Odisha coal mine expansion should not be approved before addressing human rights concerns
New Delhi: 4 April 2018 4:43 pm
The initiation of the environmental impact assessment process for the expansion of the Basundhara West open cast coal mine in Sundergarh, Odisha by a Coal India Limited subsidiary raises fears that existing human rights concerns will not be adequately addressed, said Amnesty International India today.
On 24 January 2018, the Expert Appraisal Committee of the Ministry of Environment, Forest and Climate Change recommended the drawing up of the Terms of Reference (ToR) for the preparation of an environmental impact assessment (EIA) of the expansion of the mine’s capacity from 8 mtpa (million tonnes per annum) to 8.75 mtpa. The mine is operated by Mahanadi Coalfields Limited.
A 2016 research report by Amnesty International India, “When Land is Lost, Do We Eat Coal? – Coal Mining and Adivasi Rights Violations in India”, had revealed glaring failures, including in Sundergarh, on the part of authorities to seek the free, prior and informed consent of indigenous Adivasi communities prior to land acquisition, conduct meaningful public consultations on environmental concerns, and process forest rights claims.
“In granting the ToR, the expert appraisal committee has not adequately considered the human rights abuses linked to earlier expansions of the mine’s capacity,” said Manohar Chauhan, Senior Campaigner, Amnesty International India. “Authorities need to ensure that the proposed expansion does not go ahead before pending issues are resolved to the satisfaction of affected Adivasi communities.”
Adivasi residents of villages which will be affected by the expansion of the mine have told Amnesty International India that local gram sabhas (village assemblies) have opposed the use of forest land for the mine. Under Indian law, state governments have to obtain the consent of gram sabhas prior to the ‘diversion’ of forest land for industrial purposes.
Kshyamasil Majhi, the sarpanch (elected village council head) of Gopalpur, said: “On 8 March, our gram sabha unanimously decided not to give permission for forest land diversion till our demands are fulfilled.” Chandrakanti Naik, the sarpanch of Sumura, said that a gram sabha conducted on 27 March had also unanimously decided to oppose the use of forest land for coal mining.
Local villagers say that they continue to face air pollution due to the mine, a concern that had been raised in previous public consultations, but which has not been adequately addressed. Romanch Seth, a resident of Tikilipada village, said, “The pollution is so high, it is difficult to inhale properly.”
Residents also said that claims made under the Forest Rights Act have not been adequately recognized. In Ratansara village, no individual forest rights titles have been issued to date, despite 34 claims being approved. In Tikilipada village, 39 individual forest rights claims have been approved, but no titles have been issued. Villagers say the compensation given in different villages has not been uniform. There have also been several protests against two other coal mines in the region.
Sundargarh is a protected ‘Scheduled Area’ under the Constitution of India, where members of Adivasi communities have special customary rights over their lands. The rights of indigenous peoples to lands they traditionally occupy, and to free, prior and informed consent on decisions that affect them is recognized in international human rights law and standards.
“The state and central governments must heed the voices of local Adivasi communities, and ensure that their rights are not ignored in the push to expand coal mining,” said Manohar Chauhan.
Amnesty international India wrote to Mahanadi Coalfields Limited for their response on above-mentioned concerns. They did not respond.
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