September 5, 2014 | By Sikh Siyasat Bureau
Bangalore/New Delhi, India (September 05, 2014): According to Amnesty International India [t]housands of people from marginalised communities living near a state-owned coal mine in Chhattisgarh are at risk of being forcibly evicted.
“On 28 August 2014, authorities began to demolish houses in Ponri village in Korba, Chhattisgarh as part of efforts to expand the Gevra open cast mine run by South Eastern Coalfields Limited (SECL), a subsidiary of the state-owned Coal India Limited (CIL), one of the world’s largest coal mining companies. Two houses were demolished on 28 August, and more evictions are likely to follow” notes a recent release by Amnesty International India.
Authorities have given SECL permission to expand production at its coal mine in Korba from 35 MTPA (metric tonnes per annum) to 40 MTPA, which could lead to the eviction of over 5000 people from their homes and lands in over 18 villages in Korba. Those who could be evicted include Kawar, Gond and Korwa Adivasis (indigenous peoples) and Dalit families.
“The evictions on 28 August were carried out without genuine consultation, adequate notice or compensation, or the provision of adequate alternative housing,” said Aruna Chandrasekhar, Business and Human Rights Researcher at Amnesty International India. “They amount to forced evictions, which are prohibited under international law.”
Eyewitnesses told Amnesty International India that SECL security personnel and paramilitary personnel forcibly evicted families from their homes on 28 August without giving them enough time to collect their belongings. State authorities and SECL officials were present at the site along with the police.
“We were celebrating Teej (a local festival) with relatives, when I stepped outside and saw that many policemen had surrounded my house,” said Babita Adiley, a 27-year-old woman whose house was demolished. “I didn’t get even a day’s notice. When I protested and asked to see an eviction notice, the police dragged me away. Some of our belongings inside the house were destroyed.”
Ram Prasad, a neighbour whose house was also demolished, said, “When we saw Babita being beaten and the police entering her home, we got scared. We picked up whatever of our belongings we could carry and ran out of our house.” Other villagers also said that they had not received any notice of the evictions. Local government officials told Amnesty International India that they were not aware of any specific notices having been served about the evictions.
The expansion of the Gevra mine, one of India’s largest open-cast coal mines, will further affect thousands of other families who are already impacted by air pollution, depletion of their water resources and loss of common lands. India’s Central Pollution Control Board ranks Korba among the country’s most critically polluted regions.
The Korba district is protected under the Indian Constitution as a ‘scheduled area’, where Adivasi communities live. Under the Panchayats (Extension to the Scheduled Areas) Act, communities in these areas have the right to be consulted before acquisition of any land or resettlement of people for development projects. State authorities have not conducted such consultations.
Authorities have also failed to ensure that local communities’ lawful claims over common lands were settled before clearance was granted for the mine expansion, or that communities’ consent was sought before using forest land for non-forest purposes, as required by India’s Forest Rights Act.
Laxmi Chauhan, a local environmental activist, told Amnesty International India, “Despite Korba being a protected area, communities are being evicted without any respect for their rights. Instead of following the law, SECL has been claiming that the PESA Act does not apply to them”.
“The Chhattisgarh government must ensure that those who have been forcibly evicted receive effective remedy and reparation, and it must take action against any officials involved in the forced evictions,” said Aruna Chandrasekhar.
“No more evictions should take place until communities’ rights to consultation and free, prior and informed consent are respected.”
Under Indian environmental law, certain development projects are required to hold public hearings, as part of their environmental clearance process, for authorities to consult local people and address their concerns. Public hearings are among the few avenues available for communities to express their concerns about the impacts of a project on their lives and livelihoods.
India’s Ministry of Environment and Forests (MoEF) cleared the expansion of the Gevra mine in January 2014. Authorities exempted the project from conducting an environmental public hearing to inform and consult communities on the impacts of the expansion. The Ministry has recently issued a series of policy memorandums which exempt more coal mining expansion projects from holding public hearings. The latest of these was issued on 2 September 2014 and allows coal mines that produce over 20 MTPA of coal to expand their production by another 6 MTPA without holding a public hearing.
Under international human rights law and standards, the Indian government has a duty to respect and protect the rights of individuals to participate in decisions that affect them. Changes to environment policies which weaken consultation processes could undermine the rights of communities affected by these projects.
Featured Image: Gevra, one of Asia’s largest coal mines, is set to expand to extract 40 million tonnes of coal a year. Pic: Aruna Chandrasekhar
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