South Asia updatePublished by MAC on 2007-01-26
South Asia update
26th January 2007
In flagrant contravention of recommendations made by its own Extractive Industries Review three years ago, the World Bank is financing a major expansion of coal-fired energy (and thus coal mining) in India, through its Global Environment Fund (GEF).
Britain's department for international development (DfID), along with the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) is backing Orissa's state government in its ceaseless programme to relocate villagers in favour of massive extractive projects.
- And this, despite full knowledge of India's constitutional provision which forbids the appropriation of Adivasi (tribal) territory by private industry.
News is just emerging of a major landslip at an iron ore mine in the tourist state of Goa which last month claimed the lives of at least six local residents.
After postponing elections scheduled this month in Bangladesh, the country's caretaker government has declared a state of emergency, accompanied by a raft of draconic legislation forbidding a large number of demonstrations and clamping down on critical media comment.
Among the many recent "developments" to arouse the ire of citizens has been the Phulbari coal project in northwestern Bangladesh.
Now the UK company promoting the widely-condemned scheme, along with the Asia Dvelopment Bank, has changed its name - a move construed by some as a "conspiracy" to conceal its true intent.
Global Environment Fund Gives Money to Dirty Fuel
24th January 2007
NEW DELHI - The world's biggest fund for environmental projects is investing for the first time in a non-renewable, polluting fuel -- coal -- in what it says is a new pragmatic approach to the energy needs of the developing world.
The Global Environment Facility, managed by the World Bank and United Nations agencies, said on Tuesday it was putting US$45.5 million towards an overhaul of some of power-hungry India's ageing coal-fired plants to make them more efficient and less polluting.
Monique Barbut, the facility's CEO, said there had been long debates about whether it should be funding a "polluting" coal project, in what would seem to be a departure from its aim of weaning the world off carbon as a fuel supply.
In the end, she said, the pragmatic approach won out.
"We cannot cover the planet with wind turbines," she told reporters at a New Delhi press conference.
"We do argue that renewable energy is the best ... but at the same time India is clearly not going to develop for the next 20 years without coal. We have to cooperate with that."
She said modernising India's coal plants was the most direct way for the country to reduce its emission of carbon dioxide -- a so-called greenhouse gas which many scientists believe contributes to global warming.
The facility is working to bring a similar project to China.
India burns more coal than any other country in the developing world, and depends on it for about 60 percent of its total energy capacity.
Still, that total falls far short of its needs -- 44 percent of Indian homes are without electricity, according to the 2001 census.
India, one of the world's fastest-growing economies, aims to get all households wired into the power grid by 2012.
Upgrading coal-fired plants, most of which are owned by the state, will boost energy output a little, but it will only have a minimal impact on closing India's huge shortfall, said Alok Kumar, a director at the Ministry of Power.
Beside the facility's grant, another US$300 million in funding is coming from the World Bank and Indian commercial banks.
In total, that is supposed to cover the cost of upgrading about one percent of India's coal-fired capacity over the next few years.
"It adds power in an affordable way, but the most significant gain is environmental," said the World Bank's Rajesh Sinha, an adviser on the project.
Story by Jonathan Allen
REUTERS NEWS SERVICE
UNDP, DFID to help Orissa settle tribals
BS Reporter / Kolkata/ Bhubaneswar
19th January 2007
Unable to tide over the spate of agitations that is still rocking the state, the Orissa government has roped in the services of United Nation Development Programme (UNDP) and Department For International Development (DFID) of the UK government for the smooth implementation of a comprehensive rehabilitation and resettlement (R&R) policy in the state.
UNDP and DFID, which had helped the government in formulation of the policy in April 2006, will lend their support to the government in its implementation basically in four areas.
These were awareness generation, building institutional framework like state R&R advisory committee and directorate, capacity building and exposure including training of field personnel and preparation of a comprehensive operational manual.
Orissa is shortly coming out with a comprehensive operational handbook on R&R policy for persons displaced from farm and homestead lands taken away for industrial purposes.
The operational handbook could act as a model for other states, especially neighbouring West Bengal where R&R policy has taken a major jolt on efforts by that government to take over farm lands for industrial purposes at Nandigram and Singur.
Unlike the Orissa government the West Bengal government is yet to formulate a comprehensive R&R policy and is mostly relying on administrative orders for the acquiring of farmlands doling out compensations to the displaced.
Orissa, however, is still dogged by warring tribals of Kalinganagar who are yet to give up their lands for the Tata*s steel plant and are blocking the Daitari-Paradip Expressway (NH 200) for the past one year.
