Children raise voice against MP govt to save Buxwaha forests

Web India 123 | May 27, 2021
Children in Madhya Pradesh have come forward to raise their voice against the proposal by the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) government to handover the forests of Buxwaha located in Chhatarpur district of Bundelkhand to a private company for mining diamonds.

Children have not only pointed out the impact of cutting down forests to the state government but have appealed to it not to cut them.

In the past Bundelkhand was vastly rich in terms of water and forests. Unfortunately, the area is no longer covered with greenery and has scarcity of water sources. This exploitation of the environment continues and now the last green cover left is being slowly plundered.

The Buxwaha forests have been given on lease for diamond excavation but protests have also started growing against it. This is probably the first time in Bundelkhand when public awareness to protect the environment is taking centrestage because the Covid-19 pandemic has made the people realise the importance of oxygen.

Oxygen is considered to be essential for the survival of Covid-infected patients which is emitted by trees.

To protect the forests of Buxwaha, people are raising their voices not only in Bundelkhand but in many parts of the country. The children which are the future of the country are also not far behind.

Several videos of children have gone viral on social media where they are trying to tell the government about the significance of trees for the people. Children have penned poems to save the Buxwaha forests and urged the government with folded hands to reconsider cutting down trees through these videos.

People of all classes and age groups have joined the campaign to save the Buxwaha forests and are trying to give the message that they will not allow forests to be cut.

On the one hand, the forest is an important part of the environment and on the other hand, it is also a means of livelihood for thousands of families living in villages in the Buxwaha area besides being the habitat of wildlife. There are rich water sources and these forests are revered in Indian culture so everyone is coming forward in the campaign to save the forests.

There is a huge stock of diamonds in the forests of Buxwaha with nearly 34.4 million carat diamonds believed to be buried here estimated to be worth several thousand crores of rupees.

The private company which has shown keen interest in taking up diamond mining has demanded nearly 382 hectare of land in the area. If this happens then 2.5 lakh trees in this area will be cut down.

Why no action against Vedanta directors, cops for Thoothukudi ‘massacre’?: NAPM

Counterview Desk | May 24, 2021
Recallig the third anniversary of Thoothukudi “massacre” in Tamil Nadu, in which 15 people were gunned down for resisting Vedanta’s Sterlite Copper Plant, India’s civil society network, National Alliance of People’s Movements (NAPM) has called for the ending corporate impunity by carrying forward the global campaign launched on May 14 by the Anti-Sterlite People’s Movement and other organisations.
In a statement, NAPM said, “While the protestors faced legal charges, no police officer has been charged and convicted till date under appropriate sections of the law, for the murders and injuries.” “Similarly”, it regretted, “Vedanta whose Sterlite Copper Plant was shut down due to fraudulent and unlicensed operation and expansion for over 20 years, gas leaks and pollution, still hasn’t been prosecuted for any of its crimes.”
Text:
National Alliance of People’s Movements remembers with anger and pain the 15 people of Thoothukudi, Tamil Nadu who were brutally killed by the armed police, this day in 2018, for peacefully protesting against Vedanta’s Sterlite Copper Plant. We reiterate our solidarity with people of Thoothukudi and communities across India, resisting Vedanta and other mega-corporates, who, with absolute state support, are on a ruthless and endless spree of exploitation of lands, resources and people’s rights. We commend the global campaign efforts from May 14 to 22 organized by Anti-Sterlite People’s Movement and various organisations to build support for the struggle.
The people’s struggle in Thoothukudi has been fought over decades, to challenge Vedanta’s impunity to pollute the villages for its own profits. The historic mass agitation on May 22, 2018, which was a culmination of 100 days of continuous protest, led to a lethal firing by the Tamil Nadu police.

The one-sided firing killed 15 people, including 17-year-old minor Snowlin, and left hundreds injured. Instead of dialoguing with the people protesting against the illegal and polluting operation of the Copper Smelter plant, the State government resorted to excessive and unjustifiable force and vilification of the movement.
The shootout itself was a culmination of the everyday violence that the multinational conglomerate unleashed on the locals for over two decades. The plant’s fraudulent and illegal operations and expansion since 1996 poisoned the air that the people breathe and the water they drink.

