Skip to main content

Coal blocks to corporates to affect people's health, pollute air, water: Letter to PM

Dr Rajendra Singh
Counterview Desk
As many as 140 concerned individuals and civil society organizations led by Dr Rajendra Singh, known as the “waterman of India”, have strongly protested against the Government of India move to auction 41 coal blocks in several states, stating, the mining in those areas would adversely affect the river catchments, reduce the water inflows and also pollute the water that is consumed not only by the tribal communities who reside in the forest areas but also by the communities that live downstream.
In a letter, jointly prepared by well-known civil society networks Jal Biradari, mines, mineral & People (mm&P), and Aadivasi Ekata Parishad, and addressed to Prime Minister Narendra Modi, with copies to the chief ministers of the affected states – Madhya Pradesh, Chhattisgarh, Odisha, Jharkhand and Maharashtra – the letter says, the decision to auction the coal blocks undermine several environmental and forest rights laws, insisting, it will also affect agriculture but health of the people, and runs counter to the vision set out by the country’s water resources ministry.

Text:

We understand that the Union Ministry of Coal is going ahead with the auction of 41 coal blocks in Madhya Pradesh, Chhattisgarh, Odisha, Jharkhand and Maharashtra and that the private players to whom those coal blocks will be allotted will have the freedom to mine the coal and put it to any end-use they wish. Apparently, the government is planning to augment domestic coal production to reduce dependence on imports. Also, the coal auctions and coal mining will bring some revenues for the Centre and the States.
As a part of the civil society and, in particular, as those concerned about the need to conserve the existing fresh water sources in the country and revive those on the decline, we feel that the proposed coal mining activity will adversely affect the catchments of several important rivers in the northern and the eastern parts of the country. Therefore, the proposed coal auctions will not be prudent.
In order to elicit the views of the civil society, we conducted a webinar on July 4, 2020 in which several persons including advocates, environmental activists, women representatives, students etc. had participated. The webinar was held under the guidance of Dr Rajendra Singh of Tarun Bharat Sangh, Rajasthan. We enclose a summary of the deliberations that took place at the webinar. The concerns expressed at the webinar are briefly as follows:

Adverse impact on the catchments of several important rivers

The proposed coal blocks are largely located in dense forests which overlap the catchments of several rivers that constitute the lifeline of the communities downstream. The forest areas where mining will take place are rich in bio-resources and are home for a wide range of protected wild life species.
Handing over such a scarce resource to private players will amount to allowing the latter to profiteer at the cost of the public exchequer
Mining in those areas will adversely affect the river catchments, reduce the water inflows and also pollute the water that is consumed not only by the tribal communities who reside in the forest areas but also by the communities that live downstream. This will not only affect agriculture but also the health of the people, running counter to the vision set out by you for the Union Ministry of Jal Shakti.

Damage to the environment and wild life

We owe it to the posterity to conserve the environment and its rich biodiversity. Any loss in biodiversity can never be made good. Moreover, the value of the forest produce and the other bioresources that will be lost as a result of coal mining will far exceed the meagre benefits that twill accrue from it to the government. Therefore, purely on the basis of economic logic, the coal auctions do not stand to reason.

Adverse impact on the tribal communities

The coal blocks which are being auctioned cover several tribal tracts notified under the Fifth Schedule to the Constitution, which confers special rights on the tribal communities. The apex court, in several important cases, has reiterated that mining activity in the Scheduled Areas should not be entrusted to private players and coal mining if unavoidable should be carried out by cooperatives of the tribals or the government agencies.
In addition, under the two laws, namely, the Panchayats (Extension to the Scheduled Areas) Act,1996 (PESA) and the Scheduled Tribes and Other Traditional Forest Dwellers (Recognition of Forest Rights) Act, 2006 (known popularly as the Forest Rights Act), no projects can be taken up without the prior consent of the local tribal Gram Sabhas. Since no such consultation has taken place, we feel that the proposed coal auctions will violate the statute and may lead to avoidable litigation.
Anyway, since coal mining in the forests where the tribal reside will disrupt their lives, the least that the government ought to have done is to consult them beforehand. Failure to do so runs counter to the democratic spirit that underlued the Constitution.

Coal mining and its use are highly polluting activities

Coal contains toxic pollutants such as zinc, cadmium, arsenic, lead, mercury and radioactive isotopes that cause irreparable damage to the health of the people. Both the Centre and the States are incurring substantial expenditure on public health and that expenditure will become counter-productive if the health of the people is allowed to be affected by pollution in the air and in water. In the case of health, prevention is always better than cure, less expensive and will have more long lasting benefits.

Should coal production be augmented?

In view of the climate concerns and the impact of coal use on the global atmospheric temperatures, there has been a worldwide attempt to move away from coal towards renewable energy. Moreover, in India, there is excess dependence of the power system on thermal power, especially coal-based power, that has forced the coalbased power plants to operate at low capacity utilisation factors and add to the unit cost of electricity to the consumer.
In that context, we feel that it will not be prudent to move in the direction of higher coal use. Instead, India should go all out to uitilise the power house of solar energy. Roof-top solar generation in replacement of coalbased electricity will bring about a radical transformation of the energy scene to the benefit of the consumer.

