The district's latest Rs 307 crore sanctions fail issues of livelihood and healthcare, which are longstanding challenges for the worst-affected mining areas
LED street lighting, renovation of town hall and a multi-crore flyover is most of what Dhanbad district has invested in through a fund meant for mining-affected people and areas.
The latest investments made by Dhanbad under District Mineral Foundation (DMF) show that about 86 per cent of the Rs 307 crore-plus sanctions are for physical infrastructure in the town, having no bearing on the pressing needs of the mining-affected people. This includes a Rs 256 crore flyover, Rs 4 crore for LED street lighting and another Rs 5 crore town hall renovation, as per details available from the state mines department.
DMF has been set up under the Mines and Minerals (Development and Regulation) Amendment Act, 2015, to benefit people in India’s mining-affected districts.
The mining companies pay a defined proportion of the royalty to DMF as a way of sharing profits with those who have been affected by mining-related operations. The Act states very clearly that the funds have to be used for the “interest and benefit of persons and areas affected by mining-related operations.”
Dhanbad is one of the biggest coal mining districts in Jharkhand, accounting for about 32 per cent of the total coal produced by the state. The district also has the highest collection of DMF funds — about Rs 860 crore so far — in Jharkhand.
The residents of Dhanbad municipality, including Jharia, are highly dissatisfied with the state of affairs. “My area faces severe challenges of health, water crisis and pollution. Mining from this ward contributes major revenue, but no project has been taken under DMF till date,” claims Nandulal Sengupta, ward parshad from ward number 7 in Dhanbad municipal area — that is 100 per cent directly-affected by mining.
An assessment of DMF investments in Dhanbad district, done by New Delhi-based non-profit Centre for Science and Environment (CSE), shows that in the past three years no need-based and bottom-up planning has happened in Dhanbad.
In fact, this is true for most mining districts in Jharkhand. This is despite the mandate of Jharkhand DMF Rules, which require districts to do bottom up annual planning, by engaging with people in mining-affected areas and taking their opinion for making DMF sanctions.
“Absence of need-based and inclusive planning not only goes against the regulatory requirements, what is worst is that it leaves out the people and areas which are worst-affected by mining and fails to address their immediate needs,” says Srestha Banerjee, program manager of environmental governance unit at CSE.
The CSE study had shown that out of Rs 935 crore sanctioned through DMF in the district, between 2016 and 2018 (based on estimated accrual), none was for the worst-affected Jharia area, which falls within Dhanbad municipality.
Funds were entirely sanctioned for rural drinking water schemes which were earlier pending with the state government, and for building toilets. This followed a direction that was issued by the state government in 2016.
“It is extremely unfortunate that even now the district is failing the people of Jharia. A key problem in the area is income security. Even women and children work in hazardous situations in the coal fields to earn a living. Since there is no opportunity for livelihood elsewhere, they cannot afford to move. But, instead of giving funds for their livelihood, the district is building a Rs 250 crore flyover in the town,” says Banerjee.
Working in hazardous situation in the coal mining areas along with severe pollution all around has taken a toll on people’s health. The district has a very high burden of chronic diseases such as asthma and tuberculosis (TB). But, it has an acutely inadequate public health infrastructure, which is slowly crumbling.
The CSE study showed that there is a 60 per cent deficit of doctors and more than 70 per cent deficit of nurses and healthcare technicians. The primary healthcare centres are catering to double their capacity in both urban and rural areas. The investments in Dhanbad fail to address this situation.
The ward members also complain that the district administration is not paying attention to their proposals. “We have submitted proposals related to DMF in our board meeting, but the proposals never received approval. Focus is only on issues that is priority of the government,” says Dewashish Paswan, ward parshad from ward number 10.
If Dhanbad is serious about implementing DMF effectively, it needs to assess the needs of the mining-affected people by engaging with them. The state government need to take necessary reforms and give directions to districts so that this does not happen.
At a time when people are pressed by issues of poverty, lack of jobs and absence of basic healthcare, funds like DMF cannot be left to be misused on big ticket infrastructure sanctions.
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