Nimmalapadu’s protracted struggle: Despite legal win, 3 Andhra tribal villages fight to save land from mining

Down to Earth | Shagun | Jan 29, 2022

Villagers near Andhra-Odisha border are fighting the state for calcite reserves two decades after securing Supreme Court victory

In 1997, the residents of Nimmalapadu, a village in Andhra Pradesh, achieved the unthinkable: They won a legal battle against the state government and a private company to save their village from mining.

The Supreme Court overruled a 1993 Andhra Pradesh High Court order in favour of the state government, it declared that only people belonging to the Konda Dora tribe and their cooperatives can exploit the minerals in Fifth Schedule areas and that private mining here, even with government backing, is illegal.

The verdict, popularly called the Samata judgement after the name of the non-profit that helped the people fight the case, adds that even if the state government decides to mine directly, it needs to keep the interest of the tribal people first.

Yet, over two decades later, the residents of the village near the Andhra Pradesh-Odisha border are fighting the state over their calcite reserves. Calcite is a mineral that is used in building material, abrasives, soil treatment, construction aggregate, pigment, and other applications.

The residents allege that the Andhra Pradesh Mineral Development Corporation (APMDC), the state agency responsible for mining licences, has issued licences five times since 1997 to cooperatives or individuals from the state belonging to the Konda Dora community. Every time, it has found new ways to keep the people out of the process.

“The Durga Sandstone MAC Society gave Rs 2 lakh per year to people whose land was brought under mining. Landless residents were given Rs 1 lakh per year. It also enrolled some of the residents as members and gave them a salary,” says Latchanna Rao of adjoining Karakavalasa village.

The most recent attempt to undermine the people was made on March 16, 2021, when APMDC floated a tender to mine calcite in a 32.7-ha area, which will impact Nimmalapadu along with the neighbouring Karakavalasa and Ralagaravu villages. Within days of the tender, the residents got a stay order from the High Court on the grounds that they will not be able to apply as the tender only allowed bidding by contractors with experience in heavy-mechanised mining.

The petition was filed by Sri Abhaya Girijana Mutually Aided Labour Cooperative Society, a group floated by the residents who worked with Durga Sandstone MAC Society, and now want to mine directly.

“Our elders never wanted mining. But seeing the government’s persistence, we have decided it is better if we get involved,” says Chompi Balaraju, a member of the cooperative.

In April last year, APMDC removed the contentious clause and awarded a five-year-long mining licence to two contractors who belong to the Konda Dora community but are not from the three villages.

“The contractors have no experience in mining and will remain responsible for the mines only on paper. Private players, whom the people have been fighting for long, will start to exploit the land through them,” says Ravi Rebbapragada, executive director of non-profit Samata.

He adds that if the government was serious, it would award the contract to the people’s cooperative. The contractors can extract 4,000 million tonnes of calcite every month and will pay APMDC a fee of Rs 448 per tonne.

The residents allege the government agency has also not taken a go-ahead from the three gram sabhas before awarding the licences, as mandated under the Provisions of The Panchayats (Extension to The Scheduled Areas) Act, 1996.

“While 18 families have land in the proposed mining area, there are at least 130 families who are either agricultural labourers or cultivate on government land for generations without legal rights. All of them need to be compensated,” says Rebbapragada.

Based on their learnings from 2012, the residents are demanding royalty for their land, besides annuity till the time the project is operational. They also want a fund for rehabilitating the land after the company is gone. Other demands include employment, land for land, a cellular tower, a 24-hour doctor, and transportation facilities.

“Most of our demands are about development, which is ideally the work of the government. But the state has punished us for not allowing private mining. It has not carried out any developmental projects in the region since the 1970s when calcite was first found in the area,” says 60-year-old Pandana, who had actively participated in the struggle.

The nearest hospital is in Bobbili, a town some 40 km away. “There is a surge in malaria and typhoid cases because of poor sanitation. We also do not have good roads or reliable mobile connectivity,” says Balaraju. Education is another challenge with most children forced to travel to other villages or cities to attend good schools.

