People’s groups express concern over violation of community rights over natural resources

mmp
Participants at the mm&P meet

By Sushant Panigrahi*

The 6th General Assembly of the mines, minerals &People (mm&P), organized from 13th May to 15th May 2017 at Kotagiri in Tamil Nadu, witnessed the participation of about 236 volunteers, coming from dozens of struggle groups representing 17 states across the country. People from various paths of life, from activist, journalist, lawyer, environmentalist, expert, student, farmer and women, to former deputy-director of Geological Survey of India KV Krishnamurthy, Rajasthan’s “water man” Rajendra Singh, as guest speaker, participated in the meet. They shared their experiences and expressed concern on issues of community rights over natural resources.

The event began with the release of the book, “Recognizing Grassroots Struggles for Rights to Resources, Livelihood and Health”, which carries stories on various anti-mining struggles and community issues. It also profiles heroes of struggles. Also released was the regular tribal magazine ‘Dhimsa’  which carries stories on tribal issues published by Samata, written by Mr Rajendra Singh, Mr Amarsingh Choudhury, former union minister, member of parliament and veteran tribal leader, Mr. Ashok Choudhury, eminent Gandhian and expert on PESA from Gujarat,  and M. Kalluram Ghodde, a prominent tribal leader and founder of Bhumi Sena in Maharastra.

Participants expressed their concern over the ongoing and proposed mining projects in their regions. Speaking on community rights over natural resources, Mr. Singh said that while the poor are forced to migrate due to scarcity of water, private companies are granted permission to extract as much water as they can for commercial purpose. Referring to the current political situation, he said, the concept of community rights over natural resources is dying. Mr. Singh urged the struggle groups across the country to express solidarity and support each other to claim and assert rights over natural resources.

Sharing his experience on issues of mining and sustainability of natural resources, especially in the context of Goa, Mr. Rahul Basu from Goa Foundation, stated that society and government must not forget that they are just the trustees of natural resources and not owners. Referring to aggressive mining activities and  profit mongering of crony capitalists by exploiting natural resources, he asserted that the basic requirement of human beings can definitely and easily be fulfilled, but not greed. Speaking on rights over natural resource, he stressed on the “public trust” doctrine and the “intergenerational equity” (earlier ruled by court to be part of the “right to life”) principle to propose an ethical, fair and just resolution to issues related with “fair mining”.

“The concept of intergenerational equity would make sure that next generations are also the equal shareholders of natural resources”, Mr. Basu said, adding, “As a result of the recommendations from the Goa Foundation, the Supreme Court of India has ordered the creation of the Goa Iron Ore Permanent Fund, meant to be utilized for future generations as equal shareholders of the natural resources. It is a great achievement to start with.”

This was followed with a resolution on “intergenerational equity”, based on the understanding of the “public trust” doctrine (minerals as shared inheritance). It was discussed by all the groups and leaders across the country, and was unanimously adopted. It was decided to address it to the President and the Prime Minister of India with the demand for having an “intergenerational equity” policy in each and every mining area.

Mr. Krishnamurthy, former deputy-director of the Geological Survey of India, expressed his concern over the impact of coal mining on environment and wildlife. Speaking on the impact of mining, especially of coal, Mr. Murthy said that growing demand for electricity for commercial purposes has led to increase in the demand for power plants, leading to growing demand for coal. This is uprooting millions of lives, affecting livelihoods. Unfortunately, he stated, these issues have never been taken seriously into account. “Strong policy for the conservation of environment and ecology is the need of the hour”, he said.

Speaking on provisions of PESA and states’ response to the fifth schedule areas in India, environmental activist CR Bijoy claimed that in spite of having autonomous power in the fifth schedule areas,  governors of states have never exercised their power in the interest of the tribal people of India. “Despite guidelines on dealing with land, forest and mining issues in the fifth schedule areas issued by former Union tribal affair minister Kishor Chandra Deo, state governments have violated the provisions and the spirit of the Act and bypassed the guidelines, said Mr. Bijoy. “Only five out 17 fifth schedule states have framed PESA rules, while the rest are hesitant. In fact, they are displacing growing number of tribals from fifth schedule regions”, he added.

“Mining is destruction. And the question of mining is contestable”, remarked Mr. Shiv Kumar, executive member of mm&P from Karnataka, recounting Bellary illegal mining issues, which grabbed headlines in 2004. Political parties in Karnataka have been successful in capturing power, making sure of stability of their kingdom for their vested interests. The mining lobby has controlled the political power, coupled with money power, in Bellary in Karnataka. All the legislations and rules meant for the tribes and poor have been sidelined, and manipulated by the politician-mafia nexus, by allowing schedule areas to be ‘governed’ ST officials”, claimed Mr. Kumar.

Mr. Kumar, expressing anguish over the impact of mining on women, said that while the devadasi system was dying, illegal mining activities have revived and encouraged the system, pushing young girls into the dark. “Despite a stringent order issued by the Supreme Court, the Karnataka government doesn’t bother to implement it “, alleged Mr. Kumar.

