Skip to main content

Coal blocks for tycoons: Rinchi village tribals may be declared forest land encroachers

Renchi villagers' protest in 2018, declaring Gram Sabha as supreme
By Gladson Dungdung*
On June 18, 2020, the Government of India initiated the process for auctioning 41 coal blocks for commercialisation. These coal blocks are located in different states within India and most of them fall under Fifth Schedule areas. The Indian government claims that their decision to auction these coal areas is a big step towards making the country Atmanirbhar Bharat (self-reliant) in the energy sector.
The government envisages an investment of 33,000 crore, which would create 2.8 lakh jobs including 70,000 direct and 2,10,000 indirect jobs. Presently, India produces 60.40 million tons of coal per annum (2018-19), and the new initiates would be adding 15 percent to it.
However, coal auction has opened the flood gate for the private sector, which will suppress the rights of the people mostly the Adivasis, who comprise the indigenous peoples of India. As of now, the public sector undertaking companies have monopoly over the coal production in India.
The Eastern Coalfield Limited (ECL), Bharat Coking Coal Limited (BCCL), Central Coalfields Limited (CCL), Western Coalfields Limited (WCL), South Eastern Coalfields Limited (SECL) and the Mahanadi Coalfields Limited (MCL) are the major actors, who have played a crucial role in coal mining. But after the auctioning of 41 coal blocks, private entities like Adani, Tata and others will be taking over.
These actions of the government has, unsurprisingly, generated insecurity amongst the Adivasis. Their land and traditional habitations can be acquired at any point of time without their consent. The threat of losing livelihood resources has multiplied in those areas, where the Adivasis have been struggling to protect their forest rights. The case of Rinchi village is one such example to understand the threat of such a coal auction.
After hearing about the proposed auction, Birendra Oraon, village headman of Rinchi village in Latehar district of Jharkhand, is a much worried man. The Adivasis and other traditional forest dwellers of his village may lose nearly 300 acres of forest land, which they have occupied and cultivated for generations.
The District Level Committee (DLC) has rejected the claims of 72 Adivasi families, stating that a coal block will be in the region (meeting minutes of DLFRC held on April 23, 2015). Another 27 claims are also in the process of rejection. Despite the fact that the villagers have been running from pillar to post, no one is ready to hear their cries for justice.
Rinchi village is situated in the middle of two coal blocks – Rajbar and Banhardi. The government has leased out these coal blocks to Cooking Coal Limited and Tenughat Vidhyut Nigam. Both the companies were not able to, thus far, realize their claims due to resistance of the people. Now, these very same coal blocks are ready to be auctioned to the private companies.
If the coal block is opened up for mining, these villagers will lose their land without any compensation, as they do not have entitlement papers of the land. Indeed, the government will claim the land as its property and the villagers will be declared as encroachers of the forest land and they are likely to be forcefully evicted from their livelihood resources.
The struggle of villagers for their forest rights entered a new phase after the Indian government passed the Forest Rights Act (FRA) in 2006, even though its intention was to right the historic wrongs.
They came to know about the FRA from the representatives of Adivasis organisations. Ninety nine families, including 80 Adivasis (ST), 11 other backward communities (OBC) and eight Scheduled Caste (SC) families of the village filed individual claims in the Gram Sabha (village council).
After verification of the claims, the Gram Sabha with its recommendation for recognition of the forest rights, submitted the claims to the Sub-Division Level Committee (SDLC), Latehar. The SDLC after proper verification recommended 72 claims to the DLC, Latehar for recognition of the forest rights and sent back the other 27 claims to the Gram Sabha for re-verification as these claims lacked site maps, evidence or verification from the local authority.
The DLC in its meeting held on April 23, 2015 rejected all 72 claims, giving the coal blocks as the reason. As per the DLC meeting minutes, the Divisional Forest Officer (DFO) informed the DLC in the meeting that the land is proposed for the coal block. After hearing the concern of the DFO, the DLC rejected the FRA claims (ibid) of the Adivasis.
The act of the DLC is a clear violation of section 4(1) and (5) of the FRA. It is clearly mentioned in section 4(5) that no member of a forest dwelling Scheduled Tribe or other traditional forest dweller shall be evicted or removed from forest land under his occupation till the recognition and verification procedure is complete. The DLC has bypassed the recommendations of the SDLC and Gram Sabha.