In December 2021, the contractors and APMDC proposed that they will only mine government land, and asked residents for approval. The residents have in response demanded `1.50 lakh per acre (0.4 ha) for families cultivating on government land. They also said that if the land adjoining the mines gets disturbed, the contractor will have to compensate for the same.

“Durya Rukmani, a former mandal parishad president and one of the new contractors, is trying to convince us informally. His people are organising cultural events and festivals. But we will not budge till the time they agree to all our demands and sign a legal contract for the same,” says Balaraju.

Polavaram — displaced and nowhere to go: Ineligible for rehabilitation, many in a fix

Down To Earth | Shagun | 15 Dec, 2021

Several disqualified from rehabilitation process on absurd grounds, found DTE

Those displaced by the Polavaram project in Andhra Pradesh have found themselves in the middle of yet another quandary: Scores of them are ineligible for rehabilitation by the state government.

The Polavaram irrigation project, set to be operationalised by April 2022, will displace the highest number of people in India’s history of such projects: 106,006 families across 222 villages (total 373 habitations) in Andhra Pradesh, upon completion.

Many who haven’t been given a house or compensation yet have been living in the hope of a promised rehabilitation. But those who have been disqualified from the rehabilitation process on absurd grounds after being displaced find themselves at the bottom rung of the ladder.

Take the case of K Ramanagara, a washerwoman from the now submerged Ramanayyapeta village. She is not eligible for the rehabilitation and resettlement (R&R) package — she and her family weren’t present in the village on the day of the survey for relocation by the government in 2009.

During that time, her now handicapped husband was bitten by a snake while working in fields and the family had to temporarily shift to Rajahmundry for his treatment.

“The government surveyed the village for relocation and missed my name. I have all documents to prove my residence. I visited the authorities here several times but they do not pay heed to my requests,” she said.

She is now living in a rented house in Krishnunipalem, some 35 km from her village, where she pays Rs 2,000 a month. She uses Rs 3,000 disability pension her husband gets to pay for it.

There is not much laundry work in the colony the family has shifted to. So, Ramanagara wants to work as agricultural labourer. But after displacement and subsequent shifting, there is surplus labour in the area and subsequently, not enough jobs.

Dasara Venkatesh, 45, has stayed all his life in Chinaramayapeta village. But he was told he was ineligible for compensation after the “government lost his identity cards and papers”.

The papers were later found but he is still struggling to get his name included in the list of people eligible for compensation.

Sidda Sachinarayan, a journalist and among the displaced, lives in the same colony as Venkatesh. He said the government left people out very randomly from the compensation lists.

“Initially, when the decision of relocation was taken, the government depended on Socio-Economic and Caste census data. But later, they conducted surveys at village level and began to disqualify people on different grounds,” he said.

Gangadhar Rao, a fisherman, didn’t have a ration card of the village he lived in till May 2021. He had migrated to Devipatnam in 2004 because fishing opportunities were better.

He and his family have now been living in a fishing boat along with four other families, who are awaiting construction of their houses in an R&R colony, for about seven months now.

The other families have at least got the compensation money. Till May 2021, his three kids (in grades III, V and VI) went to the now-submerged school building. They later dropped out.

Ravi Rebbapragada, executive director, Samata, which has been working with the displaced population in East and West Godavari districts, said the government should conduct a reassessment of all disqualified people.

“This is an aberration. If even one per cent people are left out or disqualified, it is unjust because they have really sacrificed their land for everybody,” he said.

The government not compensating for ‘banjar land’ is another battle that the displaced population is fighting.

Banjar land is unregistered government land but cultivated by villagers, mostly tribals, for many years now. The R&R package includes compensating people for their agricultural land; banjar land has not been surveyed or included in the package.

