Mining operations by India’s state-owned Coal India Limited, the world’s largest coal producer, are shutting out indigenous Adivasi communities from decisions that affect their lives, Amnesty International India said in a new report published today.
The report, “When Land Is Lost, Do We Eat Coal?”: Coal Mining and Violations of Adivasi Rights in India, traces how Coal India subsidiaries, central government ministries and state government authorities in Chhattisgarh, Jharkhand and Odisha failed to ensure meaningful consultation with Adivasi communities on land acquisition, rehabilitation and resettlement, and the environmental impacts of mines, seriously affecting their lives and livelihoods.
“The government plans to nearly double coal production by 2020, and Coal India wants to produce a billion tons of coal every year.Yet both the company and central and state governments don’t seem to care to speak or listen to vulnerable Adivasi communities whose lands are acquired and forests destroyed for coal mining,” said Aakar Patel, Executive Director of Amnesty International India.
“Abusive laws, poor enforcement of existing safeguards, and corporate neglect of human rights are now leading Adivasi communities to oppose the expansion of the very mines they once thought would bring employment and prosperity, until they receive remedy for violations.”
The report exposes a pattern of human rights violations in open-cast mines run by different Coal India subsidiaries: South Eastern Coalfields Limited’s Kusmunda mine in Chhattisgarh, Central Coalfields Limited’s Tetariakhar mine in Jharkhand and Mahanadi Coalfields’ Limited’s Basundhara-West mine in Odisha.
It is based in part on interviews with 124 affected Adivasi people across the three mine areas; village, district and state government officials from the Chhattisgarh, Jharkhand and Odisha state forest departments and pollution control boards; representatives of the three Coal India subsidiaries; and local journalists, activists and lawyers.
The main findings of the report were shared with the relevant state authorities and companies, offering them an opportunity for comment. No response was received.
Abusive land acquisition
Land acquisition for Coal India’s mines is carried out under the Coal Bearing Areas (Acquisition and Development) Act (CBA Act), which does not require authorities to consult affected communities, or seek the free, prior and informed consent of Indigenous peoples, as stipulated by international law. A new land acquisition law enacted in 2014 specifically exempts acquisition under the CBA Act from seeking the consent of affected families or carrying out social impact assessments.
In each of the three Coal India mines examined, the central government acquired land without directly informing affected families, or consulting them about their rehabilitation and resettlement. Frequently, the only official notice given was a declaration of the government’s ‘intention to acquire’ land in an official government gazette, which is virtually impossible to access for affected communities.
“The CBA Act undermines communities’ security of tenure. Any eviction resulting from acquisition under the Act is likely to amount to a forced eviction, which is prohibited under international law,” said Aruna Chandrasekhar, Senior Researcher at Amnesty International India.
Poor enforcement of environment and Adivasi rights laws
India’s environmental laws require state pollution control authorities to set up public consultations with local communities likely to be affected by industrial projects to give them an opportunity to voice any concerns. However public consultations conduced in the three mining areas suffered from serious flaws.