11 September 2020
They say move will hit indigenous people as mines are mostly concentrated in their lands.
Global and Indian NGOs have asked India to stop the use of coal for reviving the country’s economy as coal mines are mostly concentrated in the lands of indigenous people who have been “bearing the brunt” of the COVID-19 pandemic.
The Denmark-based International Work Group for Indigenous Affairs (IWGIA) and the New Delhi-based Indigenous Lawyers’ Association of India (ILWA), besides National Campaign Against Torture (NCAT), made the appeal ahead of the auctioning of 41 coal blocks slated for September 29.
“The coal mines are mostly concentrated in the lands inhabited by India’s indigenous peoples in Madhya Pradesh (11 mines), Chhattisgarh, Jharkhand and Odisha (nine each) and Maharashtra (three)… a staggering 30 coal blocks (73%) do not have the mandatory clearance required under the Forest (Conservation) Act of 1980, and 37 coal blocks (over 90%) do not have the mandatory clearance required under the Environment Impact Assessment Notification 2006,” said Kathrin Wessendorf, director of IWGIA.
“The auctioning of the coal blocks without obtaining mandatory legal clearances… is bad news for the rule of law with respect to the most vulnerable people on the planet,” she said, adding that using coal for reviving the economy through Aatma Nirbhar Bharat Abhiyan (Self-Reliant India Mission) would be at the cost of the indigenous peoples.
“Historically, indigenous peoples have borne the brunt of India’s development. The Planning Commission had in October 2001 said 21.3 million people were displaced by various development projects during 1951-1990. Despite constituting only 8% of India’s total population in 1991, 40.1% tribal people were displaced by such projects during that period. They must not once again be forced to bear the brunt of India’s COVID-19 economic recovery plans,” said ILWA president Dilip Chakma.
Also calling for the withdrawal of the Environmental Impact Assessment Notification of 2020, the NGOs expressed concern over 30 proposals approved or discussed for clearance through virtual meetings by India’s highest advisory bodies under the Environment Ministry during the lockdown.
These projects include the Etalin Hydro Electric Project in Arunachal Pradesh, coal mining in Assam’s Dehing Patkai Elephant Reserve, a highway through Bhagwan Mahavir Wildlife Sanctuary in Goa and a limestone mine in the eco-sensitive zone of Gir National Park.
“The government is now promoting lawlessness with respect to the development projects in the lands inhabited by the indigenous peoples. The legal protections are being systematically undermined,” said NCAT coordinator Suhas Chakma.