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West Bengal govt's mining lease to 'impact' sensitive ecosystem, tribal livelihood

Counterview Desk 

A senior West Bengal-based human rights activist, taking strong exceptional to the state government leasing out flatlands beside the Tilaboni hills in the Purulia district to a private mining company for granite mining, has said, this was done without considering the eco-hazards of how it would affect the life and livelihood of the mainly tribal villagers, who depend on the hills for their living.
Stating that at least four villages -- Tilabani, Ledabona, Parashibana and Madhabpur -- might be particularly badly affected, Kirity Roy, who heads the Banglar Manabadhikar Suraksha Mancha (MASUM), in a complaint with the National Human Rights Commission chairperson, said, the tribal people here believe that the hills are an abode of their Gods – Goramthan and Marangburu. Hence, their destruction would not only affect their life and livelihood, but also hurt their religious faith.

Text:

I am writing this to draw your attention towards an incident of illegal confiscation of natural assets and attempted destruction of ecosystem of the Tilaboni hills under Hura block and police station area in Purulia district of West Bengal that might affect the life and livelihood of about 500 families from four villages in the vicinity.
As per reports the West Bengal government has leased out the flatlands beside the hills to a private mining company for granite mining, without considering the eco-hazards of how it will affect the life and livelihood of the villagers, who depend on the Tilaboni hills for their living.
Located in the South-West part of West Bengal, the Tilaboni hills in Purulia District cradles the four villages of Kalabani area -- Tilabani, Ledabona, Parashibana and Madhabpur.
To the people of this area, Tilabani is not just a hill; it is closely intertwined with the life of the villagers. These hills are the epicenter of natural diversity of the region. Apart from its exotic natural beauty, the Tilaboni Hill is famous for rock climbing, boulderingand nature study to the nature lovers from all around the country, from which the locals earn some money.
The villagers from all these four villages depend on the Tilaboni hills for their life and livelihood. The hill disburses proper rain water to these villages for irrigation purposes. The villagers also get wood fuel and cattle fodder from the hills.
The trees in the Tilaboni hills produce kendu, neem, honey, karanja, kalmegh and mushrooms, selling which to the local market, the villagers earn a livelihood. Apart from that the hill is a source of several medicinal plants. Last but not the least, the villagers are mostly tribal people and believe that the Tilaboni hill is an abode of their Gods – Goramthan and Marangburu. Hence, destruction of the Tilaboni hills will not only affect the life and livelihood of the villagers but also their faith.
Our fact-finding has revealed that this is not the first time the government is trying to lease out the Tilaboni hill. In 2009, the Left Front government leased out the Tilaboni hill to a private mining company, for a tenure of 10 years, prior to this.
However, when the company initiated to renovate a bridge near the hill for its heavy vehicles to pass, the villagers came to know about the intentions of the government of excavating granite from under the hill. They organized a huge protest against the government’s decision of leasing out the hill and stopped the company to continue their work further. Since then the company ventures were stopped until now.
In 2017, since the previous lease of 2009 was about to end, a new company named Todi Minerals Pvt. Ltd. applied to the government, seeking permission for granite mining in lease, at the Tilaboni hill. As per reports, a new lease was entitled to the Todi Minerals Pvt. Ltd. For mining granite in the flatlands of the Tilaboni hills.
The ADM (LR) of Purulia district approved the mining as did the Block Land and Land Revenue Officer (BL&LRO) of Hura block. On January 10, 2019, the company started to demarcate the mining zone and initiated their work. The villagers came to know about the intention of the company and decided to organize in order to stop the destruction of Tilaboni hill.
Soon the villagers from four adjacent villages formed the ‘Tilaboni Pahar Bachao Committee’ and in February 2019 submitted a mass petition to the local panchayat and the District Magistrate of Purulia district raising their concern of demolishing the Tilaboni hills. There was no further work by the company since then till the onset of Covid-19 lockdown.
However, after the Covid lockdown was over, the company initiated arrangements for construction centres and ensue their work during March 2022. The villagers from 4 villages and the ‘Tilaboni Pahar Bachao Committee’ started a protest movement and organized a protest rally on March 27, 2022.
On April 8, 2022, they lodged a written complaint to several government offices including the District Magistrate, Purulia, the Superintendent of Police, Purulia, the District Land & Land Revenue Officer, Purulia, the Divisional Forest Officer, Purulia, Block Development Officer, Hura block, the Officer-in-Charge, Hura PS, the Pradhan of Kalabani panchayat and the BL&LRO of Hura block.
However, despite lodging complaints to all the relevant district administrative offices, no action was taken by the respective officials. On June 3, 2022, the company along with its workers and a JCB machine came to the Tilaboni hill with the purpose of starting granite mining in the place. The JCB machine began trenching up the Tilaboni hill but soon the villagers were intimated of the company’s intent and rushed towards the hill.
They asked the company workers to stop their work and show them the proof of the lease as well as their identity cards. The company staff stopped the work and called the BDO, Hura, on his mobile phone. The BDO informed that he couldn’t come to the place as he was in a meeting with the DM, Purulia.
After that the workers and staff of the company stopped their work and returned back. On June 9, 2022 a FIR was lodged on the basis of the complaint made by the Director of Todi Minerals Pvt Ltd, Ajit Kumar Sarawgi at the Hura police station against eight villagers of Tilaboni and Parshibana village.
In the complaint he alleged that these villagers have assaulted the workers and staff as well as a director of the company who was present there on that day. Hura Police registered one FIR vide Hura Police Station case number 90/22 dated June 9, 2022 under sections 341(wrongful restraint) /323 (voluntarily causing hurt) /427 (Mischief causing damage to amount of Rs 50) /506 (Criminal intimidation) /34 (Common intention) of Indian Penal Code. On July 1, 2022, a notice from the Hura police was served to those 8 villagers. These victim villagers got anticipatory bail from the Purulia District Court.
