Coal miners routinely hurt Adivasi interests: Amnesty

Coal mining companies in India routinely deprive tribal Adivasi communities of rehabilitation, resettlement, and compensation and use legal loopholes to bypass public hearings or mitigate social and environmental impacts, said an Amnesty International India report released on Wednesday.

The main culprit in the report – titled When Land is Lost, do We Eat Coal - is state-owned Coal India Limited (CIL), the world's largest coal producer, which aims to raise its output to 1 billion tonnes annually by 2020 to meet the country's burgeoning power needs.

In the three mines examined - South Eastern Coalfields Limited's (SECL) Kusmunda mine in Chhattisgarh, Central Coalfields Limited's (CCL) Tetaria Khar mine in Jharkhand, Mahanadi Coalfields Limited's (MCL) Basundhara-West mine in Odisha - residents of affected villages have testified to barely publicised public hearings, how they found out months or years later their lands had been acquired, and how their questions were often dismissed as ''irrelevant''.

Coal India and its subsidiaries took advantage of the Coal Bearing Areas Act, 1957, to acquire land. The CBA does not require authorities to consult affected communities, seek informed consent prior to acquisition, pay compensation, or conduct human rights impact assessment. The 2014 land acquisition act exempted acquisitions under the CBA Act.

CBA Act stipulates the government is required to declare its ''intention to acquire'' land in the official government gazette, which is often unavailable to local residents, many of whom are not literate. Anyone who objects must respond within 30 days of the notice.

Kusmunda, one of India's largest coal mines at 2,382 hectares, has increased production thrice - 10 million tonnes per annum (mtpa) to 15 mtpa in 2009, to 18.75 mtpa in 2014, to 26 mtpa in 2016. In the 2014 expansion, objections by the five villages to be newly-affected received responses from either SECL or the Coal Controller. The notice for acquisition was reportedly pasted on a panchayat office wall. Villagers in Nagara and Basiya, Jharkhand, affected by the expansion of Tetaria Khar, were similarly uniformed. Several families that lost their land to the Basundhara-West mine, Odisha, in 1989 and 1990 were only given compensation in 2010 after a Supreme Court order.

Authorities need to consult gram sabhas under two laws - Panchayat (Extension to Scheduled Areas) Act (PESA) and the Forest Rights Act (FRA) - before acquiring either protected Adivasi land or forest land. These, the report found, were not held in the three mining areas.

A 2007 parliamentary report had noted that coal affected communities ''hardly have any access to the Official Gazette wherein they could see that their lands are to be acquired''.

Hearings were held by local pollution control authorities, under the environmental laws. At the one for the expansion of Kusmunda, Chhattisgarh, of 38 people who spoke the only one in favour of the expansion was a Coal India employee, said the report. Yet, the ministry of environment, forests and climate change cleared the expansion. India's Environmental Protection Act (1986), also mandates that copies of the draft Environmental Impact Assessment are submitted in English and local languages to district authorities and be open for public inspection. However, the reports often obfuscate information through heavy technical language making it inaccessible to affected residents.

Based on interviews of 124 affected Adivasi people in three mining areas in Chhattisgarh, Jharkhand and Odisha, village and district level authorities, CIL subsidiary representatives and local activists, the report was based on research held from January 2014 to June 2016. The three states are home to 70 per cent of mining activity and 26 million adivasi people.