Commercial Mining – not a boon but a curse
Concerns about Commercialisation/Privatisation of coal mines, particularly in Adivasi lands
What disaster commercialisation would bring is exemplified in the following narrative of what an Adivasi community was before start of mining in their neighbourhood and what damage it did in course of time:
Dubil is an Adivasi village in Saranda forest of West Singhbhum district, Jharkhand. This village of about 500 persons lived a happy life close to nature. Paddy was the main crop, harvested twice a year, and supplemented by various cereals. The village was blessed with two natural streams which ran with fresh water throughout the year. But alas, the Chiria iron ore mine, covering 3276 hectares, came up in the vicinity. As the mining expanded year by year, the happy life of Dubil Adivasis started to shrink steadily. The giant company started to distribute the actual mining activity to subsidiary companies who felt they had no obligation towards the neighbouring village communities in terms of compensation for the damage done to their agriculture and water sources. Eventually about 100 acres of their fertile land became barren and the water stream was flowing with reddish water.
Apart from this, labourers from outside were being brought to work the mines whereas the locals were reduced to the category of ‘day-wage labourers’. When the people of Dubil and neigihbouring communities organised themselves and protested against this injustice, police cases were filed against them and six of their leaders were put behind bars. Verily, insult added to injury.
Even some half-hearted steps by the govt to ameliorate their living condition did not make any difference. The housing scheme failed when half of the houses collapsed or became uninhabitable. The hand-pumps stopped working, the solar lamps and radios have disappeared, the bicycles have broken down. Thus the promise usually made at the start of the project of bringing ‘development’ falls flat and people are left with greater deprivation and anguish. [edited extract from ‘Mission Saranda – a war for natural resources in India’ by Gladson Dungdung, pp. 59-64]
Indian govt’s decision to commercialise/privatise coal mines - arbitrary and unjust
On 18th June 2020 the central govt released a list of 41 coal blocks from all over the country to be auctioned to private companies. This is said to be the panacea for the economic crisis the country is presently facing. We are told 10 crore tons of coal will be made into gas, India will become the biggest coal-exporting country in the world, this will be a giant step towards making our country self-reliant etc. In taking this step, central govt ignored the plea by Jharkhand govt that the auctioning be delayed for six to eight months until the battle against corona virus is decisively won. So out of 41 coal blocks, 9 in Jharkhand, 9 in Chattisgarh, 9 in Odisha, 11 in Madhya Pradesh are slated to be auctioned.
Let it be noted most of these mines in all above States are located in the predominantly Adivasi-inhabited areas, that is in Adivasi land and forests. No need to remind anyone that as it is, Adivasis are among the most marginalised communities. They make up about 8 percent of India’s population of 1.3 billion, but about 40 percent of the 60 million people displaced by development projects in past decades are Adivasis. Only 25% of them have been resettled but none rehabilitated. They were given minimal compensation and then neatly forgotten.
Concern 1: Only two parties (central govt and private company) on the negotiating table. Where are the people whose land will be excavated, will be displaced, will be reduced from being land-owners to landless casual labourers ?
Concern 2: Where are the laws, judicial verdicts … such as the Vth Sched. of the Constitution which stipulates that Tribes Advisory Council be taken into confidence for any project in Vth Sched. Area, PESA Act  which requires Gram Sabhas be consulted in the allotment of major minerals, Samata judgment  which empowers village cooperatives to be the sole agents of excavating coal mines in Vth sched areas, Forest Rights Act  that makes it mandatory to obtain the consent of Gram Sabha for any mining in the forests, the SC declaring  ‘owner of land is also owner of sub-soil minerals’, the Land Acquisition Act  which prohibits acquisition of multi-crop agricultural land etc. Does it mean laws enacted in parliament, judgments passed by the highest court of the land do not apply to present central govt ?
Concern 3: Past experience shows private companies are not going to abide by the laws protective of Adivasi community and their rights over natural resources. The govt will acquire Adivasi land, forcibly if need be, and hand it over to the companies. Land is given to them on a platter. If affected people will protest, they will be handled by law-and-order forces willingly supplied by local govt administration. Multiple cases will be foisted on those who lead people’s protests and thrown behind bars. Private companies have nothing to worry.
Concern 4: How to reconcile the fact that on the one hand the corporate houses go on accumulating profits in millions and billions of rupees and will go off the scene once the plunder is complete, and on the other hand the small & marginal farmers who lose all they have and are reduced to penury and destitution ? Has even a semblance of justice disappeared in our society ?
Concern 5: it is not to say that there should be no mining of minerals at all. Only it must be to meet the needs of the community and not for making profit. We can combine the two significant SC judgments, namely the 2013 verdict which entitles the owner of the land to be also the owner of sub-soil minerals and the 1997 verdict which declares that cooperatives of local Adivasis alone can do mining. It then becomes the paramount duty of the state to help in the formation and registration of coops and to provide the wherewithal such as the initial capital, the needed technical expertise, managerial skills, marketing avenues etc so they can function flawlessly and to the benefit of the whole community.
The state can do it if it really wants the development and welfare of all. Where there is a will, there is a way.