Farmers, salt pan workers, fisher people, small traders, concerned villagers were all part of the struggle in Thoothukudi and women who played a key role in keeping up the spirit of resistance, despite severe backlash are a symbol of hope in this country, which seems to have reached its pinnacle of corporate-state nexus.
While the shooting was widely condemned across the country, the legal machinery also came down on the protestors with police cases being registered against 71 people. Only after years, the cases, except those under investigation and those concerning destruction of public property, have been dropped by the newly elected Tam Nadu government.

While the protestors faced legal charges, no police officer has been charged and convicted till date under appropriate sections of the law, for the murders and injuries. Similarly, Vedanta whose Sterlite Copper Plant was shut down due to fraudulent and unlicensed operation and expansion for over 20 years, gas leaks and pollution still hasn’t been prosecuted for any of its crimes.
The Thoothukudi police killing was not ‘exceptional’, as the State and dominant sections of the society would want us to believe. This was the premeditated response of a neo-liberal state that sought to suppress the people’s struggles that were gaining momentum and solidarity by perpetrating cold-blooded violence without any regard for democracy and human rights; and with complete disregard for life itself.
We express our support to all demands of the people of Thoothukudi and call upon the Government of Tamil Nadu to immediately:
Ensure that all operations of Vedanta are permanently stopped in Thoothukudi.
Prosecute Vedanta and its directors for fraud and violation of environmental laws and human rights violations.
Identify and take action against police persons responsible for the May 22, 2018 massacre.
Withdraw all pending cases against Thoothukudi residents filed to cover up the state’s collusion with Vedanta and complicity in the violence.
We also urge the National Human Rights Commission to reopen the Thoothukudi enquiry, and make public its findings.
We seek a direction to the Justice Aruna Jagadeesan Committee to examine witnesses online to expedite finalisation of the enquiry into the Thoothukudi massacre.
The actions of police across the world, from Cali, Colombia to Bhopal and most recently, Silger, Chhattisgarh, show that within the existing state apparatus, the institution of police exists only to protect the status quo and do the biddings of the oligarchy.
Even as we pay homage to the departed lives and demand accountability of the State, we note that the struggle is a long-drawn one in Thoothukudi and elsewhere and are committed to extending all forms of solidarity to the communities for whom resistance against is an everyday act.

Centre plans to set up occupational surveillance system for covid-19

livemint | May 26, 2021

The move is in line with the recommendation of the World Health Organization report titled Preventing and Mitigating Covid-19 at Work Policy

The Centre is planning to set up an occupational surveillance system for monitoring the impact of covid considering that professionals, including healthcare workers, are vulnerable to the virus.

The Directorate General of Factory Advisory Services and Labour Institutes (DGFASLI), which comes under the ministry of labour and employment, has constituted an academic committee to study the impact of covid-19 on professionals.

The move is in line with the recommendation of the World Health Organization report titled Preventing and Mitigating Covid-19 at Work Policy. According to the WHO document, an occupational surveillance system for covid-19 enables public health officials and employers to evaluate the efficacy of workplace interventions and is critical to understanding the true impact of the pandemic on professions.

The major occupational diseases and morbidity in India are silicosis, musculoskeletal injuries, coal workers’ pneumoconiosis, chronic obstructive lung diseases, asbestosis, byssinosis, pesticide poisoning and noise-induced hearing loss. DGFASLI serves as a technical arm of the ministry and assists in formulating national policies on occupational safety and health for factories and docks. It also advises factories on the problems concerning safety, health, efficiency and well-being of every employee.

The panel had recently convened a meeting with specialists to identify the burden and impact of the disease among various occupations ranging from hospital staff to sanitation workers, factory workers, pharma company employees and hospitality staff.

“As several respiratory illnesses are a part of the occupational diseases list in India, covid-19, too, qualifies to be a part of it. So far, we have only seen that surveillance of covid-19 has been done largely on healthcare workers who obviously directly deal with the disease,” said Dr T.K. Joshi, member of the DGFASLI committee on covid.

