MAC: Mines and Communities

India: Mining project divides Jharkhand village along caste lines

Published by MAC on 2013-07-01
Source: Indian Express

Recently, international attention focusses on the role of India's village councils (gram sabhas) in determining if Vedanta can mine the Nyamgiri hills in Orissa.

Initial attempts by the state government to restrict the deliberations to just a handful of villages (rather than many score of them) now appear to have been stalled.

However, there are still widespread fears that the company, backed by state "security" forces, and private goons, will try to cow local people into withholding their dissent to the mining - or not turning up at all at the requisite meetings.

The following article focuses on another mining project in the neighbouring state of Jharkhand. It's a different kind of venture - coal not bauxite - and centred on just one, rather than many, villages. Caste appears to play a major part in determining peoples' views on whether the project should proceed.

Nonetheless it raises a critical question about the dynamics of the gram sabha process itself: just how many gram sabha meetings can be called, when one group of villagers claims the initial one was illegitimate?

The article points out that "The corporates have understood the weaknesses in the system", citing a "top official associated with the project" whose views on its future leave us in no doubt that intimdation is the order of the day - at least in this instance:

"If a company wants to mine an area, it will be done. There may be a delay, but a mine will come up there. If the Gram Sabha resists, we will call another Gram Sabha. If the Pradhan refuses to support, people will find a new Pradhan [village leader]"


Mining project divides Jharkhand village along caste lines

Deepu Sebastian Edmond

The Indian Express

28 June 2013

In an unusual turn to the process of land acquisition for industrial projects, Latehar district's Jala village has split along caste lines, with one group demanding that the Gram Sabha be convened a second time to overturn an earlier rejection of a mining project. On the other hand, a group of villagers opposing the project claim that the Tritiya Sammelan Prastuti Committee, a Left Wing Extremist group, is in favour of mining and has even threatened to kill one of them if he does not relent.

Jala, located in Balumath block, forms almost the entire proposed site for a coal mine that will feed power projects in the region.

Jala is part of the Ganeshpur coal block, which has been allotted to a joint venture of Tata Steel and Adhunik Power and Natural Resource Limited. The JV has been named Ganeshpur Coal Project.

A section of the villagers allege that an ‘illegal' Gram Sabha was convened on March 15 by those who support the project to ratify the land acquisition proposal. A Gram Sabha of August 18, 2012 had opposed the project.

Jala brings to the fore a major loophole in the law - that the rules do not specify how many times a Gram Sabha can vote on a land acquisition question. When the village voted in August 2012, its residents were overwhelmingly against the project. A number of people have since changed their mind, which has led to an impasse, and, worse, communal tension.

"The first Gram Sabha opposed the project. However, a group of people approached me, claiming that there were illegalities. Hence, a second meeting was called recently. The other group is now claiming that this meeting was illegal. The village is clearly split on the issue. I have told them to sit down and work out a consensus," said Latehar's Deputy Commissioner Aradhana Patnaik.

Jala is made up of three tolas (hamlets) - Harijala and Barwatoli have an Oraon majority, while Yadav tola's majority population comprises the Yadavs. According to state's Primary Census data, Jala has a population of 859 - 471 of them tribals, living in 169 households. Most of the tribals have opposed the project, while the Yadavs have supported it.

At an impromptu meeting under a mahua tree in Harijala, Jala's Pradhan Ramchandra Bhagat voiced his opposition. "At the first Gram Sabha, the company representatives did not turn up. At the second, there was massive police presence. I did not attend the second one and the person who presided over it was not a tribal, which invalidates the meeting," he said.

‘Company' is the generic term used by villagers to describe either Tata Steel or Adhunik PNRL, as most of them do not know about the JV.

The July 2009 guidelines of the Ministry of Environment and Forests specify that rights under the Forest Rights Act should be conferred before diversion of forest land for non-forestry purpose. Accordingly, in order to strengthen their negotiating position, the tribals have applied for community pattas of 923 acres, along with 47 pattas for individual households. The total area under the Ganeshpur Coal Project is 983 acres, which includes three other villages.

"The company is offering to compensate for the land we own individually. What about our community forest rights? Our village has traditionally existed within these 923 acres that we now claim patta for," said Bhagat.

Land acquisition is also difficult because 415 acres of the 983 acres is forest land, and Stage-I forest clearance is pending.

The corporates have understood the weaknesses in the system. "If a company wants to mine an area, it will be done. There may be a delay, but a mine will come up there. If the Gram Sabha resists, we will call another Gram Sabha. If the Pradhan refuses to support, people will find a new Pradhan," said a top official associated with the project.

The villagers have a history of resistance, having asked the Central Coalfields Limited to stay away in the 1990s. "The CCL started mining in adjoining areas in 1990, but we firmly told them that we would not give our land," said Baldev Oraon.

Oraon says that the TSPC has threatened him: "I was returning from the market one evening when they accosted me and took me about 100 m inside the forest. A man of about 35 years - my fellow residents insist that it was area commander Karthikji - told me that I should support mining here, else I will be killed."

The TSPC also reportedly tried to pull down one of the signboards put up at the village boundary. "After company officials tried to survey our village land without permission, we installed signboards saying that no one should enter the area without our permission. It was our way of asserting our right over this land. About 15 TSPC cadres, most of them children in fatigues with arms, came one morning and destroyed one of the boards. We women got together and opposed it; they had to apologise and leave," said Lacho Devi.

The TSPC was reportedly established with the support of the police's Special Branch. Balumath reportedly remains largely free of CPI(Maoist) cadres because of its presence. The TSPC's cadre is drawn almost exclusively from among the Scheduled Caste Ganjhus. Yadav oppression of the Ganjhus in the erstwhile Maoist Communist Centre is the stated reason why the TSPC's founders broke away from the parent party. In Jala though, extraneous reasons seem to have caused the organisation's alignment with a cause supported largely by the Yadavs.

A mob gheraoed this reporter as he was leaving Jala. They claimed to be members of the Displacement Agitation Group. "We are for development. We want to talk to the company before saying an outright ‘No', unlike the others," said Kuldeep Yadav, who claimed to be the group's president. "We were in two minds when the August 2012 Gram Sabha was held, but we have since come to the conclusion that mining will be beneficial for us," he said.

As it turned out, four men in the crowd were from the companies involved in the project. "This is our project area; we are from the Corporate Social Responsibility team," said one of them, without identifying his organisation. The villagers calmed down only after the police talked to them.

Adhunik has begun feeling the pinch of the villagers' resilience. The company had commissioned a 270 MW unit of its 540 MW thermal power plant at Saraikela-Kharsawan district in October 2012. The plant, which is to get its coal from Ganeshpur block, is now dependent for coal from other areas. "We plan to raise a total of four million tonnes each annually, with each company taking half. We have tried talking to the villagers; a good number of them have agreed to listen to our proposal," said Sanjay Kumar Jain, executive vice-president, mines (coal), APNRL.

APNRL claims that it has launched CSR schemes, which includes technical training for the village youth. "We have proposed a rehabilitation package. Among others, it involves Rs 9 lakh per acre, a job for an adult member of the family, a house within a 10 decimal (1/100 of an acre) plot. We took some villagers on a trip to the colony we have constructed for those displaced due to the Saraikela project, and they were impressed by what they saw," claimed Jain.

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