Chhattisgarh: Won’t budge till all coal mine projects withdrawn, say protesters on 111th day of stir

The Print || June 26, 2022

Raipur, Jun 26 (PTI) After battling the scorching heat of the summer months while protesting against the clearances to coal mines projects in Hasdeo Arand region since March this year, villagers in Chhattisgarh’s Surguja district are now prepared to get drenched in the monsoon rains during their ongoing agitation.

The protesters said nothing can dampen their morale as they are fighting for their land where they have been living for generations and they will not give up the demonstration until their demands are met.

The protest at Hariharpur village, located around 60 km away from Ambikapur (headquarter of Surguja district), against three coal mine projects entered 111th day on Sunday.

Though the state government has halted all the proceedings regarding three upcoming coal mine projects allotted to the Rajasthan Rajya Vidyut Utpadan Nigam Limited (RRVUNL) in the area, the protesters are sticking to their demand of cancellation of the projects.

The state government had granted permission for non-forestry use of 841.538 hectares of forest land for the Parsa mine (Surguja and Surajpur districts) and 1,136.328 hectares for PEKKB phase-II mine (Surguja) after Rajasthan Chief Minister Ashok Gehlot met his Chhattisgarh counterpart Bhupesh Baghel here in March this year seeking to clear hurdles in the development of the coal blocks allotted to the former’s state.

Another coal block – Kente extension allotted to RRVUNL in Hasdeo Arand region is pending for public hearing.

In October last year, villagers from the region had marched from Surguja to capital Raipur, covering over 300 kms on foot, to register a protest against the proposed coal mines.

When they got no relief, residents of projects-affected villages namely Salhi, Fatehpur, Hariharpur and Ghatbarra, set up a tent in Hariharpur and launched an indefinite protest.

The village has become the epicentre of the protest where protestors bring raw ration from their respective homes and cook and eat together.

“We have been living for generations and conserving the forests. Our life is dependent on it. We just want the government not to destroy it for the sake of coal,” said Ramlal Kariyam, a resident of Salhi village.

Kariyam, who is part of Hasdeo Arand Bachao Sangharsh Samiti – a group of local villagers, has nine members, including his three children, in the family and all of them attend the protest on alternate basis.

Be it summer or monsoon, we will not leave the protest site unless our demands are met, he added.

Sarpanch (village head) of Ghatbarra village panchayat Jainandan Porte echoed the same sentiments and asked why was the government playing with the environment and lives of forest dwellers.

“The government has put on hold the work of mines but it seems that it is just an attempt to silence the protest. We want cancellation of the clearances,” he added.

According to the protesters, the clearances granted to PEKB phase-II and Parsa mines were based on fake gram sabha consent documents.

Hasdeo-Arand coalfield, spread over 1,878 sq km area in Korba, Surguja and Surajpur districts in northern part of the state, is located about 300 km from Raipur. The region is called as ‘lungs of Chhattsigarh’ for its rich sal forest.

“The gram sabhas of the affected villages have already opposed these mining projects and any kind of nod to them is violation of the provisions of the Fifth Schedule of the Constitution, the PESA Act 1996, the Forest Rights Recognition Act 2006 and the Land Acquisition Act 2013, said Alok Shukla, an activist who has been at the forefront of agitation.

Last year, the biodiversity study conducted by Indian Council of Forestry Research and Education (ICFRE) along with the Wildlife Institute of India, in Hasdeo Arand Coalfield, concluded that coalfields may not be recommended for mining keeping in view of conserving the dense forest which is also home to elephants, he said.

The region is also a catchment area of Hasdeo river, a tributary of Mahanadi river, that flows through it and Bango dam, which helps in the irrigation of over three lakh hectares of agriculture land, he said. The agitation will continue till the cancellation of all the coal mining projects, he added.

Currently there are two coal mines – Chotia and PEKB phase I, operational in Hasdeo Arand region, he said.

The forest department in April this year launched a tree cutting exercise to pave the way for the start of the Parsa coal mining project, triggering strong opposition from local villagers who forced the authorities to halt their action after 300 trees were axed.

A similar scene was witnessed when tree felling started for PEKB phase II last month.

