Allotment of Bijahan coal block for mining by an Adani company in Hemgir block in Sundargarh district of Odisha violates the letter and spirit of the Fifth Schedule to the Constitution



Shri Vibhu Nayar

Union Tribal Affairs Secretary

Dear Shri Nayar,

I understand that the Ministries of Mines/Coal have allotted the Bijahan coal block in Hemgir Block of Sundargarh district of Odisha to an Adani Group company, Mahanadi Mines & Minerals Private Limited for mining coal. I wonder whether the concerned Ministries have consulted your Ministry before taking such a decision, as the entire district in which coal mining is proposed lies with an area notified under the Fifth Schedule to the Constitution and it is imperative that the interests of the local adivasi communities are fully safeguarded. As a result of mining, the adivasi population in four villages will be affected and 609 hectares of forest lands on which they depend will get denuded.

It appears from news reports that the local adivasis feel disturbed as their fears and concerns have not been taken into account and their view on mining not genuinely considered before the Centre and Odisha government unilaterally decided to start coal mining that is going to disrupt their lives.

As I understand, a public hearing was conducted as usual in a hurry about five months ago and the so-called Gram Sabha meetings were rushed through in the guise of fulfilling the ‘formalities” without the local officials trying to appreciate the letter and the spirit of the PESA Act and the Forest Rights Act (FRA) under which, strictly, it is the Gram Sabha in each village that should be given all the details of the mining project, and allowed to discuss the implications from the adivasi point of view and decide without any extraneous pressure. The procedure laid down by the apex court in the well-known case of Vedanta’s bauxite mining project in Niamgiri hills needs to be complied with. I doubt whether the local officials under duress from the Centre and the State, in addition to pressure from the Adani Group, had the patience to go through such an alaborate procedure prescribed by no other than the highest court in the country.

Undrer Article 338A(9) of the Constitution, both the Union and the State should have held a prior consultation with the National Commission for the Scheduled Tribes (NCST) before auctioning the coal block as coal mining in the area adversely impactes the lives of the adivasis there. In my view, allotment of a coal block in the instant case violates both Article 338A and the Fifth Schedule as well as the PESA and the FRA. 

The role of your Ministry and the counterpart Ministry in Odisha is to raise this concern with the concerned Ministries and hold prior consultation with the NCST. I would appeal to your Ministry to address this in view of the sense of impending displacement and uncertainty that seems to prevail among the Adivasis of the four villages in Hemgir Block.


Yours sincerely,

E A S Sarma

Former Secretary to the Government of India



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