By Gladson Dungdung
The Indian State seems to be in so hurry in exploiting its remaining natural resources especially the minerals. The exploitation of the mineral resources in the country had begun in 1925 with TISCO’s first iron-ore mining project in Saranda forest of Jharkhand under the tag of development. During the post-independence, it was accelerated with a new tag ‘economic growth’. In the recent development, the Indian government has initiated the process for auctioning 41 coal blocks for commercialization. Interestingly, this time, a new tag ‘Atmanirbhar Bharat’ (self-reliant India) was added with a powerful narration. A billion-dollar question comes into my mind is whether a farmer be self-reliant after selling his paddy fields? The government’s move would have a drastically impact on the communities and environment.
However, the government claims that their decision to auction these coal blocks is a big step towards making the country ‘Atmanirbhar’ in the energy sector. The government envisages an investment of 33,000 crores, which would create 2.8 lakh jobs including 70,000 direct and 2,10,000 indirect jobs. Of course, if you compare the denial of communities’ rights and environmental impact, the job promises seems to be a cumin in Camel’s mouth, which is purposely done to woo the opportunist middle class. Presently, India produces 60.40 million tons of coal per annum (2018-2019), and the new initiates would be adding 15 percent to it. Unfortunately, while manufacturing the growth story, the government has put aside the environmental and denial of communities’ rights.
Undoubtedly, the coal production is one of the major sources of greenhouse gas emission in the atmosphere. Therefore, many countries like Albania, Austria, Belgium, Cyprus, Estonia, Iceland, Latvia, Lithuania, Luxembourg, Malta, Sweden and Switzerland have stopped using coal based generation. Unfortunately, India has been accelerating its coal production, which would surely increase its contribution in the ongoing climate crisis. The clearance of coal mining projects means also the cleansing of the remaining forests in the coal block areas. Presently, India has merely 21 percent forests, which is less than the required one third of the total geographical area to maintain the environment of the country. In these circumstances, can we dare to cut down the remaining trees and clean the forests? Can India become ‘Atmanirbhar’ with polluted environment? Has India surrendered in front of the corporate lobby?
The coal auction has opened the flood gate for the private sector. As of now, the public-sector undertaking companies have monopoly over the coal production in India. The ECL, BCCL, CCL, WCL, SECL and MCL are the major actors, who have played a crucial role in coal mining. But after the auctioning of 41 coal blocks, private entities like Adani, Tata and others private entities will emerge as the key players.
These coal blocks are located in different states within India and most of them fall under Fifth Schedule areas. Hence, the government’s decision has, unsurprisingly, generated insecurity among the Adivasis, who comprise the indigenous Peoples of India with the population of 104 million people. Their land and traditional habitations can be acquired at any point of time without their consent. The threat of losing livelihood resources has multiplied in those areas, where the Adivasis have been struggling to protect their forest rights.
The auction of 41 coal blocks without consent of the Governors of Fifth Schedule States, Tribe Advisory Councils and Gram Sabhas, is a gross violation of the provisions of the Fifth Schedule of Indian Constitution, PESA Act 1996, Forest Rights Act 2006 and the Supreme Court’s Samata Judgement and Niyamgiri Judgement, which legitimate the role of Gram Sabha in managing the natural resources of a village.
Indeed, the Indian State has suppressed its Constitution and laws for benefiting the private coal sectors companies, who play a crucial role during the Indian election by flooding money. Of course, the State-Corporate nexus has overthrown the rights of Adivasis. There has been onslaught on the Adivasis’ land, territory and natural resources, which needs to be check immediately for the protection of the Adivasis rights and environmental degradation. We cannot allow the government to sell our remaining natural resources.