The row over these mining projects also revealed differences within the ruling Congress after health minister T S Singh Deo, who represents Surguja constituency, came out in support of the protestors.

Even Congress leader Rahul Gandhi during his visit to Cambridge early this month said that he has problems with the decision of approval to mining in Hasdeo Arand.

Modi Govt’s Coal Mining Expansion Spree Keeps Local Communities Away from Decision-making

News Click || Ayaskant Das || June 26, 2022

In the recent past, project proponents have been falling back on a 2017 rule to expand existing coal mines incrementally without consulting local communities.

New Delhi: In a worrying trend that is indicative of the Modi government’s indifference towards local communities affected by industrial development, no public hearings were conducted for as many as six out of the nine coal mining projects that were provided environment clearances for expansion in the first half of 2022. The combined expanded capacity of the six projects is 200% higher than that of the three projects for which public hearings were conducted.

The six projects which were cleared without public hearings account for a capacity addition of 10.70 million tons per annum (MTPA) to the country’s coal mining sector, shows an analysis of data contained on the website of the Union Ministry of Environment, Forests & Climate Change (MoEF&CC). On the other hand, the total expansion in capacity of coal mining projects for which public hearings were conducted is 5.35 MTPA.

“The very concept of awarding prior Environmental Clearances without conducting public hearings is dubious enough even though it is done by properly following rules. The rules followed to procure clearances in this manner do not take into account special provisions available to local communities in areas which, owing to the preponderance of tribal population in them, have been identified as Schedule 5 under the Constitution of India,” said Rebbapragada Ravi of mines, minerals and PEOPLE (mm&P), an alliance of individuals and communities affected by mining.

Coal-mining industries are bypassing the process of public hearings by resorting to a rule introduced by the Modi government in September 2017. The rule – introduced through the MoEF&CC in the form of an office memorandum – allows for an incremental increase in the capacity of coal mining projects, up to a maximum limit of 40%, without necessarily having to conduct public hearings.

In the first six months of 2022, the MoEF&CC provided Environmental Clearance to seven new coal mining projects with a combined capacity of 55.81 MTPA. The Siarmal Opencast Coal Mining Project in Sundergarh district of Odisha – undertaken by the public sector Mahanadi Coalfields Limited – accounts for whopping capacity addition of 50 MTPA. If this large project is discounted from the list of new coal blocks that have been provided environmental clearance for mining, the proportion of capacity addition in terms of expanding existing projects is nearly double that of new projects. Total capacity addition to the country’s coal sector in terms of expansion of existing mines has already touched the figure of 11.35 MTPA so far this year.

As per a study released recently by the New Delhi-headquartered Legal Initiative for Forests & Environment (LIFE), in the past three years spanning the period between 2019 and 2022 at least 18 coal mining expansion projects were cleared without public participation. These include six projects in 2019, five projects in 2020 and seven projects in 2021. These 18 projects accounted for total capacity addition of 39.834 MTPA to the coal sector during 2019-21.

“This issue is of great concern as during 2021, almost 50% of Capacity increase of Expansion projects coming for EC under the provision of clause 7(ii) of EIA Notification, 2006, has been granted EC without any sort of public participation,” states the LIFE report.

The report further highlights that between the years 2019 and 2021, the MoEF&CC provided Environmental Clearances to as many as 38 coal mining projects. These include 11 projects (five new, six expansion) in the year 2019 while 12 projects (three new, nine expansion) were provided Environmental Clearances in 2020. In the year 2021, the ministry provided Environmental Clearances to 16 coal mining projects (four new, 12 expansion).

However, by the first half of 2022, the ministry has already provided 16 Environmental Clearances out of which seven are for new projects while nine are for expansion of already existing projects. Given the pace at which coal blocks are being opened up for mining in gross disregard for climate change and the negative environmental impacts thereof, a section of experts has already begun arguing for totally moving away from fossil-fuel-based energy sources.

“Any new investment in coal mining is not only destroying our biodiversity, ecosystems, forests and livelihoods of forest dwellers but is also adding to stranded assets in the sector in a manner akin to that which has happened in the power generation sector over the past two decades. We already have enough coal mining capacity which is either operational, under development or has already been granted Environmental Clearances. Future growth in energy demand will and should be fulfilled by renewable energy sources. There is no need for giving new clearances to ecologically destructive projects like coal mining,” said Sunil Dahiya of the independent research organization Centre for Research on Energy and Clean Air.