Only recently the government is trying to make some headways in breaking the deadlock following the High Court order in this regard. The operational handbook will act as a guide to the R&R policy and it is being prepared by the government in collaboration with the UNDP and DFID.
The operational handbook is likely to be followed up by legislations for R&R on lines already formulated and adopted by Maharashtra, Madhya Pradesh and Karnataka governments.
Orissa government plans to follow the rehabilitation model of the Karnataka government in setting up of the Upper Krishna Irrigation Project and a similar one at Uttarkashi.
The Upper Krishna Project had witnessed a calm and tame rehabilitation of around 400,000 people. The Uttarkashi project of the Uttaranchal government has also witnessed rehabilitation of about 100,000 people.
Apart from working out a Operational Handbook as part of R&R policy , the UN body is also suggesting the setting up of an independent monitoring committee of experts by the government to look into R&R developments every six months.
Though Orissa is currently having a full-fledged R&R policy certain ends still need to tightened with the government yet to set up a state council on R&R and a directorate.
Moreover, there are also loopholes in setting up R&R centres at the district and panchayat [village group] levels. Orissa had adopted the R&R policy in April 2006.
Committees like the rehabilitation and periphery development advisory committee (RPDAC) had been formed.
Recently another state level committee supplementing RPDAC was set up by the government. The operational handbooks will focus basically on areas like Gopalpur, Jajpur, Keonjhar, Paradip, Kalinganagar where prospective investors are making a beeline.
Goa State Government to blame for Sanguem Mine disaster
PREETU NAIR, firstname.lastname@example.org
SANGUEM: Crisis is not new to residents in Dhargini. Even before the "man-made" landslide killed six innocent souls, the villagers had written letters, warning various government authorities that sooner or later the "violent action" witnessed in Saleli would be repeated in Dhargini. The reason: sheer indifference on the part of government authorities to address the genuine problems of the villagers.
The villagers wrote a letter on March 22, 2006 to Mamlatdar, Executive Engineer Water Resource Department, Bhati Sarpanch, Director of Directorate of Mines and Industries, Chairman Goa Pollution Control Board and Sanguem PI complaining (a copy of which is available with GT) against M/S Timblo Ltd. for operating beneficiation plant "illegally" at Dhargini-Bhati which was causing tremendous dust and noise pollution and water scarcity. In the letter, they clearly stated, "We have lost the limits of our tolerance and don't expect us to tolerate the atrocities any further. We request to take measures to stop the illegal operation of the mine and also stop the operation of the plant between 7 pm and 8 am and further to restore the rivulet, wells, plantation and conditions of our houses to its original position".
The inaction on the part of the government officials and their failure to address people's woes despite several reminders, had forced the villagers to write a strong letter to the government officials, including the Chief Secretary, South Goa Collector and Quepem Deputy Collector. "It is painful that though no action was taken to our petition (in January 2006), false and manipulated complaints from the Company officials were entertained at Sanguem police and villagers were harassed by frequent visits of police at our residence," the villagers alleged.
According to the villagers, the "illegal" operation of the beneficiation plant at Dhargini Bhati, "causes tremendous pollution, nuisance and water scarcity". "The operation of mine illegally below the water table has led to water scarcity in the village. We are dependent on the water supplied by the mine owners and during holidays we don't get water. The village has a tap connection, but the tap is dry," alleged villager Babi Velip.
"We are suffering because of the illegal operation of the beneficiation plant by M/S Timblo. Initially, the plant was operated only during the daytime. However, recently the operation of the plant is made round the clock, thereby making lives of the villagers around the plant miserable", he added.
Dhargini residents also allege that despite several complaints to various government authorities, they have no relief. On the contrary, they are troubled and threatened by the mining lobby with the help of government officials, the residents alleged. "Besides, air and sound pollution, the plant has created serious environmental and health hazard for the villagers. Yet no one is wanting to help us," complained Anil Gaonkar.
To add to their woes, the smoke and effluents emitted from the plant has destroyed the rivulet and wells in the village has dried. The cattle are slowly perishing and crops destroyed. "But the authorities are blindly overlooking all the aspects, despite the same being brought to their notice from time to time. The inaction on the part of Government officials and concerned departments is beyond our understanding," added Harichandra Velip.
Well, call it a warning or wake up call for the government authorities. But the fact remains that there is an urgent need for the government to go beyond the obvious and address people's woe. Added Velip, "Don't test our patience and compel us to come on the streets or take law in our hand. We shall be compelled to do so if the authorities don't act suitably soon".