The DLC rejected the claims of the 72 Adivasis, including that of the village headman Birendra Oraon, who had filed a claim for 4.77 acres of forest land. The SDLC had recommended recognition of his rights, but the DLC rejected it.
State-corporate nexus has overthrown the rights of Adivasis. There has been onslaught on their land, territory and natural resources
Similarly, Sunita Devi had claimed her rights over 4.80 acres of land, which the SDLC had recommended, but DLC rejected her claim too. Another villager Mangal Minj had filed a claim for 9.83 acres of land, again recommended by the SDLC, but the DLC rejected it. The DLC clearly misused its power given under the Section 6(6) of FRA, which reads that the decision of the District Level Committee on the record of forest rights shall be final and binding (ibid).
Interestingly, the DLC did not inform the Gram Sabha about the rejection of FRA claims. Since the DLC was not informing them about the status of their FRA claims, they decided to file a petition under the Right to Information Act (RTI), 2005. 
They were shocked after receiving the information under the RTI. Their claims were rejected. The DLC is the ultimate authority to decide on an FRA claim, so they had no way to appeal against the injustice. However, they decided to protest. They have held a series of meetings and protests, but no one has been ready to hear them.
Interestingly, the DFO, whose prime duty is to protect the forests, is much interested in the coal block. He seems to be ready to allocate the forest land for coal mining but he is against giving rights to the Adivasis on the same land. The DLC rejected the recommendations of the SDLC and Gram Sabha, which clearly shows that the DLC has vested interests.
The apprehension is that the coal mafias are behind the rejection of the FRA of the Adivasis. The rejection of FRA for the coal block is a clear violation of FRA section 4(5). In other words, this decision of the Latehar DLC is a continuation to the historic injustice meted out against Adivasis.
Meanwhile, the Gram Sabha actively communicated with the government authorities. After verifying the 27 rejected claims they sent the list back to the SDLC. The SDLC took up the matter in its meeting held on 4th August 2016, and found some lacuna in the claim documents, so the decision was taken to send it back to the Gram Sabha.
As per the meeting minutes of the SDLC, Gram Sabha had submitted the claims forms with proper verification. However, the attached document was not attested by the Circle Officer. This is apparently why it was decided to send it back to the Gram Sabha for the proper verification of documents (SDLC meeting minutes, August 4, 2016). 
After receiving the documents, the Gram Sabha conducted a meeting, and got the signature of the Circle Officer on them and submitted them to the SDLC on March 16, 2017. However, the villagers were not informed about the status of their claims despite many efforts to extract the information. The villagers apprehend that their claim may also be rejected for the coal block. 
This is a clear example, which exposes that the state has been primarily batting to serve the corporate interests by violating the people’s fundamental rights. The biggest threat is that once the 27 remaining claims are rejected, the State may throw out these villagers from the vicinity in order to mine coal.
The auction of 41 coal blocks without consent of the Governors of Fifth Schedule States, Tribe Advisory Councils and Gram Sabhas, is a gross violation of the provisions of the Fifth Schedule of Indian Constitution, PESA Act 1996, Forest Rights Act 2006 and the Supreme Court’s Samata Judgement and Niyamgiri Judgement, which legitimate the role of Gram Sabha in managing the natural resources of a village.
However, the Indian state has suppressed its Constitution and laws for benefiting the private coal sectors companies, who play a crucial role during the Indian election by flooding money. Indeed, the state-corporate nexus has overthrown the rights of Adivasis. There has been onslaught on the Adivasis’ land, territory and natural resources, which needs to be check immediately for the protection of the Adivasis rights.
---
*Human rights activist researcher, writer, motivator and public speaker based in Ranchi. A version of this article was first published in Adivasi Hunkar

Comments

TRENDING

Swami Vivekananda's views on caste and sexuality were 'painfully' regressive

By Bhaskar Sur* Swami Vivekananda now belongs more to the modern Hindu mythology than reality. It makes a daunting job to discover the real human being who knew unemployment, humiliation of losing a teaching job for 'incompetence', longed in vain for the bliss of a happy conjugal life only to suffer the consequent frustration.