However, coal-based energy sources continue to account for nearly 50.7% of the total installed power generation capacity of the country while the capacity of installed renewable energy sources lags behind at less than 40%. In times of extraordinary increase in demand for electricity consumption, like the one witnessed between March and June this year when prices of imported coal simultaneously sky-rocketed, the government had to naturally fall back on increasing production and transportation of domestic coal. Environmental Clearances for all new seven new coal mining projects were also provided during this period, that is, between March and June.

Nevertheless, barring local communities from having their say vis-à-vis large coal mining projects is a practice that has been followed by governments cutting across party lines and ideologies. The practice, apparently perceived as beneficial for the corporate sector, was put in place by the Congress-led United Progressive Alliance (UPA) government in December 2012 when, the Union Ministry of Environment & Forests, as it was called under the UPA government, exempted public hearings for coal mining projects seeking to expand 25% of the production capacity. This policy which was also issued through an Office Memorandum permitted only a “one-time expansion” with a ceiling of 2 MTPA if the extracted coal was to be transported by road and a ceiling of 5 MTPA if it was to be transported by the railway network. Just ahead of the general elections of 2014, the UPA government extended the provision of exemption from the public hearings for one-time expansion of coal mines with a capacity of up to 8 MTPA to 50% or 1 MTPA, whichever was higher. The extension was provided through an Office Memorandum that was issued in January 2014 by the environment ministry.

After BJP-led National Democratic Alliance (NDA) was elected to power, the MoEF&CC issued another Office Memorandum on May 30, 2014, extending the provisions of the notification issued in January 2014 to those coal mines as well that had already expanded their production capacity as a one-time measure following the notification of December 2012. The NDA government issued another office memorandum in July 2014 empowering the MoEF&CC’s Expert Appraisal Committee, a panel that conducts appraisals of industries likely to impact the environment, to decide on exempting those coal mining projects, where the capacity exceeded 16 MTPA, from public hearings to a ceiling of up to 5 MTPA. This was applicable in cases where extracted minerals were not to be transported by road.

The practice of easing procurement of Environmental Clearances for mining activities by issuing amendments to the Environment Impact Assessment (EIA) Notification, 2006 through mere Office Memoranda was flagged by the National Green Tribunal while delivering its verdict in a case in September 2015.

“ … the [EIA] Notification mandates the requirement of “prior Environmental Clearance” without exception. However the entire mandate of prior Environmental Clearance has not only been diluted but completely rendered infructuous or ineffective by issuance of these impugned Office Memoranda. Therefore, the Office Memoranda stated to “guidelines”, are potently destructive of the Notification of 2006,” the tribunal had stated in the judgement issued on 7 July 2015.

Nevertheless, since the issuing of this judgement, the Modi government has not limited exemptions for public hearings to the coal mining sector alone. The exemption has been extended to the mining of other minerals including iron, manganese, bauxite and limestone. On 20 October 2021, the Modi government exempted five-star rated mining firms extracting iron, manganese, bauxite and limestone from public hearings while expanding production capacity by as much as 20 per cent. This exemption, which was again issued through an Office Memorandum, holds “written submissions” from affected communities and individuals as measures adequate enough in so far as public consultations are concerned.