Mine of Corpses: Hope amidst grief and pain
by Preetu Nair, Gomantak Times, Panjim edition
12th December 2006
SANGUEM/SOUTH GOA/ INDIA
From Lalita Mirashi's eyes flows pain that falls drop by drop into the heart. Her pain is immense and grief is endless. Her strained face reflects hope. Only, there isn't any left.
Her husband, Satish, was buried alive in an enormous landslide at Tollem mine in Sanguem taluka on Saturday, leaving a two month pregnant Lalita with three little daughters, a widowed mother-in-law and an unmarried sister-in-law.
It is a heartrending scene as she holds on to her children in desperation and uncertainty, wails loudly, screams in pain and then falls unconscious in her two-room 'kutcha' house in Dharginim. Neighbors explain, "She has not eaten anything since Saturday. She is pregnant and the shock is unbearable for her. On Sunday, we had to take her to a private hospital where the doctor put her on a drip and kept her under observation for sometime." Her three children smile and play, too young to realize their mother's suffering.
In between bouts of consciousness and unconsciousness, Lalita reveals that till the landslide killed Satish; he eked out a living by working double shift at the mining unit run by Radha Timblo. He worked as a Supervisor. "We don't have any agricultural land nor have any other source of income. My husband was the only one in the family with a steady income. My younger brother-in-law has just started work," she revealed. Satish was earning Rs 100 per shift of 8 hours and he often did double shift to meet the family's monthly expenses.
Satish's younger sister Bharati, who sat next to Lalita is silent and stares speechlessly. She was the first to learn that her brother was buried alive in the mine. "We rushed to the spot and Bharati was shocked at the sight there. She knew that she had lost her brother forever. Disappointed and shocked into disbelief we managed to return home," whispers her friend Jayanti Velip, even as from the dark, dingy kitchen we hear an elderly woman wailing. The woman we learn is Satish's mother. Relatives reveal that she believes that her son would survive the landslide, walk into the house soon, calling out for his, "ayee".
If Lalita lost a loving husband in the landslide, then Ulhas Bhandari from Ugem saw his 21-year-old son, Sunny, being buried under the debris. He called out for help, but in vain. "Five minutes wait made the difference between life and death. Sunny had finished work, but waited five minutes to get a lift in the Volvo, which was about to finish loading. It was Sunny's last trip for the day," recollects Ulhas. Little did the family realise that this was to be the last trip of his life.
Ulhas looks stoic but his words have the stamp of desolation. "I don't know why such a tragedy has hit our family? We have lost our young son," he says. Sunny had started working in the mine dropping out of school in standard IX. He was earning anything between Rs 1500 to 2500 a month, depending on the overtime he did.
The only consolation for Lalita and Ulhas, besides the other aggrieved families is that Mine owner Radha Timblo had visited their homes on Sunday with promises to help. But will any help that the Mining company provides, ever compensate for the loss of a husband or a young son?
Rs 2 lakh compensation
Meanwhile, Chetan Timblo, the owner of Tollem mine said that initially the six families would be paid Rs 2 lakh each. He emphasized that this is only the initial help and the Company will look after the families of those buried alive in the landslide. "Our priority still lies in extricating the bodies. All man power and equipment has been put to work to retrieve the bodies. We intend to order an internal inquiry into the unfortunate happening," he added.
Additional Collector to probe
Goa 's Minister of Mines Minister Digambar Kamat told GT that Additional Collector, North, Swapnil Naik has been appointed to probe into the disaster at Tollem mines. "The government has also asked the Company to pay initial compensation of Rs 2 lakh each to the families of the deceased, which the Company agreed," added Kamat. The search operations entered the third day, without much success.
Help flows from Congress party
The Congress block committees of Sanguem, Curchorem and Sanvordem have mobilized their members to assist people working at the site of the Tollem mining disaster by lending a helping hand. Besides, providing solace and moral support to the victims' families.
BURIED ALIVE:MAN-MADE CALAMITY
BY PREETU NAIR & SUSHMA FERNANDES, GT Weekender, Panjim , Goa, India
10th December 2006
Official figures state that six people were buried alive in an enormous landslide at Tollem iron ore mine in Sanguem taluka, in what is being considered to be a man-made disaster. However, villagers claim that the death toll maybe much higher
SANGUEM/ SOUTH GOA/ INDIA: Official figures state that six people were buried alive in an enormous landslide at Tollem iron ore mine in Sanguem taluka, in what is being considered to be a man-made disaster. However, villagers claim that the death toll maybe much higher. The police, who started rescue operations immediately, managed to only remove the body of Gurudas Naik from Collem and a Volvo vehicle from the debris. Majority of the deceased were from Sanguem taluka and were working for contractor Anup Mhatme and Ishwar Shetye at the mining unit as daily wageworkers, earning anything between Rs 75 to 120 per day. The mines had been given as royalty to Radha Timblo
The Sanguem police has registered a case of negligence, under section 304 (A), against the Board of Directors and concerned Managers of the mine. "We have already booked the case and further investigations are on," said Sanguem PI Ramesh Gaonkar.
