As Adani increased mining, villagers had to relocate for the third time | Economic and business news

Sambalpur, India – Nityananda Deep has worried about losing his home for the third time in his life since his mud house was marked for demolition by mining officials, about a year ago.

The 80-year-old man is a resident of the remote Behermunda Hamlet in Sambalpur district in the southern Indian state of Odisha, about a 4-hour drive from the capital, Bhubaneswar.

The first time Deep was relocated was when a dam was built in the area in 1957. He and his family moved 3 km (1.8 mi) away to a 2-acre piece of land that the government had cleared. for them to grow rice and vegetables.

The family was again evicted from their home in 2005 when their land was assigned to a coal mine, the Talabira block-I coal mine, and they moved to a barren site about a kilometer (0.62m) away. he said.

Now Deep and his family of 13 are once again facing relocation as the government plans to expand mining in the area. “Where are we going now?” Deep asked, his voice trembling with age.

Septuagenarians are not alone. About 30 households in a hamlet of 300 people will have to relocate for the third time.

The villagers are part of 1,894 families – 9,467 people – in six villages facing displacement because of Talabira II and III coal blocks in Sambalpur and Jharsuguda districts.

Nityananda Deep stands outside her house, which has been marked for demolition
Deep’s family is one of 30 families in the neighborhood that will have to move for the third time [File: Gurvinder Singh/Al Jazeera]

Indian billionaire Gautam Adani’s the enterprise owns Talabira-I and has the right to mine the other two blocks.

The move to increase mining comes after an early start to a hotter-than-expected summer with an increase in power line load demand and low coal inventories, leading to calls to dig and import more coal.

However, experts say that with allocated coal reserves estimated at 1.5 million tons, India is not really short of coal and has no need for new coal blocks.

Nandikesh Sivalingam, director of the Center for Research on Energy and Clean Air, a non-profit organization, said: “The country has enough active coal blocks to mine and most of them remain untapped until now. wattage. The problem, he said, is combination of poor planning and fiscal problems that prevented coal from reaching where it was needed in time.

“New investments should focus on improving the efficiency of the industry, not on creating new power plants or coal mines. The green cover should not be unnecessarily destroyed for the sake of opening new cinder blocks when it is not needed,” he said.

‘Thief on our land’

Talabira-I Coal Block was allocated to Hindalco Company, which operated it from 2005 to 2014, when India’s highest court revoked the mining license of 218 blocks of coal, including Talabira- I, after declaring them illegal. In 2015, the government gave the block to another private company, GMR Chhattisgarh Energy Ltd, which had to stop mining in 2018 when approval expired. In 2019, Adani Group acquired that company and changed its name to Raipur Energen Limited. It hasn’t started mining here yet.

When the cinder block was delivered to Hindalco, about 69 hectares (170 acres) of land was taken away for mining, including 50 hectares (123 acres) of rich forest with mango, sal and medicinal plants used for make natural medicine. , said Damru Rohi Das, 40, a resident of Behermunda Hamlet, who depends on that job for a living.

Das said he was offered 140,000 rupees ($1,800) per acre, an amount he called “a lump sum”.

The government also provides jobs for people who have lost their land and homes. He told Al Jazeera that since Das had only lost his land, there was no job offer and he had to do odd jobs in the agricultural fields to earn a living.

When mining was halted by court order in 2014, Das switched to mining coal from the closed Talabira-I mine to sell for a living – but he was charged with stealing coal, he said.

Das and other villagers like Kartik Rohi Das (the two are not related) arrived at the mine at 4 am to avoid being caught by the police. After digging for coal with shovels and hands, they load an average of 100kg (220 pounds) on bicycles and hawker 20 to 25km (12-15m) to sell to small restaurant owners and households that still use them. charcoal. to cook. Rohi Das says that job gives them an average daily income of 250-300 rupees ($3.18 to $3.81).

“But we are often harassed by the police and company officials, who take us to the police station and detain us for several hours,” he added. “We were labeled thieves and accused of stealing coal. It is heartbreaking to face such humiliation for the land that was once ours.”