Name of the ProjectLocationProject ProponentCapacity of New Projects granted EC (MTPA)Capacity Increase of Projects granted EC for Expansion (MTPA)Capacity increase of Projects granted Expansion under Sep 2017 OM (MTPA)
Kathara Opencast Coal MineBlock Bermo, District Bokaro (Jharkhand)Central Coalfields Limited1.9  
Bharkunda OCPTehsil Patratu, District Ramgarh (Jharkhand)Central Coalfields Limited2.05  
Jamadoba Underground Coal MineTehsil Jharia, District Dhanbad (Jharkhand)Tata Steel Limited0.34  
Brahampuri Coal Mine ProjectTehsil Parasia, District Chhindwara (Madhya Pradesh)Birla Corporation Limited0.36  
Chhal Opencast coal miningTehsil Dharamjaigarh, District Raigarh (Chhattisgarh)South Eastern Coalfields Limited 2.5 
Bikram Opencast cum Underground Coal MineTehsil Burhar, District Shahdol (Madhya Pradesh)Birla Corporation Limited0.36  
Vakilpalli Mine (VKP) Underground Coal Mining ProjectMandal Kamanpur, District Peddapalli (Telangana)Singareni Collieries Company Limited0.35  
Siarmal Opencast coal mining projectDistrict Sundargarh (Odisha)Mahanadi Coalfields Limited50  
Jawahar Khani– 5Mandal Yellandu, District Bhadradri Kothagudem (Telangana)Singareni Collieries Company Limited (SCCL) 1 
Makardhokra- I OC mine (Phase-I)Tehsil Umrer, District Nagpur (Maharashtra)Western Coalfields Limited  1.4
Amadand Opencast Coal MineTehsil Kotma, Annuppur (Madhya Pradesh)South Eastern Coalfield Limited 1.85 
Garjanbahal OC mineTehsil Hemgir, District Sundargarh (Odisha)Mahanadi Coalfields Limited  2.6
Kulda Opencast Coal Mine ProjectTehsil: Hemgir, District Sundargarh (Odisha)Mahanadi Coalfields Limited  2.8
Manuguru Opencast coal mining ProjectManuguru Mandal, Bhadradi Kothgudem District, TelanganaSingareni Collieries Company Limited  0.30
Parsa East and Kanta Basan (PEKB) Opencast Coal MineTehsil Ambikapur, District Sarguja (Chhattisgarh)Rajasthan Rajya Vidyut Utpadan Nigam Ltd  3
North Urimari OCPTehsil Barkagaon, District Hazaribagh (Jharkhand)Central Coalfield Limited  0.60

Odisha: SAIL mining expansion public hearing concludes amid pollution fears

The New Indian Express | June 24, 2022
The public hearing was organised by the Odisha State Pollution Control Board (OSPCB) and Sundargarh administration at Ispat high school playground in Koida’s Tensa village.

ROURKELA: The public hearing for environmental clearance against mining expansion proposal of the Steel Authority of India Ltd (SAIL) concluded in Sundargarh’s Koida block on Wednesday amid opposition by an environmental group over soil and river water pollution fears.

The public hearing was organised by the Odisha State Pollution Control Board (OSPCB) and Sundargarh administration at Ispat high school playground in Koida’s Tensa village. The meet, which lasted around five hours, was presided over by Sundargarh ADM RN Sahu. Of the at least 57 representations received during the hearing, most supported the expansion proposal.

However on Tuesday, Lokshakti Abhiyan president and environment activist Prafulla Samantara sent an objection letter to the OSPCB member secretary over the public hearing. Samantara alleged that the environmental impact assessment (EIA) report on mining of 750 million tonne of iron ore over 40 years in Barsuan, Taldihi and Kalta mines of SAIL in Koida was not properly and scientifically prepared. He claimed that the report lacked data and studies on pollution and loss of green cover besides impact on human health, local fauna and flora and the rich bodiversity of nearby Khandadhar waterfall.

As per the report, water will be consumed from Kuradih Nullah and Najkura Nullah which would result in depletion of water level of Karo river and ultimately Brahmani river, Samantara alleged and claimed that no gram sabha approval was taken for diversion of huge forest area in violation of the PESA Act while provisions of the Forest Rights Act were also flouted.

Sources said during the public hearing, a supporter of PESA movement in the tribal-dominated district entered the venue and claimed violation of PESA Act in the proposed expansion. SAIL has proposed expansion of iron ore production from 8.05 million tonne per annum (MTPA) to 16 MTPA along with handling of topsoil/overburden/inter-burden of 3.92 MTPA and sub-grade dumps/tailings of 2 MTPA requiring total excavation of 22 MTPA.

Further, SAIL proposes to install dry processing plants of 7 MTPA and 4 MTPA for Taldihi and Kalta iron mines respectively, expansion of the existing 3.5 MTPA beneficiation plant to 4 MTPA along with adequate loading and siding infrastructure in the amalgamated mine lease area of 2,558.85 hectare (ha) of the 2,564.323 ha at Tantra and Bahamba villages besides Toda reserve forest. SAIL sources claimed that forest clearance for 2,419.871 ha and 138.710 ha of non-forest area of its 2,564.323 ha mining lease area has already been obtained.

