Thursday, October 17, 2013

National Human Rights Commission goes sou motu, begins to take notice of illegal mining activities in states

By Our Representative
Anti-mining activists have noted that two of the recent National Human Rights Commission (NHRC) judgments suggest the top body may not take problems of the mining affected people lying down any more in India. One of them relates to a recent judgment by the NHRC where it issued notice to the Kerala government taking suo motu cognizance of allegations of illegal sand mining in coastal areas following reports that Jazeera V., a woman from Kerala, accompanied by her three small children, had moved to Delhi to protest at Jantar Mantar. 
Earlier, she sat for 64 days outside the Secretariat in Thiruvananthapuram, demanding action against sand mining mafia failed to yield any results, the NHRC issued a notice to the chief secretary, Government of Kerala, and district collector, Kannur, calling for their response to the allegations within two weeks.
“They have also been asked to inform about the legislative and administrative actions taken by the Government of Kerala for preventing illegal and indiscriminate mining of sand from the riverbeds and seashores, with particular reference to the Kannur district and to the allegations of Jazeera”, senior anti-mining activist Ashok Shrimali, following the development, said, adding, “Earlier, considering the matter an issue of protection of human rights, NHRC member Justice Cyriac Joseph visited the venue of the sit-in agitation by Jazeera, where she reiterated her allegations in the media reports that illegal sand mining in her hometown in district Kunnur has led to shrinking of the coastal area.”
Jazeera also said that this has resulted in the land around her house fast disappearing, the houses getting flooded during monsoon and that there was an imminent danger of losing the environment, which needed to be kept for the future generations. The NHRC observed that “illegal and indiscriminate mining of sand from the riverbeds and seashores raises serious environmental problems and threat to human rights”, adding, “It looks strange that 64 days sit-in agitation by Jazeera outside the Government Secretariat in Thiruvananthapuram did not produce any tangible result and it is unbelievable that the assurance stated to have been given by the Chief Minister of the State was not honoured and the illegal sand mining is continuing.”
The NHRC in its judgment also expressed concern over discontinuation of school education of Jazeera's two daughters, Rizvana, 12 years and Shifana, 10 years, as they were part of her sit-in agitation. It observed that “it would appear that Jazeera is ignoring her parental duty under Article 51 A (K) of the Constitution and Section 10 of the Right of Children to Free and Compulsory Education Act, 2009. Thus, action may be necessary to protect the right to education of her two daughters.”
In an earlier judgment, of November 2012, the Government of Goa was asked to pay Rs 5,000 each to 737 villagers, whose human rights were violated in police action a year earlier when they were protesting to stop illegal mining activities in and around village Carvem. “Now, the state government has been forced to submit proof of payment of a sum of Rs 36,85,000 paid to the victims. It recently informed that two members of a family refused to accept the financial relief, while three persons had expired. The commission has directed the additional secretary, department of home (general), Government of Goa to make payment, within four weeks, to the first class heirs of the three persons who had expired”, Shrimali said.
In their complaint to the NHRC, the villagers had alleged that they had been suffering from air and noise pollution as the mining truck owners and companies were plying their vehicles beyond the Government stipulated time. “The local police, instead of sympathizing with them, unleashed a reign of terror on innocent villagers and lathi-charged them”, Shrimali said.
In response to the NHRC's notice, the state government admitted that “some truck owners had violated the stipulated time schedule to operate trucks in the mining area and action was taken against them”, the activist said, adding, “The villagers were also apprehended under Section 151 Cr PC for blocking the roads and movement of mining transport”.
However, the NHRC said that the state government did not make it clear whether the mining activities were going on in the area legally or illegally. It took note of the state government's submission that separate cases and a commission of enquiry under Justice MB Shah was looking into the issue of illegal mining, but also observed that human rights of the villagers protesting against illegal mining were violated. Therefore, it issued notice to the chief secretary, Government of Goa to show cause why monetary relief should not be paid to the victims of police action.
Having received no response on merit, the NHRC recommended the amount of monetary relief after which the state government, while admitting the delay in response to show cause notice, requested the NHRC to reconsider its decision as the economy of the state had been affected badly due to stoppage of mining activities. The NHRC did not accept this contention and eventually issued conditional summons for the personal appearance of the chief secretary seeking a compliance report on its recommendation. In response, the additional Secretary, department of home (general) submitted the proof of payment of monetary relief.

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