“People have been cultivating banjar lands for 40 years or so. We have demanded providing pattas (a land deed) of such land to the government authorities. The Polavaram Project Authority also acknowledged it but things have not moved,” said S Jhansi Lakshmi, Andhra Pradesh state president of Rythu Kuli Sangha, a non-profit working for the displaced.

We don’t how much of this land exists in the state because it’s not registered, she added. There is no data or record of such land which was the livelihood for many people in the submerged villages.

K Abhay Reddy (45), his wife and three children had been dependent on two acres of such land for their livelihood since 2006. “Other families can at least claim compensation. We can’t even do that because we don’t have the papers. The government lies. Before shifting to the colony, the officers made promises that we will get better work but that is not the case here.”

Rebbapragada said the authorities have been disqualifying people occupying banjar land on technical grounds, but it is unjust in terms of rehabilitation being an inclusive process.

“The land is technically owned by the government and people cultivating on it are not entitled to compensation, but when the Polavaram Authority is genuine about rehabilitating every person then it should think about giving some compensation on account of banjar land, if not giving them an equivalent piece of land,” he said.

Another problem — of cut-off date — was also found across all colonies. According to the Land Acquisition Act, 2013, those aged 18 years were eligible for compensation at the time of the survey. However, by the time the process started, a significant number of new youth population had become eligible for compensation.

“This issue, coupled with not providing R&R package to married women above 18 years, is an exclusionary process,” said Rebbapragada.

OUR SNF PROJECT ON SUB-NATIONAL POLITICS IN THE MINING SECTOR IN INDIA

The Graduate Institute Geneva | August 13, 2021

The SNF-supported research project Extracting Voice: the sub national law and politics of relationships between mining companies and affected communities in India uses District Mineral Foundations as a window into the political transformations of, and driven by, extractive economies in India. The project explores the dynamics of sub-national politics in the Indian mining sector, and their effects on socially and ecologically sustainable mining governance.

The mining sector generates significant social and ecological harm due to forced displacement, expropriation, ecological degradation, and destruction of livelihoods. Mining areas have also experienced violent conflict and legal disputes along with protracted struggles for land and forest rights. This follows the general dynamics of extractive economies around the world.

In response, Indian policymakers passed a legislation in 2015 establishing District Mineral Foundations (DMF). DMFs are an instrument (usually Trusts), established in each mining-affected district of the country, to collect a percentage of mining revenue for the direct benefit of affected communities, and which those communities are supposed to govern in conjunction with other local stakeholders. The project studies the implementation of DMFs to reveal how they are refracted through subnational rentier politics so endemic to mining. It asks: given that mining operations occur in complex and varied local contexts, how can companies, communities, and local authorities meaningfully collaborate in decentralized mining governance? Do DMFs mediate the company-community relationship, or do they reproduce and intensify patterns of regulatory and state capture?

Exploring DMFs in Odisha, postdoctoral fellow Bijayashree Satpathy finds a complex interplay between political struggles over forest lands, tribal (adivasi) rights, and mining activities which shape, if not constitute, subnational political organisation and contestations. In Odisha, major mineral reserves lie under the richest forest areas, mostly in fully and partially Schedule V districts like Keonjhar and Sundergarh, which are largely inhabited by tribal communities.

Mining companies in these regions, as with extractive frontiers across the world, are established with the promise of new employment opportunities for local communities. Communities’ aspirations for improved standards of living, and the narratives of both mining companies and the State ensures the maintenance of this potential for employment. However, in reality, companies largely employ high skilled migrant labourers in secure and formal positions due to increasing mechanisation in operations, whilst also create conditions which result in mid skilled migrant labour from either outside the state or district. On the other hand, local populations are employed in extremely low paid and precarious conditions as sub-contractual labour, and in very low numbers. This also coincides with the loss of traditional livelihood generation activities that are sometimes partially offset by the establishment of projects initiated through Corporate Social Responsibility and Non-Government Organisation funding to support small-scale activities for temporary and often short-term durations. However, overall steady jobs are absent, traditional livelihoods are eliminated or reduced, and new projects are temporary.