Should a scarce natural resource like coal be handed over to private players?

Like any other natural resource, coal belongs to the people and the government is a trustee of it on behalf of the public. More important is the fact that, unlike bioresources, coal is a non-renewable resource. Handing over such a scarce resource to the private players will amount to allowing the latter to profiteer at the cost of the public exchequer.
Public control over coal mining and extraction of coal in line with the concept of sustainability should guide the public policy in this regard. In fact, these were the considerations that prompted the then government in the early seventies to nationalise the coal industry. We feel that it will not be desirable to reverse that policy.
We earnestly appeal to you not to proceed with the proposed coal auctions and, instead, adopt a policy as indicated above to move in the direction of renewable energy based on distributed generation. We are sure that you will ponder over what we have collectively opined and proceed accordingly.
---
Click here for signatories

Comments

TRENDING

Arrest of Fr Stan Swamy: UN makes public letter seeking explanation from Govt of India

Counterview Desk In a letter to the Government of India (GoI), three senior United Nations (UN) officials – Elina Steinerte, vice-chair of the Working Group on Arbitrary Detention; Mary Lawlor, special rapporteur on the situation of human rights defenders; and Fernand de Varennes, special rapporteur on minority issues – have said that the arrest of veteran activist Father Stan Swamy in October 2020 marks “the escalation of harassment the human rights defender has been subjected to since 2018.”

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.

Farm laws 'precursor' to free trade deal envisaged by US corporates to allow GMO

By Rajiv Shah Did the Government of India come up with the three farm laws, first rushed by promulgating ordinances in June 2020, to not just open the country’s agricultural sector to the corporate sector but also as a precursor to comply with the requirements of the United States for a Free Trade Agreement (FTA), as envisaged by the outgoing US president Donald Trump?

'These people shouldn't be in jail': UN official seeks release 16 human rights defenders

By Our Representative A United Nations human rights official has called upon the Government of India (GoI) to “immediately release" 16 human rights defenders who have been imprisoned on charges of terrorism in the Bhima-Koregaon Case, insisting, “These people should not be in jail. They are our modern-day heroes and we should all be looking to them and supporting them and demanding their release.”  

Differing from Ambedkar, Kancha Ilaiah holds a 'different' theory of caste system

By Banavath Aravind* I was introduced to Kancha Ilaiah’s work when I was about 20 years old. He was then in the midst of a controversy for a chapter in his book "Post-Hindu India: A Discourse in Dalit-Bahujan, Socio-Spiritual and Scientific Revolution", which termed the Baniya community as social smugglers. During many of his debates, I had come to notice his undeterred fighting spirit in trying to bring up certain fundamental social issues that were hitherto undiscussed. I eventually came across some of his works and started reading them silently. I’m deliberately stressing upon the word ‘silently’ here, as this was the kind of silence particularly associated with sensitive social issues like caste, religion, etc. But, as I write this essay, I feel silences on sensitive issues should be broken. Ilaiah opened up an entirely new debate that had the vigour and strength to counter the systemic Brahmanism. His methods of research were also novel in terms of going back to the roo

Fr Stan's arrest figures in UK Parliament: Govt says, Indian authorities were 'alerted'

London protest for release of Stan Swamy  By Rajiv Shah Will Father Stan Swamy’s arrest, especially the fact that he is a Christian and a priest, turn out to be major international embarrassment for the Government of India? It may well happen, if a recent debate on a resolution titled “India: Persecution of Minority Groups” in the United Kingdom (UK) Parliament is any indication. While Jesuits have protested Fr Stan's arrest in UK and US, the resolution, adopted in the Parliament, said, “This House has considered the matter of persecution of Muslims, Christians and minority groups in India”.

New trend? Riots 'expanded' to new rural areas post-2002 Gujarat carnage: Report

A VHP poster declaring a Gujarat village part of Hindu Rashtra  By Rajiv Shah  Buniyaad, a Gujarat-based civil society organization, engaged in monitoring of communal violence in the state, in a new report, “Peaceful Gujarat: An Illusion or Truth?” has said that a “new trend” has come about in communal violence in the state, where the parts of Gujarat which didn't see communal riots in 2002 are experiencing “regular bouts” of communal violence.

Modi govt 'implementing' IMF-envisaged corporate takeover of Indian agriculture

By Bhabani Shankar Nayak* The surge of wealth of Indian billionaires and the Modi-led BJP government’s onslaught on poor, marginalised and farmers continue to grow simultaneously as masses face annihilating pandemic of coronavirus. There is 90 % rise of Indian billionaire’s wealth over last one decade. It is not accidental.

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.

More than 5,200 Gujarat schools to be closed down, merged, says govt document

RTE Forum, Gujarat, releasing fact-sheet on education By Our Representative A Gujarat government document has revealed that it is planning to close down 5,223 schools in the name of school merger. The document, dated July 20, 201 was released by the Right to Education (RTE) Forum, Gujarat. It shows that the worst-affected districts because of this merger are those which are populated by marginalized communities – especially tribals, Dalits and minorities, said RTE Forum’s Gujarat convener Mujahid Nafees.