“The immeasurable loss/damage to Adivasi community, their land, their forest, their environment must be accounted for and criminal cases for fraud must be filed against mine-owners.”
By Stan Swamy,
CAG Report: In a draft report issued in March 2014, the Controller and Auditor General of India (CAG) office accused the Government of India of allocating coal blocks in an inefficient manner during the period 2004–2009. The Government had the authority to allocate coal blocks by a process of competitive bidding, but chose not to. As a result both public sector enterprises (PSEs) and private firms paid less than they might have otherwise. In its final report in March the CAG estimated that the “windfall gain” to the allocatees was 1856 billion (US$30 billion).[ India Real Time – WSJ, 27 August 2012.].
Justice M.B. Shah Commission Report: Companies including SAIL, TATA Steel and JSWSteel “illegally” extracted iron ore and manganese worth Rs. 14,541 crore in Jharkhand and this amount should be recovered from them…Companies were mining in as many as 40 leases in West Singhbhum, including thick Saranda forests, in violation of rules & regulations between 1994 and 2006… flagrant misuse of rules by various firms, windfall profits to them due to meager royalty rates, diversion of forest land and granting undue favours to companies like JSW Steel. Companies like Usha Martin are alleged to have paid levy to extremists. As much as 24% of Saranda forests area was demarcated for grant of lease to companies like Rungta Mines. The Commission recommends termination of the 24 leases in Saranda Forest and suggests any further depletion should not take place. It deplores that authorities allowed lessees to operate the mines without lawful authority. [Times of India, Ranchi edition,5/8/2014]
Shah Commission further mentions that Tata Steel has been granted prospecting license in Gua, West Singhbhum, for 1,808 hectares. The Commission suggests there is no need to grant this lease. Rather, the area should be made inviolate area and should be included in Conservation Reserve. [as reported in Times of India, Ranchi ed., 11/8/2014]
Supreme Court verdict: On 25 August 2014 the Supreme Court of India, taking into account both the above Reports, declared all 218 coal allocations granted from 1993 onwards as illegal and therefore invalid. The reason the court gave for this extraordinary decision is that govt’s Screening Committee had functioned in an unaccountable, non-transparent and illegal manner. On 24th September the court cancelled 214 of 218 coal-allocations. It exempted only four public sector mines which are in production stage. The companies which did illegal mining were ordered to pay Rs.295 per each illegally- mined-ton of coal. However the present govt, inclined as it is to privatize the production process, is happy because it can go on an auctioning spree and the corporate sector will only be too pleased. The big fish will swallow the small fish in the auctions and capture production, marketing the 301 billion tons of the coal deposit available in the country. It may be noted Jharkhand State has the highest share of 80 billion tons and coal companies have been given lease-rights over 2,45,424 acres of land in Jharkhand . The hawks will eat up Jharkhand in no time.
Where are the Indigenous Adivasi peoples in the illegal mining imbroglio?
The Indigenous Adivasi People figure nowhere in the whole discourse on illegal mining presently going on in the SC of India. It is common knowledge that especially in the mineral- rich Adivasi /Tribal dominant central India most mining, both legal and illegal, has taken place in Adivasi land and in forests where Adivasi people have their traditional rights. Land was forcibly acquired from them using the Land Acquisition Act of 1894. They were given some meager cash compensation and were displaced wholesale. No Indigenous Adivasi has ever been rehabilitated as it involves giving ‘land for land’, resettlement as a community and other social & cultural factors. On the other hand, outsiders have immigrated in large numbers and have taken over the whole economy and have captured govt bureaucracy and the media. The original inhabitants, namely the Indigenous Adivasis, are an impoverished lot facing extinction. Sad the SC has nothing to say on the matter.
Criminal cases should be filed against companies guilty of mining illegally.
When a poor man steals a cycle, he is caught, case filed against him and sent to jail. Most often there is no one to bail him out, govt does not provide free legal aid, and the poor fellow has to rot in jail for years. How come then that corporates can dupe the govt and land-owners by thousands of crores of rupees , do illegal mining, make huge profits and can walk off with their illegally acquired money? If there is even a modicum of justice, the top bosses of the corporates should be put in jail, made to return the looted money to govt and land-owners and criminal cases filed against them. One hopes the court will look into this too.
The writer is a veteran human rights activist based in Ranchi.