How lead petitioner was rendered homeless when GM mustard matter came up in SC

By Rosamma Thomas*  On January 5, 2023, the Supreme Court stayed a December 20, 2022 direction of the Uttarakhand High Court to the Indian Railways and the district administration of Haldwani to use paramilitary forces to evict thousands of poor families occupying land that belonged to the railways.  Justice AS Oka remarked that it was not right to order the bringing in of paramilitary forces. The SC held that even those who had no rights, but were living there for years, needed to be rehabilitated. On December 21, 2022, just as she was getting ready to celebrate Christmas, researcher Aruna Rodrigues was abruptly evicted from her home in Mhow Cantonment, Madhya Pradesh – no eviction notice was served, and nearly 30 Indian Army soldiers bearing arms were part of the eviction process. What is noteworthy in this case is that the records establishing possession of the house date back to 1892 – the title deed with the name of Dr VP Cardoza, Rodrigues’ great grandfather, is dated November 14

Buddhist shrines were 'massively destroyed' by Brahmanical rulers: Historian DN Jha

Nalanda mahavihara By Our Representative Prominent historian DN Jha, an expert in India's ancient and medieval past, in his new book , "Against the Grain: Notes on Identity, Intolerance and History", in a sharp critique of "Hindutva ideologues", who look at the ancient period of Indian history as "a golden age marked by social harmony, devoid of any religious violence", has said, "Demolition and desecration of rival religious establishments, and the appropriation of their idols, was not uncommon in India before the advent of Islam".

Savarkar 'criminally betrayed' Netaji and his INA by siding with the British rulers

By Shamsul Islam* RSS-BJP rulers of India have been trying to show off as great fans of Netaji. But Indians must know what role ideological parents of today's RSS/BJP played against Netaji and Indian National Army (INA). The Hindu Mahasabha and RSS which always had prominent lawyers on their rolls made no attempt to defend the INA accused at Red Fort trials.

Tax buoyancy claims when less than 4% Indian dollar millionaires pay income tax

By Prasanna Mohanty  In FY18, the last year for which disaggregated income tax data is available, only 29,002 ITRs declared income above Rs 5 crore, while Credit Suisse said India had 7.25 lakh dollar millionaires (the wealth equivalent of Rs 8 crore and above) that year. Often enough, the Centre claims that demonetization in 2016 raised tax collections, improved tax efficiency, and expanded the tax base. Now RBI Monetary Policy Committee (MPC) member Ashima Goyal has also joined their ranks, attributing the “claims” of rising tax collections in the current fiscal year to “tax buoyancy” brought by the demonetisation . Do such claims have any basis in official records? The answer is unequivocal. The budget documents show the tax-to-GDP ratio (direct plus indirect tax) increased from 10.6% in FY16 (pre-demonetization) to 11.2% in FY17, remained there in FY18 (demonetization and GST fiscals), and then fell to 9.9% in FY20. In FY22, it improved to 10.8% and is estimated to drop to 10.7% in

Gandhian unease at Mahadev Desai book launch: Sabarmati Ashram may lose free space

By Rajiv Shah  A simmering apprehension has gripped the Gandhians who continue to be trustees of the Sabarmati Ashram: the “limited freedom” to express one’s views under the Modi dispensation still available at the place which Mahatma Gandhi made his home from 1917 to 1930 may soon be taken away. Also known as Harijan Ashram, a meeting held for introducing yet-to-be-released book, “Mahadev Desai: Mahatma Gandhi's Frontline Reporter”, saw speaker and after speaker point towards “narrowing space” in Gujarat for Gandhians (as also others) to express themselves. Penned by veteran journalist Nachiketa Desai, grandson of Mahadev Desai, while the book was planned to be released on January 1 and the meeting saw several prominent personalities, including actor-director Nandita Das, her scholar-mother Varsha Das, British House of Lords member Bhikhu Parekh, among others, speak glowingly about the effort put in for bringing out the book, exchanges between speakers suggested it should be rele

