Coal Bearing Areas (Acquisition and Development) Amendment Bill 2021 in the service of monopoly capitalists

The 2021 amendment to the Coal Bearing Areas (Acquisition and Development) Act 1957 is a clear move of the Indian state to facilitate land acquisition for private profit. Big monopoly capitalists in India want the Indian state to facilitate land acquisition at the lowest possible rate, and to have the right to freely exploit it without any restrictions on its use. First, the government opened the coal mines to commercial mining through the auction of coal blocks and now through this amendment, it is facilitating corporate giants who had successfully bid for coal blocks in recent auctions, to make maximum profits at the expense of the interests and livelihood of the people who are living in these areas.

Tribals fighting for their rights against disruption caused by mining

Land is scarce and an extremely precious resource in India. Big public sector undertakings like Coal India, NTPC, Railways and Defence establishments have thousands of hectares of land with them. The move of the government to amend the Coal Bearing Areas (Acquisition and Development) Act, 1957 must be seen in this light. It is a move to enable the capitalist owners of coal mines to acquire land at the lowest possible rate, and to have the right to freely exploit it without any restrictions on its use.

The proposed amendment must be seen in the context of the auctioning of coal mine blocks by the government to capitalists beginning November 2020. When the government changed its laws to allow private capitalists to acquire coal mines, it claimed that the capitalist owners would bring in modern technology to coal mining, and fulfil the growing need for coal. The proposed amendment is intended to hand over land on which the coal mines exist to the private parties without even the need for the capitalist owners to produce coal. If it is profitable to produce coal they will do so. If the capitalists feel that the land can be used for some other purpose, they are free to do so.

Coal workers have been opposing major changes in laws governing coal mining. In January 2018 the Coking Coal Mines (Nationalization) Act, 1972 and the Coal Mines (Nationalization) Act, 1973 were repealed by the Repealing and Amending (Second) Act, 2017.  On 20 February 2018, the Cabinet Committee on Economic Affairs (CCEA) permitted private firms to enter the commercial coal mining industry in India. On August 28, 2019, the Union Cabinet approved 100% foreign direct investment (FDI) in coal mining. On 18th June 2020 the Prime Minister announced the auction of 41 coal mining blocks for commercial mining to private capitalists. The coal mine workers organised a three-day strike on 2nd-4th July 2020, bringing coal production to a halt. All the unions of coal workers actively participated to make that strike a success. Again, on 18th August, 2020, over five lakh workers of Coal India Ltd (CIL) and Singareni Collieries Company Ltd. (SCCL) went on a day’s strike.

Among the principal demands of the workers were the immediate withdrawal of the decision to start commercial mining of coal and an immediate halt to the privatisation of coal mining through the sale of shares of CIL.

However, the government ignored these demands and went ahead with the auction of the coal mines, and has now introduced this Amendment Bill in further service of the capitalists.

Auction of coal mines

41 coal mine blocks were put up for auction in  in the first round (November 2020). They included 11 in Madhya Pradesh, 9 in Chhattisgarh, 9 in Jharkhand, 9 in Odisha, and 2 in Maharashtra.  Only 19 mines out of 41 put up for auction could be sold in the first round.

The Ministry of Coal put up for auction 67 coal blocks in its second-round auction. Only 8 coal blocks were sold.  (See Table below).

ROUND 1 – 19 Coal Mines Auction Winners (Nov 2020)
Aurobindo Realty (2), Boulder Stone Mart (2), Adani Group (1), Stratatech Mineral Resources (1), Chowgule Group (1), Emil Mines (2), Hindalco (1), Fairmine Carbons (1), Jindal Power (1), JMS Mining (2), Vedanta Group (1), AP Mineral Dev Corp (1), Sarda Energy Min (2), Yazdani International (1)
ROUND 2 – 8 Coal Mines Auction Winners (Aug 2021)
Adani Power (1), Adani Group (CG Natural Resources) (2), Southwest Pinnacle Exploration (1), Prakash Industries (1), Sunflag Iron And Steel Co Ltd (2), Shreesatya Mines Pvt Ltd (2)

The capitalists who are acquiring the coal mines have demanded that the government create conditions to enable them to make maximum profits from their acquisitions. No doubt they are interested in mining coal, which is needed for various industries like steel, cement and power generation. Capitalist monopolies would like to have captive mines to provide coal for their steel and cement plants. At the same time, they are seeing in the land acquired, a source of big profits.

