By Ashok Shrimali*
The Mines, minerals and People (mm&P) along with the Integrated Coal Mines Ltd Shramik Union (ICMLSU) organised a meeting on November 8 at Aasansol, district Vardhman, West Bengal, on sharing grave situation of settlements in Raniganj coalfield where fire and subsidence has taken a high toll on social, physical infrastructure and has put a question mark on the future of people. Raniganj and Jharia coalfields are already stressed and critically polluted, as Durgapur and Asansol were two critically polluted areas identified by the Central Pollution Control Board’s (CPCB’s) Comprehensive Pollution Index (CPI). Alongside social distress is increasing and will assume greater challenges of displacement and livelihoods in coming years as more expansion of coal mines happen.
The existing service delivery system has to rethink about strengthening their outreach and should assume the responsibility of caretaker for health, environment, livelihood security and social wellbeing. The new dimensions of economy and institutional structures proposed seem to do a lip service rather than eliminating distress and legacy issues. The newly adapted Sustainable Development Goals (United Nations) require states to gear up to match their functions, responsibility and accountability at all levels of governance.
The coal region is one where health and social issues are under turmoil. The already approved Raniganj Master Plan for Resettlement and Rehabilitation estimates an investment of Rs 2,610 crore for providing relief to the affected settlements but no physical work has begun after six years of its approval by the Government of India.
It was informed by participants that illegal stone mining in Birbhum District is being challenged in the Eastern Bench of the National Green Tribunal (NGT) located in Kolkata. The West Bengal government’s recently launched Pradhan Mantri Khanij Kshetra Kalyan Yojana (PMKKKY) requires states to frame rules for District Mineral Foundation, which was introduced as Section 9B in the Mines and Minerals (Development and Regulation) (MMDR) Amendment Act, 2015. From 26 per cent equity proposed in the 2010 MMDR draft to now merely 10-30 per cent equivalent of royalty seems like eyewash. It is just like any other government scheme, but to serve the purpose of welfare of affected people, people themselves should be a part of decision-making activities.
The Government of West Bengal’s annual coal cess in 2012-13 was around Rs 1380 crore but it is nothing close to the value of minerals extracted. Minerals are non-renewable, and these got developed due to natural processes over thousands of years but the current development and exploitation of minerals has not thought about our future generations.
Even if mining has to continue with minimize impacts and rationalization of legal mining, the government has to secure it also for the future generations, which has also been stated by the Supreme Court in the Goa Foundation vs Union of India case. The government must now think about safeguarding the rights of future generations and conduct mining in a transparent manner, as any loss to the mineral asset will only make the future of next generations weak and put them into a vicious cycle of resource crunch without any reparation.
The meeting ended with a demand that displacement of people from the affected zones in Raniganj coalfields must be carried out by protecting human rights, and urgent steps should be taken to effectively implement the Master Plan for Resettlement and Rehabilitation. Illegal mining should be eliminated completely to safeguard environment and economic loss. Government is custodian of mineral resources and it is its duty to protect the rights of future generations and it should not tolerate any loss or wish away resources for meager royalty in comparison to the value of resources.
*Secretary general, mm&P, who took part in the conference in Aasansol. Other participants included Swaraj Das, EC Member, mm&P; Shiekh Hakim, General Secretary, ICMLSU; Rup Kumar Sadhu, President, ICMLSU; Chandan Ruidas, ICMLSU; Navadwip Sadhu, ICMLSU; Prafulla Pradhan, VVM, Chhendipada, Odisha; Nishant, mm&P; Rahul Basu, Goa Foundation, Goa