By Amnesty International India
Operations by India’s state-owned National Thermal Power Corporation (NTPC) and its private partners in the Pakri Barwadih coal mine in Hazaribagh, Jharkhand are being undertaken without adequately consulting affected communities, said Amnesty International India today. On 1 October, four people, including three children, were shot dead by the police following protests over land acquisition for the mine.
“NTPC’s mine received clearance to use forest land without adequate consultation with communities who depend on these forests for their livelihoods. Jharkhand authorities failed to seek the consent of village assemblies for the use of forest land as required under Indian law,” said Aruna Chandrasekhar, senior researcher at Amnesty International India. “It is essential that authorities consult communities before the mining proceeds and people lose access to forest lands.”
Under a 2009 order issued by the Ministry of Environment and Forests (MoEF), for industrial projects to receive a forest clearance, state governments have to obtain the consent of the relevant gram sabhas (village assemblies) for the diversion of forest land, and also ensure that the process of claiming forest rights under the Scheduled Tribes and Other Traditional Forest Dwellers (Recognition of Forest Rights) Act, 2006 has been completed. Gram sabhas considering proposals for diversion of forest land need to have a quorum of at least 50 per cent of the adult members of a village.
The Pakri-Barwadih coal mine is operated by NTPC and its private joint-venture partners, Thriveni Earthmovers and Sainik mining. In August 2009, after the MoEF order on gram sabha consent was issued, NTPC applied to the Ministry for ‘forest clearance’ under the Forest Conservation Act to mine 1026 hectares of forest land as part of the project. Many local communities depend on forest land for farming, grazing livestock, and selling forest produce.
The MoEF granted forest clearance to the mine in September 2010. However the clearance appears to have been given without due regard to whether gram sabhas had been consulted. The MoEF’s letter granting forest clearance does not specify whether gram sabha consent was obtained. Over 50 villagers who Amnesty International India spoke to from six of 23 affected villages said that they did not know of any gram sabhas that had been conducted on the diversion of forest land for the mine.
NTPC’s application for forest clearance, parts of which were accessed by Amnesty International India, includes letters recording the consent of ‘forest rights committees’ from 17 villages for the diversion of forest land for the mines. These committees, which are supposed to assist gram sabhas in verifying forest rights claims, are not representative bodies, and documents from them cannot serve as a substitute for gram sabha resolutions approving the diversion of forest land.
Further, these committees are comprised of only a few people from each village, well short of the quorum required for gram sabha resolutions. Each of the consent letters were signed by only about 5-12 people from each village, and only 85 persons signed the 17 letters. This is a small fraction of the over 38,000 people from Dalit, Adivasi and Muslim communities who live in the affected villages.
For instance, in the letter from the forest rights committee of Sonbarsa, only 5 signatures are recorded, while 1790 persons live in the village, according to the 2011 census. For the village of Pakri Barwadih, the consent letters bear only 6 signatures, while 2303 people live in the village.
The 17 consent letters are all dated between 20 August 2006 and 17 February 2007, and bear the same text with little modification. However, the Forest Rights Act itself came into force only in early 2007, while the MoEF order mandating gram sabha consent was issued only in 2009.
Further, three people whose signatures feature in the letters told Amnesty International India that they had not signed the documents. “We have never ever had any such gram sabhas in our villages, so how does this consent letter have my name on it?” asked S Kumar from Sonbarsa village.
Amnesty International India wrote to NTPC twice, on 4 October and 19 October, with a list of questions. NTPC responded to the first set of questions, but not the second.
In its response to Amnesty International India’s first letter, NTPC stated: “Forest clearance has been granted by MOEF after the compliance of all the provisions under FCA 1980.” The company subsequently declined a request for details of compliance with the Forest Rights Act.
NTPC also stated in its response to Amnesty International India’s first letter that it had conducted gram sabhas on the acquisition of common land by the district administration. It subsequently declined to provide any more details of the gram sabhas.
Land for the coal mine was acquired in 2009 under India’s Coal Bearing Areas (Acquisition and Development) Act, 1957, which is used for land acquisition for coal mining by the Indian public-sector companies. No evictions have been carried out yet following the land acquisition.
The Coal Bearing Areas Act contains no provisions which require authorities to consult affected communities, or seek the free, prior and informed consent of indigenous peoples. Land acquisition under the Act is explicitly exempted from the requirements of social impact assessment, consultation and consent imposed by a new land acquisition law in 2013.
On October 1, four people, including three teenagers, were killed and more than 40 persons injured when police personnel shot live ammunition following protests over the mine in the village of Darikalan. Some of the protestors had thrown stones at the policemen.
The police said that they had been attacked by violent protestors, and had resorted to firing live ammunition only after giving adequate warning. However, eyewitnesses said that the firing began without any warning, and the police did not distinguish between protestors throwing stones and others. Eyewitnesses said that the four people killed were not involved in the protests. “They were even firing at people trying to retrieve the bodies,” said R Khatun, an eyewitness to the incident from the village of Darikalan.
“Every single body we examined was shot above the waist and in the back, which shows that they were running away from police and not trying to attack them,” said Gopinath Ghosh and Alice Cherowa of Jharkhand Mine Areas Coordination Committee, a Ranchi-based organisation which examined the bodies of three of those killed. As of 21 October, the families of the victims were yet to receive copies of the post mortem reports.
Local residents also say that the police had assaulted villagers in the days following the firing. Shazia from Cheppakalan village said that on 3 October, “The police came banging on our doors, shouting horrible abuses, saying that just you watch, you threw stones at our officers. Now this place will become a funeral pyre.”
Four women from the village of Darikalan said that police forcibly entered their homes on 3 October and beat them with batons. “Women and elderly in my household were beaten, and 9 male family members were picked up and later released,” said Mohammed Rafique from Cheppakhurd village. “The whole village was empty for days, as people fled to their relatives’ houses in fear,” said Ilias Ansari of the Karanpura Bachao Sangharsh Samiti, a local peoples’ movement against the mine.
The Superintendent of Police from Hazaribagh, when interviewed on 3 October, said, “Senior officials, including the additional district magistrate, are leading the troops into villages, and I don’t expect them to behave irresponsibly. Arrests are being made in connection with atrocities committed against the police.”
“Jharkhand authorities must look into allegations that the police used unnecessary and excessive force during the protests, and assaulted villagers later,” said Aruna Chandrasekhar.
The Pakri-Barwadih coal block was allocated to NTPC in 2004. The company aims to extract 15 million tonnes of coal a year. The mine site is located on forest land, common lands and private agricultural land in 23 villages. Communities depend on the forests for grazing their livestock, produce that they use and sell, and agriculture.
Authorities in India frequently fail to respect and protect the rights of communities affected by mining to genuine consultation on land acquisition, rehabilitation and resettlement, leading to serious effects on their lives and livelihoods.
Click HERE to read NTPC’s response