Once this amendment is passed, Coal India and other PSUs will be asked by the Indian Government to sell the land to private companies for building infrastructure.

Big corporates to be gifted significant exemptions

The Coal Bearing Areas (Acquisition and Development Amendment Bill 2021) will exempt big corporate houses  from the Right to Fair Compensation and Transparency in Land Acquisition, Rehabilitation and Resettlement Act 2013 (LARR Act 2013) when they acquire land for commercial coal mining. Earlier this exemption from LARR 2013 was available only to public sector companies, for example, Coal India.

This amendment will facilitate corporate giants who had successfully bid for coal blocks in recent auctions, to make maximum profits at the expense of the interests and livelihood of the people who are living in these areas. It will also set a precedent that will exempt big corporate houses from LARR 2013 whenever land is acquired for mining or industrialization, under the garb of public purpose.

The amendment is meant to exempt private companies from

  • social impact assessments
  • obtaining consent of the majority of the people living in these areas and from the Gram Sabha
  • paying adequate compensation before land is acquired for coal mining.

There is no reference to the PESA act (Panchayat Extension to the Scheduled Area Act, 1996) and the Forest Rights Act, 2006. That means the poor Adivasis and other forest dwelling communities will be displaced and their lives destroyed with no recourse to any relief.

Furthermore, the proposed amendment, apart from extending exemption from LARR Act to private companies, also provides the right to use acquired land for purposes other than mining. This was not permitted in the existing Coal Bearing Areas (Acquisition and Development Act), 1957. In fact, under the MMDR (Mines and Minerals Development and Regulation) Act, the mining companies are obligated to restore the land to its former condition after the completion of mining (at the end of the life of the mine).

The Coal Bearing Areas Act 1957 was based on the principle of  “eminent domain” (introduced by British Colonialists to acquire land) whereby the government has the power to forcibly acquire land from private owners for public use. The act was jusrtified on the basis that coal is needed for the energy security of the country and this is precisely the basis on which coal mining was nationalized by the Coal Mines (Nationalization) Act 1973.

In contrast, as per the proposed amendment when the corporate owners acquire land and they are free to sell coal for making profits, circumvention of LARR Act means poor people (mostly Adivasis) are being deprived of the compensation (at the rate of at least four times the market value of land being acquired, as per the LARR act) and the profitmaking of big business houses is guaranteed. The proposed amendments will also include lignite (not included in the earlier act) and thus there is provision to hand over large parts of Adivasi and forest land to private owners to make profits as they like.

The Central Government would be responsible for the acquired land. After the auction is completed, the land and mining rights will be leased to the private companies through the states.

It should also be noted that in preparation for the auction of mining blocks, earlier, the Mineral Laws (Amendment) Bill 2020 was passed in January 2020, which amended the Mines and Mineral (Development and Regulation) – MMDR Act 1957 and The Coal Mines (Special Provisions) – CMSP Act 2015. 

The amendments clearly provide that companies which do not possess any prior coal mining experience in India and/or have mining experience in other minerals or in other countries, can participate in the auction of the coal/lignite block auctions. Companies which are not “engaged in specified end use” can also participate in these auction of coal mines. The removal of end use restriction would allow anyone to own coal mines for any use whatsoever – for their own captive consumption, sale or for any other purpose.

The draft of the Coal Bearing Areas (Acquisition and Development) Amendment Bill 2021 has not been made public. The government has not sought any public opinion on it.

Renewable power plants

The renewable energy sector is dominated by major corporate monopolies such as ReNew Power, Greenko, Adani Green, Tata Power, ACME, SB Energy, Azure Power, Sembcorp Green Infra and Hero Future Energies and they have access to global finance capital as well. The challenge is to find enough land since solar and wind- based power plants require large plots of land.

Capitalists in the renewable energy field are interested in acquiring land owned by Coal India. At present, it is public sector companies like Coal India, Railways and NTPC which are using their land for developing renewable energy. The capitalists want to close down some of the old coal mines and use the land and infrastructure for putting up renewable energy plants.

The amendment specifically provides for private companies to have control over the acquired land even after mining activities are completed and/or used for “ancillary activities”.

It is the agenda of the big bourgeoisie which is being implemented by the current government, to hand over all public assets including land, to private monopolies so that they can maximize their profits at the expense of the interests of the people. The struggle of coal workers against privatisation is a just struggle in the interests of the whole of society.

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