Skill Centres: Welfare board set to divert workers’ fund

The Tribune | June 23, 2022

The Punjab Building and Other Construction Workers’ (BOCW) Welfare Board is once again planning to divert labour funds for construction of four skill development centres in the state.

Earlier, the Legal Department and the Comptroller and Auditor General (CAG) of India had red-flagged the move. The work at these centres had to be stopped in December 2021. The legal opinion was sought by the Labour Welfare Board after The Tribune had raised the issue of misuse of Labour Cess (meant only for welfare of the construction workers).

Not true, claims official

We will not touch welfare funds. The Central Government has sought a report from us, following which we have asked for a status report from the Punjab Police Housing Corporation as they had built the skill development centres. —SS Gurjar, principal secretary, labour department

However, the Labour Department has now written to the Punjab Police Housing Corporation’s managing director and sought a detail report to complete the remaining work of skill centres. The corporation had been given the contract to construct the skill development centres.

The CAG report tabled in 2020 in the Vidhan Sabha had discovered that Rs 56.78 crore of welfares schemes, which violated Section 22 of the BOCC Act 1996, was spent on these development centres.

When questioned about restarting the work, SS Gurjar, Principal Secretary, Labour Department, said, “We will not touch welfare funds. The Central Government has sought a report from us, following which we have asked for a status report from the Punjab Police Housing Corporation as they had built the skill development centres.”

Vijay Walia, labour rights activist, said, “Instead of recovering Labour Welfare Fund, which was spent on the skill development centres, the Labour Board is shamelessly planning to spend more funds. CM Bhagwant Mann should order a Vigilance probe.”

Union minister Dharmendra Pradhan inaugrates ESIC hospital with 100 beds at Odisha’s Angul

The New Indian Express | June 16, 2022
Pradhan said that the hospital is a ‘Raja’ gift from Prime Minister Narendra Modi to the working class people of the State.

ANGUL/JHARSUGUDA: Union Education Minister Dharmendra Pradhan on Wednesday inaugurated the 100-bed Employees’ State Insurance Corporation (ESIC) hospital at Balaram Prasad in Angul district in presence of Union Minister of State for Labour Rameswar Teli.

Addressing the event, Pradhan said that the hospital is a ‘Raja’ gift from Prime Minister Narendra Modi to the working class people of the State. The hospital acted like a ‘Sanjeevani’ for the people of Odisha during the COVID-19 pandemic by saving many valuable lives, he said.

The ESIC hospital has been built over 4.8 acre of land at a cost of Rs 65 crore. The Union Minister further said Angul and Jharsguda districts produced 150 MT of the total 600 MT coal produced in India.

A modern hospital was needed for the people engaged in the coal mines. “There are thousands of workers working in coal, aluminium, steel, power and other sectors in both the districts. The Narendra Modi-led government is trying its best to help the workers across the State by bringing them under various social security schemes,” Pradhan said.

Highlighting the initiatives of the Centre, Pradhan said the Union government introduced the District Mineral Foundation (DMF) fund to help people in the mining affected districts of the country. Every year, Angul district gets Rs 250 crore from the DMF.

On the occasion, Teli said three new ESIC hospitals will be set up at Bhubaneswar, Jajpur and Paradip in the State. “Twenty districts in Odisha are covered by the ESIC and more than 13 lakh labourers are being benefited. The labour force is the backbone of the nation’s development and the Government of India is taking steps to ensure their holistic development,” he said.

The Union Minister informed that the 100-bed hospital will provide advanced healthcare to over 75,000 workers of Angul and its neighbouring districts. On the day, the Union Ministers also virtually inaugurated the sub-regional office of ESIC at Jharsuguda which will cater to the needs of around 1.75 lakh registered workers and their families in 13 districts of western Odisha.

Among others, Dhenkanal MP Mahesh Sahoo, his Bargarh counterpart Suresh Pujari Odisha Labour Minister Srikanta Sahoo, Director General of ESIC Mukhamit S Bhatia and Angul Collector Sidhartha Shankar Swain were present.

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