Opposition to opening of coal sector for commercial mining

The central government’s launch of the program to auction coal blocks for commercial mining, announced on June 18, is facing massive opposition in Chhattisgarh, Jharkhand and other states in the coal belt of the country.

The central government’s launch of the program to auction coal blocks for commercial mining, announced on June 18, is facing massive opposition in Chhattisgarh, Jharkhand and other states in the coal belt of the country.

The Jharkhand Janadhikar Mahasabha (JJM), a state-level coalition of people’s organisations, has issued a call for mass protests against the Centre’s decision to open the coal sector for private commercial mining.

Commenting on the irony of calling this step an “atmanirbhar initiative”, the JJM in a statement issued on June 18, said that this move of the government “takes away all ownership rights of the land owners and Gram Sabhas and opens up natural resources for more corporate plunder.”

Jharkhand chief minister Hemant Soren, under pressure of massive popular opposition in the state, had earlier requested the Union Minister of Coal and Mines for a moratorium of the auction process in the coal sector by six to nine months.

However, on June 18, the central government unilaterally initiated the auction of 41 coal blocks, including 20 in Jharkhand, for commercial mining. Whereas the official statement of the Coal ministry claimed that with this, “the Indian coal sector will break free from the shackles of restrictions to charter new growth”, those opposing it are insisting that “opening the state for domestic and foreign corporate mining entities will further destroy the livelihoods of the people and the environment.”

“Mining companies supported by the government flout laws that aim to check environmental degradation, left, right and centre. Hundreds of un-reclaimed, spent-mines across the state stand witness to this. We will not allow this to happen in Jharkhand,” a spokesperson of the JJM said. He also pointed out that although some coal blocks had already been allotted to private companies, they have not been able to make these operational due to the militant opposition of the tribal people who perceive it as a direct threat to their lives and livelihood.

The organisations participating in the protest actions are widely mobilizing among the people in the region. They are calling on the Gram Sabhas to pass resolutions against the move. 9 elected sarpanches from the Hasdeo Arand area of Chhattisgarh have written a letter to the Prime Minister, opposing the auction and demanding a ban on mining in the area. They are also planning to make representations to the various concerned ministries and officials, demanding that commercial mining should not be allowed in the state.

The government’s move has been widely criticized as being in favour of the interests of the private capitalist mining companies, who wish to exploit the vast rich mineral wealth of the region for private profit and drive the tribal and other people living there to penury. The manner in which the central government has declared its plan also rides rough-shod over the various statutory provisions regarding the rights of the people over their resources, which people of the region have achieved after suffering many hardships and fighting many struggles.

The statement of the JJM has held that the decision violates several legislations and constitutional provisions on the right of Adivasis to self-governance. “The Panchayat (Extension to Scheduled Areas) Act and the provisions of the 5th schedule clearly define the role of Gram Sabhas as the primary decision-making body of a village.….. The debate on any form of mining needed to start from the question as to whether people of the area wanted mining to happen or not…..If people and Gram Sabhas want mining, cooperatives of land owners or Gram Sabhas can be supported by the government with capital and technological help to undertake mining and allied activities on their own,” it said.

Firmly re-iterating its commitment to community ownership of natural resources and opposition to use of agricultural land or forest land for any kind of mining, the JMM held the view that Gram Sabhas have effectively demonstrated their ability to manage forest and forest-based products.

“We demand that the state government take a firm stand against commercial mining and the centre’s decision to auction coal blocks, implement the laws and legislations that protect people’s rights to natural resources and self-governance, in letter and spirit, and present an alternative non-exploitative vision to the country,” the statement further said.

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