Jharkhand-based coalition calls for mass protests against decision to open coal sector

The Jharkhand Janadhikar Mahasabha is also irked due to Chief Minister Hemant Soren’s decision to support the Centre’s move

By Mahtab Alam
Published: Thursday 18 June 2020
The central government, on June 18, initiated the auction of 41 coal blocks, including 20 in Jharkhand, for commercial mining. Photo: Agnimirh Basu / CSE

The Jharkhand Janadhikar Mahasabha, a state-level coalition of people’s organisations, has called for mass protests against the Centre’s decision to open India’s coal sector to commercial mining and the state chief minister’s in-principle support to it.

“Ironically, the move, touted as an atmanirbhar initiative, takes away all ownership rights of the land owners and Gram Sabhas and opens up natural resources for more corporate plunder,” the organisation said in a statement on June 18, 2020.

 “It is deeply worrying that the Jharkhand government has extended support to the central government’s decision,” it added.

Jharkhand chief minister Hemant Soren had written a letter to Union Minister of Coal and Mines Pralhad Joshi, on June 10, demanding a moratorium of the auction process in the coal sector by six to nine months.

The moratorium would ensure equitable sustainable mineral-based development in the state, Soren had said, while welcoming the Centre’s move to open up coal sector to commercial mining.

Soren had tweeted on June 12, with a copy of the letter written to Joshi. 

The central government, on June 18, initiated the auction of 41 coal blocks, including 20 in Jharkhand, for commercial mining. The Union coal ministry had made an announcement about the auction some days ago.

“It will be a historic day when the Indian coal sector will break free from the shackles of restrictions to charter new growth,” a statement by the ministry had said.

“Opening the state for domestic and foreign corporate mining entities will further destroy the livelihoods and environment,” the Mahasabha said in its statement.

“Mining companies supported by the government flout laws that aim to check environmental degradation, left, right and centre. Hundreds of un-reclaimed, spent-mines across the state stand witness to this,” it added.

“We will not allow this to happen in Jharkhand,” Bharat Bhushan Choudhary, a member of the Mahasabha, told this reporter.

“It is one thing to allot the blocks but making them operational is another. People on the ground will not do it because the life and livelihood of tribals are attached to it,” Choudhary said when it was pointed out that some of the blocks had already been allotted.

The Mahasabha was already in the process of mobilising public support and asking Gram Sabhas to pass resolutions against the move like Chhattisgarh, Choudhary said.

On Tuesday, nine elected sarpanches from the Hasdeo Arand area of Chhattisgarh had written a letter to Prime Minister Narendra Modi, opposing the auction and demanding a ban on mining in the area.

Choudhary also said the coalition would be making representations to the concerned ministries, officials, Soren and different political parties to make sure that mining was not allowed in the state.

“The decision also violates several legislations and constitutional provisions that aim to protect the poor and marginalised and the right of Adivasis to self-govern (atmanirbhar). Panchayats (Extension to Scheduled Areas) Act and 5th schedule provisions clearly define the role of Gram Sabhas as the primary decision-making body of a village,” the Mahasabha’s statement noted.

“It is expected that the state government will stand with the people in their fight against forceful acquisition of their land or mining on their land without their consent,” it added.

The debate on any form of mining needed to start from the question as to whether people of the area wanted mining to happen or not, the statement read.

“If people and Gram Sabhas want mining, cooperatives of land owners or Gram Sabhas can be supported by the government with capital and technological help to undertake mining and allied activities on their own,” it said. 

The Mahasabha is of view that, Gram Sabhas have effectively demonstrated their ability to manage forest and forest-based products.

“The Mahasabha firmly believes in community ownership of natural resources. Also, agricultural land and forests should not be used for any kind of mining,” the Mahasabha said.

“We demand that the state government take a firm stand against commercial mining and the centre’s decision to auction coal blocks, implement the laws and legislations that protect people’s rights to natural resources and self-govern, in letter and spirit, and present an alternative non-exploitative vision to the country,” the statement further said.

Prime Minister Narendra Modi launched the auction process on June 18.

“The steps taken towards commercial mining will be very helpful to eastern and central India by providing the local population with employment near their homes,” he said.

“The government has taken a decision to spend Rs 50,000 crore on creating infrastructure for coal extraction and transportation, which will also create employment opportunities,” he added.

The reforms and investment in the coal sector would play a big role in easing the lives of tribals. Extra revenue generated through coal production would be used for public welfare schemes in the region, Modi said.

States would continue to get help from the District Mineral Fund, from which a major chunk would be utilised in development of essential facilities in the surrounding areas, the prime minister noted.

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