The people in coal mine areas of Odisha have been bearing the brunt of pollution and environmental hazards owing to extraction of minerals by several industries but their issues go largely unaddressed.
The allocation of coal blocks to private companies will further worsen the condition of local people in the absence of State accountability. There is a need to go for an unbiased evaluation of last 50 years of coal mining to assess its impact on the economy of the locality in the perspective of inclusive development of the displaced and affected people.
The sufferings and growing discontents of local people have been reflected in their struggles in a number of ways in recent times. Odisha has 25 per cent of the coal reserve of the country as estimated by the Geological Survey of India (GSI). Currently, mining operation is taking place in areas of Talcher, Chhendipada and Kaniha blocks in Angul, Lakhanpur and Brajarajnagar in Jharasuguda, Hemagiri block in Sundargarh and Talalabira of Sambalpur owned by Hindalco, Birla.
Mahanadi Coal fields Ltd (MCL), a subsidiary company of Coal India Limited (CIL) under the Union Ministry of Coal is the major lease holder of seven underground and 16 open cast mines in an area of 17,557 hectares. Besides, several mines undergo operation through a number of joint ventures.
In a recent move, which has gone highly controversial, the Government has awarded coal blocks to private companies like Birla, Jindal, Monnet, Tata, Adani and many more. The MCL alone has employed 22,000 employees and the number has marginally increased during the last five years. The production of coal has almost doubled in last ten years from 60 MT to about 110 MT in 2013. The coal mine areas are also going to be major industrial destinations with the advantage of coal based power, water, communication and availability of other minerals like iron ore, manganese, graphite, and lime stone in the nearby districts.
Already, Angul and Jharsuguda have major mineral based aluminum, steel and power plants like Nalco, NTPC, Hindalco, Bhusan, Jindal and Monnet. The NTPC has plans to go for building thermal power centers with 20,000 MW power plants to supply power to other States as 68 per cent of India’s power comes from thermal power and the 11th plan document emphasises on expansion of open cast coal projects allowing private players.
The growing demand for thermal power will have devastating consequences in the coal bearing areas of the State as open cast mining will have huge demand of land for mining operation which includes not just mining but for other related purpose like dumping, infrastructure, office, residence and other commercial purposes. There are about 100 MoUs signed by the Government for power, steel and other commercial purposes and many of them are coming up mostly in coal areas. Mines and minerals are being integrated with the political economy of the State and have been playing a central role in influencing regional politics and economic policy. The coal royalty has been a matter of political debate referring Centre and State relation.
The Sarkaria Commission report in 1988, Anwarul Hoda report in 2006 and the recent Saha Commission in different ways have raised the issues of Centre-State relation over mineral resource control and ownership. The issue has been debated extensively which awaits judiciary and legislative interventions. While demands are being made to uphold the federal character but the Central Government is exercising more authority over resources and depriving the States of collecting cess. The laws like Coal bearing areas (Acquisition and Development) Act 1957, SEZ Act 2005 and MMDR Act 1957 make the State almost powerless. Though there is a provision of royalty revision in three years but it is not done. This is a matter of concern for poor States like Odisha. Coal royalty constitutes a major part of non tax revenue from mines and minerals. Added to royalty, coal mines provide direct employment to hundreds of families as skilled and semi skilled mine workers, including the locals, have been creating ancillary employment opportunities.
The current scenario in coal areas witness repeated displacement impacting livelihood of people in agriculture, animal husbandry, fishing and forest produce collection. It is a matter of grave concern for farmers, Dalits, adivasies, fisher folk and rural artisans who constitute a majority of the displaced and affected population.
Economic globalisation attracts people from outside to mining and industrial destinations in search of employment and other mines related activities. It is evident that the outsiders have almost taken over the local economy. As per a conservative estimate, during last 50 years, about 200 villages have been directly displaced and another hundreds are in the process, mostly in coal bearing areas. It is evident that there are families in Sambalpur, Jharasuguda, Sundargarh and Angul who have been displaced thrice by dams, mines and industries.
Kanteikoliasahi in Chendipada is a small hamlet of Dalit families which was first displaced by Derjang and then by Paranga and again by the JSPL. The boundary wall of the JSPL almost makes the hamlet an inland without communicating passage to outside. All the families become land less and engaged as wage labourers with minimum wage in the locality. Irrigation projects of river Mahanadi, Brahmani, Ib River and Basundhara are being used to supply water to the mines and industry and not for agriculture. Farmer organizations in these areas have raised this issue a number of times. Our judicial system and Government policy seem not to be reaching to the poor and illiterate and in spite of their repeated appeal to local administration the law enforcing agencies are behaving in a feudal way.
Revenue official harassment in settling land disputes and negligence in payment of compensation has been continuing over generations. The environmental problem is an added burden to the people of the locality with huge coal dust, water and air pollution, water scarcity, deforestation, high temperature, increasing waste land coverage and danger of abundant and underground mines. Pollution has lots of long term ramifications over livelihood, health and social environment, flora and fauna of the locality which cannot be revived in a short span. The State Pollution Control Board (SPCB) has been doing routine work without any legal intervention. The compensatory affirmation programme has almost gone non functional by forest department without spending and accountability. People’s movement and media reports are undermined without action and local people are forced to get acquainted to cope with the prevailing condition.
The MCL spends Rs5 per tonne of coal produced or 5 per cent of the retained earnings as per CIL guide line on CSR, which includes periphery development. The amount allocated for the year 2012-13 was Rs51.55 crore. Though there is a provision that out of CSR budget, 15 per cent and 8 per cent would be allocated separately and exclusively for SCs and STs, it is not followed. There is no involvement of local affected people in the panning and monitoring of spending and convergence with other programmes. RPDAC as per ORRP is acting as a facilitating body for companies and paying very less attention to the issues of local people. Coal producing districts like Sundergarh, Angul and Sambalpur have not yet achieved full electrification. Drinking water and irrigation for agriculture has been a major issue in all coal mines areas. The people’s demand for fair compensation, rehabilitation, safe environment, employment and livelihood rights is seen as anti development and anti mining and suppressed by the State and corporate houses without a fair hearing. This apathy of Government in denying its constitutional mandate has been encouraging violence, extremism and lawlessness. The people in coal mines area of Machhakuta and Chendipada recently boycotted general elections in protest of Government apathy to their demands.
(The writer is a rights activist, who can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org)
Read more here — http://www.dailypioneer.com/state-editions/bhubaneswar/apathy-odishas-mining-areas-growing-trouble-torn.html