of 15% on the base price, 30% of the royalty as District Mineral Fund Contribution and 2% of the royalty to the National Mineral Exploration Trust. All these put together, specially the high premiums, to be paid to the government, has made mining commercially unviable, for which most have not started production, though aggressively bade of them.

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