Speaking on the sustainability of mines, minerals and community benefit issues, Prof. AK Sinha expressed his unease towards the extent to which people are uprooted and minerals are mined and looted. Neither the Central government nor states government intend to share the benefits of minerals they mine with local communities. Instead, illegal mining is on the rise, producing revenue for the government, posing threas to communities, environment and wildlife. “The companies granted permission on certain conditions for mining violate all green norms”, asserted Prof. Sinha.

Although mining activities have been temporarily shut down at some places due to a petition filed by the environmental rights groups, people’s movements across the country ought to be empowered. However, unfortunately, this is not happening, complained Prof. Fatima Babu, professor, environmental activist and executive member of mm&P, Tamil Nadu.

Prof. Fatima added, state bureaucracies are highly corrupt and are hand in glove with mining mafias, making sure the stability of the ruling mafias. There is a complete disregard to the concerns of laws, and whoever raise voice, especially whistleblowers, pay a heavy price for speaking the truth. “Environmental pollution, loot of resources and exploitation of women are widespread in the mining sector”, claimed Prof. Fatima.

Prof. Babu urged the participants to strengthen the fight by extending solidarity and support to each other, listen to each other, understand each other, and support each other to stop the loot of our common resources and hold bureaucracies accountable for the illegal activities that are taking place. “We need to understand the issues of ‘sea tribe’, who depend on sea for their livelihood, the issues of fisher folks, whose issues have been hijacked due to lack of leadership. It requires special attention and action”, she appealed.

“The largest land acquisition for the special economic zone project by the government for private parties for Delhi-Mumbai industrial Corridor requires acquiring 4,37,846 sq. km of land and is likely to affect 70% of the population living in and around the regions”, said Mr. Sashi, an independent researcher from Maharashtra. Sharing his experience on fight against land grab in Palghar, Maharashtra, Mr. Sashi expressed his concern over the way the government is involved in and promoting a land-intensive exported-oriented manufacturing project, which is going to uproot and destroys millions of lives.

“The rights based perspective has been replaced by service based approach. Attempts have been made to dilute the spirit of laws to facilitate mining activities and land acquisition by amending the laws that protect the environment and the poor. Especially, the Environment Protection Act, the EIA notification etc. have been re-amended many a time for the interests of the corporates and crony capitalists. It seems that the Indian government is Americanizing the Indian laws”, remarked Leo Saldanha from the Environment Support Group, Bangalore.

Expressing anguish over the impact of mining on women and children, tribal leader and anti-mining women’s rights activist and executive member from Chhattisgarh, Ms. Indu Netam, said that women have always been subjected to violence, more so when they are involved in mining activities. Women compromise in everyday life, which has huge implications on their health. Children are the soft victims of mining, she added. “The understanding of earth, that it is a commodity, is leading to a situation where natural resources beneath the earth are handed over to private players. It’s high time to rethink the way we think”, she said.

Ms Bhagya, executive member of mm&P and anti-mining women rights activist from Bellary, Karnataka, shared her experience on the issues of impact of mining on women and children, saying, mining business in Bellary has forced women and child labour into mining activities. They are being given low wages. The rate of sex workers (devadasis) has risen over the last couple of years due to illegal mining activities in the state.

In addition, she added, “Drug abuse among children has risen in the mining areas across the state. The wage for women is lower (Rs.60-Rs.100) than their male counterparts. The issues of women in mining areas demand a separate lens to be looked into. It deserves special attention and action to ensure that women are also equal participants in the process of development.”

“Women are neglected, exploited, and even denied basic facilities, like water, safety measures/tools at the working sites. Women’s mortality rate is gradually increasing”, claimed Siya Dulhari, an anti-mining women’s rights activist and executive mm&P from Rewa district of Madhya Pradesh. “Violence against women, due to increasing alcohol intake among men, has increased in the mining areas in Rewa districts.  Child labour, school dropout rate and malnutrition among children are on the rise in the state,” she revealed.

Executive members Mr. Mukesh Birua, from Jharkhand, Mr Ashok Chaudhury, from Gujarat and Mr Deme Oram from Odisha expressed their grave concern over poor governance, non-implementation and manipulation and misused of PESA in the fifth schedule regions. “Both central and state governments should respect the rule of law and implement PESA in fifth schedule areas”, Mr Chaudhury said. “Despite several protective laws for tribes and fifth scheduled areas, unfortunately, tribals are getting uprooted from their native land and driven away from their natural resource”, he added.

“The very protective law called PESA, which is widely considered as a strong tool to protect tribal lands, was actually never meant to protect tribes, rather it was intended to administer tribes and to facilitate mining projects for corporate”, remarked eminent tribal leader, Mr. Oram from Odisha.

On the last day of the general assembly, the election of chairperson, secretary general, and executive members that mm&P was conducted in the presence of advisor and Lawyer M Srinivas Murty of mm&P. Mr.Ravi Rebbapragada was re-elected chairperson and Mr. Ashok Shrimali as secretary general of mm&P for 2017 to 2019.

Senior researcher, mines, minerals & People (mm&P)   

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