Joshi, a former director-occupational environment and medical programme, Maulana Azad Medical College, New Delhi, is also a consultant to the Union health ministry and a member of the central pollution control board.

“Covid-19 is also common in pharmacies, airports, among people handling waste from hospitals and pharmaceutical factories, workers in hospitality industry as for last two years many hospital chains were involved in treatment of covid patients. We aim to understand the impact of covid-19 on these occupations also,” said Joshi.

The WHO recommended policy action calls for establishing an occupational health surveillance system for covid. It said that such a system will help countries understand which worker populations are at risk and activities most associated with contracting covid-19.

The global public health agency said local public health agencies involved in contact tracing should be supported by occupational health services and help practitioners determine work-related hazards. It also said that information must be collected during interviews of positive cases for determining risks in contracting covid.

Construction cess not payable on contracts not having any construction component

Lexology | May 24, 2021

The Supreme Court, in its recent judgment, has finally settled a long pending issue by holding that contracts which cover works other than civil works and do not involve any construction, do not attract cess under the Building and Other Construction Workers’ Welfare Cess Act, 1996. The Apex Court in the decision in the case of UP Power Transmission Corporation Limited v. CG Power and Industrial Solutions Limited [Judgement dated 12 May 2021] clarified that mere installation and/or erection of pipelines, equipment for generation, transmission, or distribution of power, electric wires, transmission towers, etc., which do not involve construction work, are not amenable to levy of such cess.

Facts and issues:

  • The Appellant/ Employer – UP Power Transmission Corporation Limited entered into a framework agreement with the Respondent (Contractor), for the construction of a 765/400kV power substation, which was split into four separate contracts, for (i) Supply and delivery of equipment, (ii) Handling, erection, testing and commissioning works, (iii) Civil works and (iv) Operation & maintenance.
  • The Comptroller and Auditor General (CAG), in its audit, pointed out the lapse on the part of Employer in not deducting cess, as leviable under the Cess Act, from the bills of the Contractor.
  • Based on the CAG’s observations, the Employer sought to recover the cess on the total value of work provided under all four contracts, including supply, erection, testing, and commissioning. Admittedly, there were no proceedings that were passed with reference to the assessment or levy of cess under the Cess Act. The Employer, as a consequence, refused to discharge the Performance Bank Guarantee submitted by the Contractor, to secure recovery of an amount of INR 2.6 crore towards cess payable on works under all contracts including the supply part.
  • The Employer sought to recover the cess for the supply part from the pending bills and by encashment of the Performance Bank Guarantee. The contracts in the present case did not provide for the Employer to withhold any amount from the bills raised by the Contractor on the Employer towards any taxes, cess, or any other statutory dues of the Contractor.
  • Aggrieved by the actions of the Employer, the Contractor approached the Allahabad High Court. The High Court held that, in the absence of any order for levy and assessment under the Cess Act, recovery could not be made solely pursuant to an audit objection raised by the CAG.
  • The order of the High Court was assailed before the Supreme Court by way of an appeal.

Findings of the Supreme Court:

  • The Supreme Court held that the first and second contracts, which do not cover civil works, do not involve any construction and accordingly are outside the purview of levy under the Cess Act.
  • The Contractor was held as not a ‘contractor’, within the meaning as defined under the BOCW Act, nor an ‘employer’ within the meaning provided under the said Act, for the first, second, and fourth contracts. It was observed that the statutory scheme of the BOCW Act excludes a supply contract from within its ambit.
  • The Court clarified that mere installation and/or erection of pipelines, equipments for generation, transmission, or distribution of power, electric wires, transmission towers, etc., which do not involve construction work, are not amenable to levy of cess under the Cess Act.
  • It was held that when there is no assessment or levy of cess under the Cess Act, the Contractor cannot withhold amounts towards such cess payments. Even otherwise, the recovery can be done only in the mode and manner of recovery of outstanding cess under the Cess Act.
  • Further, it was considered that in the absence of contractual provisions, the Employer cannot withhold payments or realize cess by revocation of a Performance Guarantee.
  • Lastly, the availability of an alternative remedy (in this case ‘arbitration’) was held not to prohibit the High Court from entertaining a writ petition in an appropriate case.