The villagers have alleged that in order to suppress their protest, they are being charged with fabricated cases. They also added that in their complaint, the mining company has mentioned that they will not damage the Tilaboni hill; rather they would conduct mining in the flatlands beside the hill.
However, in actual, they have started trenching up the hill with their JCB machine on the very first day of their work. The villagers have also alleged that there is no vacant land beside the hill, where mining can be done. There is an adjacent road and the land of the forest department fenced with barbed wire.
Moreover, the land of the Tilaboni hill (Plot no. 1114, JL No 4, Mouza – Tilaboni, PS & Block – Hura, District – Purulia) is characterized as ‘Hill’ by the West Bengal Land and Land Revenue department. Hence, the proclamation made by the company authority is based on a false premise.
Under the circumstances, the illegal leasing of land and subsequent charges of fabricated cases on the protesters is a violation of Article 19 (1) (a); 19 (1) (b) and 19 (1) (c). Right to protest is the fundamental right protected by the Indian Constitution. Protest is a way of expressing objection to any action policy of the government or any organization. The district administration illegally permitted the license to Todi Minerals Pvt. Ltd for granite mining operation in Mouza Tilaboni Plot number 1114.
As this Tilaboni hill closely intertwined with the lives of the villagers of the four village and they very much depend on the said hill for their life and livelihood along with this hill is highly attach with the religious sentiment of the local people; therefore, the voice of the villagers should have been heard by the district administration.
How did the district administration permit license to Todi Minerals for mining on the Tilaboni hill without hearing the local people’s voice? In the complaint letter to the Officer-in-Charge, Hura Police station by the Director, Todi Minerals Private Limited, it is mentioned that the said company would never damage the Tilaboni hill but we have photographic evidence which substantiate the fact that the JCB started work for mining on the Tilaboni hill and not the flat land beside the Tilaboni hill.
We tried to find out the land details of plot No 1114 in Mouza Tilaboni from the ‘Banglar Bhumi’ app which was maintained by the Land and Land Reforms and Refugee Relief and Rehabilitation Department, West Bengal. In the said app there is no information regarding the said plot of land.
Prior to this, in 2009, the Left Front government leased out the Tilaboni hills to a private mining company for ten years
On July 20, 2022, I submitted one RTI application to the SPIO, Office of the District Land and Land Revenue Officer, Purulia district regarding the documentation of land records of the above stated land but the concerned department till date did not communicate any information to me though we received information from the Indian post website that the concerned department had received my RTI letter on July 25, 2022.
From these incidents we can assume that there is gross negligence on the part of the district administration to deal properly with this matter. After making a public protest now the district administration tries to hide the information of the land details which they leased to Todi Minerals.
Local people protested this illegal mining, and therefore Todi Minerals and district administration jointly made fabricated cases against them. It is purely an intentional act. This act of fabricating the local people in false cases aimed at the destruction of one of the fundamental right of people, i.e, right to protest which attracts Article 5 of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights.
Article 21 and Article 22 of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights recognizes the right of peaceful assembly and right to protest. People of four villages are completely dependent on the Tilaboni hill for their livelihood and the district administration tries to snatch it from them which violates Goal number 1, Goal 8, Goal number 15 and Goal number 16 of the Sustainable Development Goal which the Government of India pledged to adhere within the year 2030.
The United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples (UNDRIP) makes specific reference to conservation in article 29, affirming that indigenous peoples have the right to the conservation and protection of the environment and their lands, territories and resources. The loss of biodiversity not only poses a grave threat to indigenous peoples’ natural resources and livelihoods, but also to their cultural identity and survival.
The villagers in this area are mostly tribal people and believe that the Tilaboni hill is an abode of their Gods – Goramthan and Marangburu. Hence, destruction of the Tilaboni hills will not only affect the life and livelihood of the villagers but also hurt their religious faith which attracts section 295 of the Indian Penal Code for destruction, damage and defilement of places of worship in any beliefs.
The right to free, active, meaningful and informed participation in public affairs is guaranteed by the ICCPR as well as other international conventions and instruments, notably the UN Declaration on the Right to Development, multilateral environmental agreements, and national laws and policies.
In this case Todi Minerals Pvt. Ltd along with the district administration both are responsible and they cannot ignore their joint nexus for brutal blowing on the people’s right to protest.
In this regard, we demand:
  • The whole incident must be inquired by the NHRC by its own investigating wing.
  • Immediately withdraw the false case against the innocent villagers who peacefully protest against the illegal mining on Tilaboni hill.
  • Steps should be taken under proper penal provision against those perpetrators who intentionally defile the place of worship of the people in the area.
  • Take strong steps against this illegal action of the Purulia district administration which harms the biodiversity of the area at large.
  • The rights of the indigenous people (adivasis) of this area must be protected.
  • Recommend your Commission’s decision on the right to protest of people and circulate it to the administration of all states and union territories within the country. 
  • Save Tilaboni hills from the hands of illegal mining conducted by the Todi Minerals Pvt. Ltd.

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