Shri A L Meena
Union Coal Secretary
Shri A K Jha
Union Secretary for Tribal affairs
Dear S/Shri Meena and Jha,
I understand that the Ministry of Coal has allotted Gondalpura coal block in Hazaribagh district of Jharkhand in favour of the Adani Group and the local communities who would be displaced, including adivasis, are protesting against it (https://thewire.in/rights/gondalpura-coal-mining-adani-group-protests).
In December, 2021, I had specifically cautioned your Ministry in reference to auctioning of 88 coal blocks, including some in Jharkhand, about such auctions violating the Panchayats (Extension to the Scheduled Areas) Act [PESA] and the Scheduled Tribes And Other Traditional Forest Dwellers (Recognition Of Forest Rights) Act, 2006 [“Forest Rights Act (FRA)”], which mandated prior discussion and consent of the local Gram Sabhas in such matters. It is unfortunate that your Ministry should ignore such a statutory mandate and go ahead with the auctions, largely to alienate precious coal resources to private companies, at the cost of the local communities, especially the adivasis (https://countercurrents.org/2021/12/auction-of-88-coal-blocks-requires-prior-discussion-and-consent-by-the-adivasi-gram-sabhas-under-pesa-and-fra/)
Moreover, the coal auctions seem to betray the government’s intention to prevent Coal India Ltd. (CIL), which is a premier CPSE having far more competence in coal mining than any private entity in the country, from developing the said blocks, as a part of a deliberate attempt on its part to weaken the CPSE, to favour private companies.
The latest report on public resistance against the Adani Group to take up mining of Gondalpura coal block shows how the Centre has blatantly ignored the interests of the local communities, merely to shower favours on the private group for reasons best known to it.
The project involves mining 513.18 hectares of land, out of which over 200 hectares consist of forests. Apart from the fact that the provisions of the FRA apply to this, which confers special powers on the local Gram Sabhas to discuss and decide on the communities’ rights over the forest resources and individual occupational rights, it also involves violation of several laws such as the Forest (Conservation) Act, Wild Life Protection Act, Biodiversity Act and Environment (Protection) Act. From the local communities’ point of view, who are critically dependent on forests in several ways, such coal mining activity would impose significantly large social costs, which could far exceed the perceived benefits from coal mining. Without an evaluation of such social and environmental impacts, it is highly objectionable for the Coal Ministry to go ahead with mining there.
In Orissa Mining Corporation Ltd vs Ministry Of Environment & Forests (bauxite mining by the Vedanta Group in Kalahandi and Rayagada districts in Odisha), the apex court had specifically emphasised in their Order dated 18-4-2013 that prior consultation and consent by the local gram Sabhas would be mandatory for any mining activity to be taken up. By unilaterally proceeding with the coal block auctions that affect the interests of the adivasis and other traditional forest dwellers, your Ministry has failed to respect the relevant order.
It is ironic that your Ministry has not cared to hold a prior consultation with the National Commission for the Scheduled Tribes (NCST), an authority set up under Article 338A of the Constitution, before launching coal block auctions, knowing well that many of those blocks are located within areas inhabited by the Scheduled Tribes and the government has the obligation to do so.
I may remind your Ministry and the present government at the Centre on the assurance given by the Prime Minister to respect the rights of the adivasis, when he took part in the National Tribal Day celebrations and inaugurated the Birsa Munda Freedom Fighter Museum at Ranchi in November, 2021 (https://countercurrents.org/2021/11/national-tribal-day-the-centre-and-the-states-should-walk-the-talk/).
Considering that the great adivasi leader, Birsa Munda belonged to the Jharkhand region and considering that he rebelled against the rulers more than a century ago in support of the adivasis’ rights, is it not ironic that the present government should ignore the same, to dole out coal blocks to big businesses?
Against this background, I request the Union Coal Ministry to revoke the mining license given in respect of the Gondalpura coal block and all other coal blocks similarly placed and show respect for the concerns of the adivasis.
I would also suggest that you refer the whole matter relating to mineral auctions to the NCST for their considered views in the matter.
E A S Sarma
Former Secretary to Govt of India