Make-up’s ugly secret: The plight of India’s poor miners behind the beauty industry

CNA | May 22, 2021

Mica is the mineral that gives a sparkle to an array of products, from eye shadow to lip gloss. But what consumers do not see is a deadly trade involving even children. The programme Undercover Asia investigates.

JHARKHAND, INDIA: It sounds like an innocuous ingredient, a word among many hidden on the back of the packaging of your eye shadow palette.

Mica: A mineral that can be ground down to make sparkly powders, and found in everything from eye shadow to lip gloss to foundation. Cosmetic companies value mica for its properties: Refractive, superfine and naturally occurring in different colours.

It can be found all over the world, including India, which is known for having some of the world’s largest and finest deposits. But in India, there is a heavy price to pay for it, the programme Undercover Asia investigates.

Thousands of miners working illegally in the country’s mica mines shoulder this burden, far away from the bright lights of cosmetic counters.

‘WE DON’T HAVE ANYTHING’

Jharkhand, a north-eastern India state rich in mineral resources, is the country’s leading producer of coal, copper and mica. But close to half its people live in poverty.

One of them is 40-year-old widow Basanti Mosamat, who picks and sells scrap mica for a living. It is her family’s only source of income.

Once a week, Mosamat, her father-in-law and her five children make a 10-kilometre trek into the forest bordering her village to set up camp, where they would spend the next few days sifting for the mineral.

“We have difficulty finding food and trying to survive,” she said. Picking mica from dawn till dusk without any protective equipment has left her hands scraped and bruised.

Her oldest daughter, Karishma Kumari Birhor, has been picking mica since she was five — out of necessity. The more hands at work, the more likely it is the family will have food on the table.

“One person picking mica isn’t enough,” said the 14-year-old. “My father passed away, so I have to help my mother.”

Each kilogramme of mica scrap sells for seven rupees (S$0.13). On a good day, her family hope to earn around 150 rupees.

They are also less fortunate than most. They are part of India’s 100 million indigenous people known as Adivasis, who live on the fringes of society with limited governmental support in terms of health, education, job security and food.

“We don’t have anything here. We eat only every other day,” said Karishma. “Dreams don’t come true.”

DANGEROUS AND UNPREDICTABLE

Poverty has driven some miners to turn to abandoned caves and mine shafts, where mica is more plentiful. But there is no lighting or safety gear, and they often rely on their knowledge of the terrain to guide them.

Mukesh Bhulla, who has been going into abandoned mines since he was a boy, is still afraid. “People could slip and fall somewhere, or stones could fall on their head … It’s very tough,” he said.

“We have to be aware of our surroundings. Sometimes mines collapse. If one person makes a mistake, many could die.”

In January, there were at least three reports of mine collapses in Jharkhand’s Koderma district. It is estimated that 10 to 20 people die in such mishaps each month in the country’s north-eastern mica belt.

But for every accident reported, many more are covered up for one big reason: It is illegal to mine mica from land under the Forest (Conservation) Act, which came into effect in 1980 with the intention of protecting India’s forests.

The miners, however, have no choice but to continue. “If we don’t work here, then we’d all die,” said Dimpi Devi, a mother of three who mines mica from the forest and from deposits in her garden.

There are no other options for work. What would we do?

She struggles to make ends meet. Her family’s weekly expenses can go up to 2,500 rupees, but they barely earn 1,000 rupees.

This makes miners like her vulnerable to exploitation, especially when faced with additional family or health expenses. Without access to formal banking systems, they turn to unlicensed moneylenders, whose interest rates are as high as 200 per cent a year.

“Some miners told us they’re only allowed to sell mica to specific traders, those they’d borrowed money from and at a price decided by that trader,” said investigative journalist Peter Bengtsen, who has tracked the mica trade in Jharkhand for more than a decade.

