Authorities in Chhattisgarh must deliver on their commitments and ensure that adequate compensation and rehabilitation is provided to Adivasi families forcibly evicted for a coal mine in Raigarh, Amnesty International India has said in a statement, insisting, the affected families, who are victims of a human rights violation, must be provided with the full range of effective remedies. Text:
On 1 April, officials from the state revenue department demolished three houses belonging to two families – including a Gond Adivasi family – in Bankheta village in the district of Raigarh for the expansion of the Gare Pelma IV/4 open cast coal mine. The mine is operated by Hindalco Industries, a part of the Aditya Birla group of companies. Human rights defenders protesting the evictions were detained briefly for allegedly obstructing public servants. The government had acquired land for the mine in 2010.
Following protests over the evictions by other human rights defenders and members of affected communities, on 2 April, the Additional Collector and Additional Superintendent of Police of Raigarh stated in writing that all evicted families would receive compensation and rehabilitation within 15 days, and that the cases against the human rights defenders would be dropped.
“The evictions in Bankheta were carried out without genuine consultation with the communities, or adequate compensation and rehabilitation being given,” said Aruna Chandrasekhar, Business and Human Rights Officer at Amnesty International India. “The Chhattisgarh authorities must now ensure that no more forced evictions take place, and affected communities get the remedy they deserve.”
Kandarpa Raj Sidar, a Gondi Adivasi man whose house was demolished, said, “[Authorities] asked us to vacate our houses and told us to take a cheque as compensation for surface rights. We told them that we are Gond and Birhor Adivasis, why don’t they follow the rehabilitation laws before evicting us?”
Over a hundred families in Bankheta remain at risk of evictions. Among them are over a dozen families from the Birhor Adivasi community, classified as a “particularly vulnerable tribal group” by the government of India.
The rehabilitation and resettlement plan for the mining project was prepared in accordance with the Chhattisgarh state rehabilitation policy of 2007. This policy states that displaced families are eligible to be allocated alternate land or housing in addition to compensation. The families in Bankheta whose houses were demolished have not yet received adequate compensation or rehabilitation. The Revenue Inspector of Raigarh’s Tamnar Block told Amnesty International India on 1 April, “The communities will get whatever is due to them in the future.”
“Raigarh authorities must ensure they fulfill the promises they have made to those who will be most affected by the mine,” said Aruna Chandrasekhar. “Rehabilitation is a right and must not be provided only as an after-thought to affected communities.”
Amnesty International India contacted Hindalco Industries Limited about the steps it had taken to provide compensation and rehabilitation. The head of human resources at Hindalco’s operations in Raigarh said, “Hindalco had approached the district administration for getting the possession of the area. The administration has taken the action in keeping with the provisions of the law…We have further offered people the options of rehabilitation in line with the government’s R&R policy of 2013. We even proposed cash in lieu of rehabilitation. We further suggested that they shift into houses rented by us. Regrettably there has been no response.”
The Gare Pelma IV/4 mine lies within the Mand Raigarh coalfields in Raigarh, an Adivasi region which, as a ‘scheduled area’ under the Fifth Schedule of India’s Constitution, has special safeguards around the transfer of indigenous lands.
The central government initially allocated the mine to Jayaswal Neco Industries, which began mining here in 2006.
Chhattisgarh authorities acquired over 282 hectares of land for the mine up until 2010. Over 730 hectares of land for the mine are yet to be acquired.
In 2013, the central Ministry of Environment, Forests and Climate Change gave permission for production at the mine to increase from 0.48 mtpa (metric tonnes per annum) to 1 mtpa.
Jayaswal Neco’s mining lease was cancelled by a Supreme Court judgment in September 2014, which deemed the allocation of 214 coal mines between 1993 to 2011 to private players to be ‘arbitrary’ and carried out ‘without application of mind’.
The Government of India, following the Supreme Court’s judgment, conducted fresh auctions of coal blocks in 2015, in which Hindalco Industries Limited placed a winning bid for extracting coal from the Gare Pelma IV/4 mine.
In April 2015, environmental clearances granted to Jayaswal Neco were transferred to Hindalco Industries, along with the acquired land. Many issues of pending compensation and rehabilitation remain.
Forced evictions are prohibited under international human rights law and standards. According to the UN Basic Principles and Guidelines on Development based evictions and displacement, all persons threatened with or subject to forced evictions have the right to timely remedy which includes a fair hearing, access to legal counsel, legal aid, return, restitution, resettlement, rehabilitation and compensation.