Against this backdrop of rentier politics, communities are largely unaware of DMFs and its functions. The community representation in the governance of DMFs is often limited in principle to the Sarpanch of the Gram Panchayat (or head of the village council) – and the quality of representation is variable. In practice, the District Magistrate or Collector – the chief district-level bureaucrat – takes the decisions regarding DMF projects and budgets.

As a consequence, DMF funds are often spent away from the communities they are supposed to benefit. Talking to ‘mines, minerals & PEOPLE’ (mm&P — an alliance of individuals, institutions and communities who are concerned and affected by mining) members in Sundergarh and conducting fieldwork in Keonjhar, Bijayashree Satpathy found that most of the funds are used in the construction of infrastructure in district headquarters, or for the benefit of the hometown or village of the local Member of Parliament (MP) or Member of Legislative Assembly (MLA). When they are spent on affected communities, communities are wary of their low rate of return: in Keonjhar, tribal communities are unhappy with DMF-funded agriculture programs, since the income they generate is far lower than that of the extractive activities which fund them. This combination of suspicion and low awareness creates space for local leaders to uphold positions over the villagers and maintain their connections with powerful groups by motivating villagers (including youths) to remain contingent on the benefits from mining activities. The local level politics may reduce the potential of DMF for mining-affected communities to any other government welfare schemes. Further, the implementation of similar projects by a parallel institution – OMBADC, in mining-affected areas may impact the purpose of DMF.

Bijayashree Satpathy is presently continuing her fieldwork in Tamnar, which has a high concentration of tribal populations and is also one of the most affected coal mining blocks in Raigarh district in the state of Chhattisgarh. Coal and limestone are the major minerals extracted from this district by major companies like South Eastern Coalfields Limited (SECL), Jindal Steel and Power Company and Hindalco Industries Limited. Since a major share of DMF contributions comes from coal mining in Chhattisgarh, it is interesting to explore the company-community relationship in this state as well.

Banner image by Bijayashree Satpathy: Open cast mining site of South Eastern Coalfields Limited (SECL) in Tamnar block, Chhattisgarh
Source of map: Shutterstock

Rajasthan High Court directs state govt to conduct training of Principal Magistrates for sensitizing them with JJ Act

India Legal | July 15, 2021

A suo motu case has been filed based on a news report published in ‘Dainik Bhaskar’ relating to the miserable condition being faced by the oral and hearing disabled children housed in a school Hostel in Jodhpur.

The Rajasthan High Court has directed the state government to conduct training of Principal Magistrates in Juvenile Justice Boards for sensitising them with the Juvenile Justice Act, 2015.

The Division Bench comprising Justice Manoj Kumar Garg and Justice Sandeep Mehta passed these directions on July 13, during the hearing of a suo motu case based on a news report published in ‘Dainik Bhaskar’ relating to the miserable condition being faced by the oral and hearing disabled children housed in a school Hostel in Jodhpur.

Additional Advocate General (AAG) Pankaj Sharma placed on record a copy of the communication dated June 1, 2021 issued by the Mining Department, Government of Rajasthan, which indicated that as per Rule 15 of the District Mineral Foundation Trust Rules, 2016, the fund of District Mineral Foundation Trust and State Mineral Foundation Trust for upliftment of the Child Care Institutions (CCIs) can be used for the welfare of Women and Children.

Further, a copy of the order dated March 17, 2021 has been placed on record, as per which, appointments of Officers have been made on the vacant posts of Principal Magistrates, Juvenile Justice Board, in accordance with Section 4 of the Juvenile Justice (Care and Protection of Children) Act, 2015.

In this background, the Court expected that the Department of Child Rights shall immediately move the concerned members, be it State or District Trust, for allocation of funds from the Mineral Trust Funds, so that the Child Care Institutions in the entire state can be upgraded.

The bench observed that the training of Principal Magistrates, Juvenile Justice Board has already been scheduled by the Rajasthan State Juvenile Academy in this week itself.

