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

India under Modi among top 10 autocratizing nations, on verge of 'losing' democracy status

By Rajiv Shah
A new report, prepared by a top Swedish institute studying liberal democracy, has observed that there has been a sharp “dive in press freedom along with increasing repression of civil society in India associated with the current Hindu-nationalist regime of Prime Minister Narendra Modi.” The report places India among the top 10 countries that “have autocratized the most”. Other countries that have been identified for rolling towards autocracy are -- Hungary, Turkey, Poland, Serbia, Brazil, Mali, Thailand, Nicaragua and Zambia.

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.

Gujarat link of controversial US doctor who 'forced' WHO quiz Trump's wonder drug

By Rajiv Shah
A top American doctor, Sapan Sharankishor Desai, born and raised in the “affluent” North Shore (Chicago) region of Illinois by Indian parents, at one point of time involved in NGO activity through  dedicated to “improving” the lives of the impoverished in Gujarat, is in the eyes of a major international storm following his paper (retracted) in a “Lancet” questioning Donald Trump-promoted drug hydroxychloroquine.

Border conflict? RBI nod India's 'brotherly' help to China internationalise its currency

By Bhabani Shankar Nayak*
In the middle of a global pandemic, China started an unprovoked border conflict with India. It unraveled trust deficit and ties between the two neighbours. As thousands of Chinese troops tried occupying Indian territory, the Narendra Modi-led BJP government directs the Reserve Bank of India (RBI) to allow the Bank of China to start regular banking services in India. The Bank of China will now operate in India like any other commercial banks.

RSS supremo Deoras 'supported' Emergency, but Indira, Sanjay Gandhi 'didn't respond'

By Shamsul Islam*
National Emergency was imposed on the country by then Prime Minister Indira Gandhi on June 25-26, 1975, and it lasted for 19 months. This period is considered as ''dark times' for Indian democratic polity. Indira Gandhi claimed that due to Jaiprakash Narayan's call to the armed forces to disobey the 'illegal' orders of Congress rulers had created a situation of anarchy and there was danger to the existence of Indian Republic so there was no alternative but to impose Emergency under article 352 of the Constitution.

Clean chit to British rulers, Muslim League? Karnataka to have Veer Savarkar flyovers

By Shamsul Islam*
The BJP government of Karnataka led by BS Yediyurappa is going to honour Hindutva icon VD Savarkar by naming two of the newly built major flyovers in Bangalore and Mangalore after him. There was a huge uproar against this decision of the RSS-BJP government as many pro-Kannada organisations with opposition parties and liberal-secular organizations questioned the logic to ignore so many freedom fighters, social reformers and others from within the state.

Hurried nod to Western Ghat projects: 16 lakh Goans' water security 'jeopardised'

Counterview Desk
Taking strong exception to "virtual clearances" to eco-sensitive projects in the Western Ghats, the National Alliance of People’s Movements (NAPM) in a statement has said urged for a review of the four-lane highway, 400 KV transmission line and double tracking of the railway line through the Bhagwan Mahavir Wildlife Sanctuary and Mollem National Park in Goa.

Disturbing signal? Reliance 'shifting focus' away from Indian petrochemical sector

By NS Venkataraman*
Reliance Industries Ltd (RIL), a large Indian company, has expanded and grown in a spectacular manner during the last few decades, like of which no industrial group in India has performed before. RIL is now involved in multi various activities relating to petroleum refineries, petrochemicals, oil and gas exploration, coal bed methane, life sciences, retail business, communication network, (Jio platform) media/entertainment etc.

Case for nationalising India's healthcare system amidst 'strong' private control

Counterview Desk
A draft discussion note, prepared by Dr Maya Valecha, a Gujarat-based gynecologist and activist, sent to the People's Union for Civil Liberties (PUCL) as also a large number of activists, academics and professionals as an email alert, is all set to create a flutter among policy experts for its strong insistence on nationalizing India’s healthcare system.