Mining sans social consent
The sole coal mining company in Andhra Pradesh‘s Godavari valley, Singareni Collieries Company Limited (SCCL), wants to convert its two underground mines in Manuguru municipal area to open cast. By 2018, it hopes to do open cast mining in 688 hectares (ha).
As per the Ministry of Environment and Forests’ environmental clearance letter, four villages, comprising 1,248 households will be affected. These are Padmagudem, Kommangudem, Eggadigudem and Mallepeli. But residents say the conversion will affect four more villages—Annaram, Kondapuram, Anantharam, Kothakondapuram. Forty per cent of the population here are Scheduled Tribe and Scheduled Caste (see ‘People in trouble’). They depend on the forests for their livelihood.
The proposed project will take away 33.5 ha forestland. This will add to the 1,312 ha forestland already acquired by SCCL.
The company has been operating in over 2,186 ha since 1975, when the state government granted it the land on 30 years’ lease. In 2008, the company’s forest clearance for the land was cumulatively renewed, but without people’s consent.
Forest Rights Act (FRA) of 2006 states gram sabha’s nod is mandatory before the grant of forest clearance. “During forestland diversions, consent should be taken from forest-dependent people who may live inside or outside the forest area,” says RAVI REBBAPRAGADA of Samata, non-profit working for tribal rights in the state. He is also a member of the forest rights committee.
The four villages which will be affected as per the ministry were converted to Manuguru municipality in 2005, making it easy for the company to acquire land without taking people’s consent.
“Mine conversion will enhance production. Underground mine is less productive and unsafe,”says S Chandrashekhar, general manager (coordination). “Displacement is happening in scheduled areas near the Godavari. People do not like to leave such areas. But compensation process has started,” he says.
Coal mining is essential considering that the state is power starved, says RAJKUMAR, safety officer. “Coal mining is a one quick solution to address the power issue,” he adds.
“Social clearance is essential in scheduled areas. Converting an area into municipality and grabbing land, thus escaping FRA and Panchayat (Extension to Scheduled Areas) Act (PESA), is unjust.” says Rebbapragada. PESA defines land acquisition process in scheduled areas.
Company officials contend, “Only five per cent of the project’s total requirement is forestland. We have the district collector’s certificates which state that his office did not receive any forest rights claims.”
Konda Reddis and Koya tribes live in the eight villages. They collect beedi leaves, gums, barks and other minor forest produce, and sell them to Girijan Cooperative Corporation (GCC), a state body. Last year, GCC received 50,000 kg of gum and barks, 100 quintals of mahua flower and seeds worth Rs.20 lakh, says A Ramaswamy, divisional manager of GCC.
Other residents work in agricultural land in and near forest areas to earn a living. People of Manuguru have also been victims of multiple displacement. About 12 years ago, SCCL displaced tribals of old Kothakondapuram to new Kothakondapuram for its mines.
“If displaced, I do not know what I will do for a living,” sobs Padma Chukuma of Padmagudem.
Clearly, people of Manuguru know how to earn a livelihood only in forest areas. If displaced to plain areas because of SCCL’s expansion plans, their lives will be at risk.