Civil rights leaders allege corporate loot of resources, suppression of democratic rights

By Our Representative  Civil rights activists have alleged, quoting top intelligence officers as also multiple international forensic reports, that recent developments with regard to the Bhima Koregaon and the Citizenship Amendment Act-National Register of Citizens (CAA-NRC) cases suggest, there was "no connection between the Elgaar Parishad event and the Bhima Koregaon violence." Activists of the Campaign Against State Repression (CASR) told a media event at the HKS Surjeet Bhawan, New Delhi, that, despite this, several political prisoners continue to be behind bars on being accused under the anti-terror the draconian Unlawful Activities (Prevention) Act. Addressed by family members of the political prisoners, academics, as well as social activists, it was highlighted how cases were sought to be fabricated against progressive individuals, democratic activists and intellectuals, who spoke out against "corporate loot of Indian resources, suppression of basic democratic

Kerala natural rubber producers 'squeezed', attend to their plight: Govt of India told

By Rosamma Thomas   Babu Joseph, general secretary of the National Federation of Rubber Producers Societies (NFRPS) at a recent discussion at Mahatma Gandhi University, Kottayam, explained that it is high time the Union government paid greater heed to the troubles plaguing the rubber production sector in India – rubber is a strategic product, important for the military establishment and for industry, since natural rubber is still used in the manufacture of tyres for large vehicles and aeroplanes. Synthetic rubber is now quite widespread, but styrene, which is used in making synthetic rubber and plastics, and also butadiene, another major constituent of synthetic rubber, are both hazardous. Prolonged exposure to these even in recycled rubber can cause neurological damage. Kerala produces the bulk of India’s natural rubber. In 2019-20, Kerala’s share in the national production of rubber was over 74%. Over 20% of the gross cropped area in the state is under rubber cultivation, with total

Cyrus Mistry, PM Modi’s brother: What do these accidents have in common? Merc!

By Rosamma Thomas*  In September 2022, in an accident at Palghar near Mumbai, Cyrus Mistry, former chairman of the Tata Group, died in a road accident . On December 28, 2022, a road accident in Mysore left one of Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s brothers injured. What is common in these accidents? The car that crashed into the divider on the road, in both these cases, was manufactured by “prestigious” German manufacturer Mercedes Benz. One former dealer of Mercedes Benz cars in India has been raising issues of the threat to the lives of those riding these cars for many years now. Cama Motors, among the oldest dealers of foreign cars, having started business in pre-independence India, noted over 10 years ago that Mercedes Benz was indulging in corrupt practices . The cars are currently priced between Rs 41 lakh and Rs 2.92 crore in India; few people realize that the pride of owning a Merc comes at considerable risk to life. Cama Motors carefully documented several of the flaws on a websi

Bangladesh 'rights violations': US softens stance, fears increased clout of China, India

By Tilottama Rani Charulata*  In December 2021, in addition to the Rapid Action Battalion (RAB), the United States imposed sanctions on seven former and current officers of the force, alleging serious human rights violations. Benazir Ahmed and former RAB-7 commander Miftah Uddin Ahmed were banned from entering the US. RAB as an institution was also canceled the support it was getting from the US and its allies. At the same time, those under the ban have been notified of confiscation of assets held abroad. The anti-crime and anti-terrorism unit of the Bangladesh Police, RAB is the elite force consisting of members of the Bangladesh Army, Bangladesh Police, Bangladesh Navy, Bangladesh Air Force, Border Guard Bangladesh, Bangladesh Civil Service and Bangladesh Ansar, and has been criticized by rights groups for its use of extrajudicial killings and is accused of forced disappearances. The government of Bangladesh has been insisting about lifting the ban on RAB, but the US had till recen