Local youth of block 1 talabira block coal processing in sacks according to their cycle
Villagers get coal from Talabira-I coal block to sell to make a living [File: Gurvinder Singh/Al Jazeera]

Mining in Talabira-II and III

In 2016, a lease for the Talabira-II and III mines was granted to NLC India Limited (NLCIL), a government-owned company based in Chennai, to supply coal for the Neyveli Talabira Thermal Power Plant in Tamil Nadu and National Thermal Power Corporation in Odisha.

In 2018, Talabira (Odisha) Mining Private Limited, a subsidiary of Adani Enterprises, acquired the rights to mine coal or become a “mine developer and operator” for both blocks. The operating contractor performs all activities on behalf of the mining lease company, from mine planning and development, to coal mining and transportation, all for a fixed fee agreed upon under the contract. copper.

The two coal blocks are estimated to have a reserve of 553.98 million tons of coal and have a production capacity of 20 tons/year.

For the two lands, the government has allocated 1,914,063 hectares (4,729 acres) to six villages, including 1,038,187 hectares (2,565 acres) of forest land, and 457,078 hectares (1,129 acres) of agricultural land.

‘Fake’ licenses and pressure tactics

Under Indian law, 75 percent of the residents of the project area need to approve it before any mining can begin. Dilip Sahu, a social activist in the area, said mining in Talabira-II (and in Talabira-III at the start) is being done with consent given in 2012. He added that even the signatures on that approval list were forged, saying the handwriting on most of the signatures was the same.

“We have evidence to prove that forgery was committed,” Sahu said. The lack of funding has prompted them to plan to file a lawsuit in court on the matter, he said.

NLCIL officials declined to answer Al Jazeera’s questions about whether they were aware of the allegations that the approvals were forged.

Villagers living near Talabira-II complain that waste generated from open-pit mining is being dumped in large quantities in their fields in an attempt to spur them to vacate their land or sell it to a mining company. mining at a cheap price.

Khirod Chandra Pradhan, 45, from Patrapalli, one of six villages affected by the project, is one of many who sold their land a few months ago as the quality of the soil deteriorated due to dumped waste. .

His plot, which is about 0.4 hectares (one acre), earned him 2.6 million rupees ($33,414), not a fair price, according to him, and he was forced to sell his land recently because of the waste dumped on it. “We are not against development but we need adequate compensation, housing and livelihood opportunities to survive,” he said.

Villagers also complained of “earthquake-like noises” that frequently occurred whenever the mine operator used explosives to dig deeper into the ground and this put their lives in danger and causing their house to sink into the cracks.

“We run out of the house every day when the sirens go off” to warn them of the explosion, said Chanchala Boghar, 80, a widow from the village of Talabira who narrowly escaped. when she’s outside.

The area is also part of the Ib valley, which has been identified as a severely polluted area by the Comprehensive Environmental Pollution Index due to several coal mines in the area.

Chanchala Boghar says his house collapsed because of mining
Chanchala Boghar (pictured) said her hut was knocked down by the explosion [File: Gurvinder Singh/Al Jazeera]

NCLIC denies allegation

NCLIC officials denied the villagers’ allegations while employees of Adani businesses declined to speak on the matter and said they were only contractors working for NCLIC.

A senior official at NCLIC, who requested anonymity because he was not authorized to speak to the media, said the company follows “most environmental regulations” and only dumps extracted debris on land was purchased. He added that the company pays compensation as per government norms and also provides a monthly allowance of 3,000 rupees ($38.3) per adult in a family who lost their land and home because of mining. and could not get a job in the mining industry. Company. The amount will increase by 500 rupees ($6.39) every two years, he said.

“We have introduced jobs to about 300 locals [in the mining project] and we are creating jobs in phases whenever there is a vacancy,” the official said, adding that a power plant is up and running and will lead to more jobs in the region.

On a recent June evening, Deep, whose home would be demolished for Talabira-II, sat near an abandoned mine worrying about career options for his grandson. “The coal block has turned our village youths into coal thieves who are regularly harassed by the authorities, but I don’t want my grandchildren to suffer the same fate,” he said.

“I want him to learn. But his future looked bleak once we became homeless again.”

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