“That agreement would basically last until they’d repaid that debt to this trader.”

Raids by forest authorities are also common, and miners sometimes must pay bribes in order to continue working. “The police don’t visit often, but the forest rangers are always after us,” said Mosamat.

Jharkhand’s mining areas are also run by different syndicates.

“There’s a whole network of people who make this mining happen, and they’re very powerful,” said Deepak Bara, a freelance journalist based in Jharkhand. “It can be very dangerous — it can be life-threatening — because there are so many stakeholders.”

It is estimated that 70 per cent of India’s mica output is illegally mined.

‘A SYSTEMIC PROBLEM’

Mica’s controversial reputation started to emerge in the mid-2000s, following investigations into the use of child labour in the industry.

According to the International Labour Organisation, India has more than 10 million working children. And with international organisations shining the spotlight on the issue, the plight of children in the mica industry attracted the international media’s attention.

“The stories came out — children going to mica mines, helping out their parents. So many documentaries were made (on) the issue of child labour,” said Bara.

But local journalists and politicians argue that these reports fail to address one critical detail: The marginalisation of the Adivasis. Children growing up around mica mines “have only one option”, noted Bara: To pick mica.

“They have to earn their family some income,” he said. “There’s no childcare support from the government. If there’s any, it’s not functioning.”

The problem around mica is a systemic problem. It’s not like you do a small campaign and things would get sorted out. The ground reality is very different.

In response to the growing public concern, several global coalitions were formed. One of them, the Responsible Mica Initiative, intends to eradicate child mining in Jharkhand by next year through better regulation and practices. Its members include Chanel, L’Oréal and Sephora.

Several brands have also pledged stricter compliance in their supply chains. But some also acknowledged the difficulty in tracing their mica and checking whether it is free of child labour.

In 2019, India exported more than US$37 million (S$49 million) worth of mica powder, according to World Bank data. Given the vast quantities bought and traded, it can be impossible to track where a brand’s mica comes from exactly.

Nonetheless, traceability has become a key issue for some manufacturers.

In January, European Union regulation of gold, tungsten and tin as conflict minerals took effect, so companies are now obliged to source these minerals responsibly. But similar legislation for mica has yet to be addressed.

“Mica is quite a cheap raw material to produce,” said Yue Jin Tay, the business development director of Circulor, a responsible sourcing company that uses blockchain to verify the origin of goods and minerals in supply chains.

“The cost of making sure that it’s been responsibly sourced as a proportion of the cost of the product sometimes does not make economic sense compared to other raw materials like gold or cobalt.”

Technology can be part of the solution, he added. But more work is needed to make ethical trading a common practice.

“To ensure that responsible sourcing practices are happening, they might have to be legislated for, and organisations will need to build the cost of compliance into their value chains,” he said.

“And we consumers need to accept that there’s an increased cost to us.”

WHAT ELSE CAN BE DONE?

Back in Jharkhand, demand for mica has not let up, and the state government is pushing for mining to be one of its economic growth initiatives.

With the problems faced by mica pickers becoming too grave to ignore, more and more community rallies are being organised to give them a voice. At some rallies, calls to legalise mining are growing louder.

Sudivya Kumar, a legislative assemblyman from Jharkhand, is using this momentum to continue lobbying for the legalisation of mica mining.

“Jharkhand has always been covered with forests, and its protection and welfare have been in our DNA forever,” he said. “We must find a way to save both the community and the forests.”

Mica was once classified as forest produce, but the Forest (Conservation) Act made mica picking a non-forest activity. India’s indigenous people are hoping its status will be restored.

“If picking mica is our only option, then the government should legalise mining here so that we can work without any fear or pressure,” said Devi.

Former mine owner Deepak Kumar Singh agreed, saying: “Mica scraps are basically residue from previous mining activities. It doesn’t harm the forest, but it’s still not legal.”

But without any real action being taken, mica pickers like Devi and Mosamat continue to work amid uncertainty for now.

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