In light of above facts, the Court directed AAG Anil Gaur, representing the Child Rights Department, shall ensure that a training programme is organised within next 45 days for training and sensitisation with the Juvenile Justice (Care and Protection of Children Act), 2015.

“Child Right Activist Govind Beniwal pointed out that there is no regulatory body, which can monitor the functioning of Child Welfare Committees, thus appropriate directions are required to be issued in this regard for ensuring proper functioning of Child Welfare Committees across the State,” the order read.

The Court therefore also directed Govind Beniwal, to meet the Secretary, Child Rights Department in order to chalk out an action plan for effective monitoring of the functioning of Child Welfare Committees.

Matter will be next listed in the first week of September, 2021 for further hearing.

Odisha: British-era pond facelift to now cost Rs 30 crore for District Mineral Foundation

The New Indian Express | July 15, 2021

The project includes musical fountain, amphitheatre, jogging and cycle track, children’s play area, gazebo, cluster sitting, aeration and oxidation of pond and landscaping.

ROURKELA: An abandoned British-era pond in Sundargarh town is getting a major facelift. ‘Bijli Bandha’, or Bijli tank, is set to transform into a recreational facility that would now cost Rs 30.42 crore and all of it is being funded by the District Mineral Foundation (DMF).

Spread over 20.99 acre of land, its renovation and beautification is taking place on 16 acre. The project includes musical fountain, amphitheatre, jogging and cycle track, children’s play area, gazebo, cluster sitting, aeration and oxidation of pond and landscaping.

After Water and Power Consultancy Services Limited (WAPCOS) under the Ministry of Jal Shakti floated tender for renovation and beautification of the pond last year, Delhi-based Ridhi Construction bagged the work for Rs 25.90 crore.

Work started through Ridhi’s sub-contractor in October 2020 but was halted between March and June this year when WAPCOS raised a running bill for Rs 5.16 crore but only Rs 2 crore was released. In absence of money, the sub-contract firm stopped the work. Work resumed a fortnight back and so far, around 20 per cent has been completed.

By now, the project cost has seen an escalation. Against the original cost of Rs 29 crore, the DMF will now spend Rs 30.42 crore to renovate and beautify the historic pond at the district headquarters town which is apparently not identified as a mining-affected area. The DMF gave its nod to the cost escalation from Rs 29 crore to Rs 30.42 crore in May after new changes were incorporated in the final detailed project report (DPR).

The hike in project cost was due to additional works of redevelopment of the connecting area near Sundargarh SP residence and shifting of overhead power lines from the site. The redevelopment of area near SP residence near Bijli Bandha would cost a little more than Rs 2 crore while power-line shifting is estimated at Rs 79.07 lakh.

‘Bijli Bandha’, the water body on Jalachar and Kata types of land is said to have been set up by royal family of the erstwhile princely state of Gangpur for hydro-power generation. It was then abandoned.
There are, however, questions on how this was funded under the DMF as guidelines clearly mandate spending through Pradhan Mantri Khanij Kalyan Yojana (PMKKY) in areas directly and indirectly affected by mining operations.

The Ministry has earmarked 60 per cent spending on high priority areas including drinking water supply, environment, health, education and welfare of children, aged women and disabled, skill development and sanitation. The rest 40 per cent is allowed for other high priority areas like physical infrastructure, irrigation, energy and watershed development besides environmental measures.

Local MLA and DMF member Kusum Tete said she was unaware of the project cost revision. She claimed that to know about the project component while attending the foundation stone laying ceremony.
“As long as development is taking place in my constituency, I do not mind from where the fund was coming from,” said the MLA.

Former president of Sundargarh Special Development Council Santosh Amat said due to dumping of garbage and lack of maintenance, the abandoned water body was heading for premature death. The project would protect the local environment and enable recreational facility to town residents, he added.
Sundargarh Collector and DMF chairman-cum-managing trustee Nikhil Pawan Kalyan did not reply to any query.

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