Though no one knows what triggered the enormous landslide (150 meters high and covering an area of 12,000 sq mts), people working in the mine are blaming the authorities for not taking safety precautions and alleging that the incident occurred due to the negligence of the authorities. However, the workers point out that just last week the Mine had received a safety clearance certificate after the Directorate of Mine Safety, Margao inspected the safety aspects.
As the workers at the mining unit were dispersing for lunch at around 12.50 pm, they heard a deafening sound and saw some of their colleagues and vehicles getting crushed under the massive landslide. They reveal that it happened so fast that those who perished didn't have any time to react.
The others who are said to be buried alive are Sunny Bhandari, Edwin Fernandes, Satish Mirashi and Shashidhar from Karnataka. Besides, around six vehicles - two Volvo, one Tata Hitachi excavator, one wind loader and two tippers - are still buried in the debris along with several innocent souls.
Earthmovers were deployed to extricate the dead and vehicles, but as they couldn't locate the bodies, the Army was called in late in the evening. After examining the spot, the army personnel asked for a map of the area before starting work today (Sunday).
Mine owner Chetan Timblo maintained, "Our Company will take care of the families of those who died", even as tension and anxiety kept mounting in the area. Several villagers confronted Timblo and accused the company of not paying any heed to the employees' safety, while the aggrieved relatives mourned the deaths. SP South Goa, Shekhar Prabhudessai, Secretary Mines Rajiv Yaduvanshi, Sanguem deputy collector PK Velip, Mamlatdar Parag Parsekar were among the officials who visited the site, even as the police force from Quepem, Curchorem and Sanguem was put into action.
Their God is angry!
SANGUEM: Is it God's wrath or merely a human error? Whatever be the answer, the shocked villagers firmly believe that their God is angry with them and cursed them as they had abused an ancient place of worship that lies in the mine. And they have their reasons. Reveals a villager Arun Kudikar, "Our colleague Ulhas Bhandari was dead against starting mining work in the area for he feared God's wrath, but the manager asked him to start work or quit. He started work on Thursday, and yesterday afternoon he saw his young son Sunny buried under the debris caused due to landslide." Another villager Arjun Dessai said, "The area adjacent to the devasam collapsed, while the devasam is intact."
The story among the villagers goes like this: Long ago, there were paddy fields in the area which is now taken up by the mine, and in the fields was the devasam of Naikidev, whom the villagers worshiped. When the mine owners took over the fields, the devasam of Naikidev was shifted to Ugem. However, villagers believe that their God still resides in the mine and were angry when they started disturbing the abode. "We gave in to the mine owner's pressure tactics and had to pay for it with the loss of so many lives," said Kudikar.
'I've not informed my parents about my brother's death'
SANGUEM: Ludovick Fernandes hopefully watches the men at work. His brother Edwin Fernandes has been trapped beneath tons of earth and every single effort to find him has failed. As darkness descends Ludovick gets restless. "I have not informed my parents about my brother's death. They will be shocked and pained," he revealed.
According to him, his cousin Simon D'Costa who was waiting eagerly for the lunch break heard a big sound and saw his brother's vehicle number 5, a Volvo, getting buried under the debris. Edwin was in the vehicle. Unhappy with the rescue operations, Ludovick complained that there was only one earthmoving machine in rescue operation when he arrived at the site at 3 pm. "The rest of the machines came an hour later and the rescue work was delayed. Now they should work faster and ensure that we at least get the body to perform the final rites," he said.
Ludovick said that Edwin should have never come back to Goa to work in the Tollem iron ore mine, but he was happiest when he returned home after working for four years in Madhya Pradesh. Incidentally, police officials at the spot, on condition of anonymity, admitted that it is dangerous to carry on rescue operations, as they feared that any activity in the area would trigger another landslide. "But we didn't want to hurt people's emotions and tried to help in whichever manner possible," they said.
What is really surprising is that though mine owner Chetan Timblo had arrived at the spot, the contractors Anup Mhatme and Ishwar Shetye were nowhere on the scene.
Harichandra Velip has another worry. He is surprised that though his close relative Satish Mirashi is buried inside, the Manager of the mine had claimed that Satish was not present at the site when the incident occurred.
"Satish has got three little daughters and I don't know what to say to his young wife. Will his family be denied compensation because he was a contract labourer or will the owners deny help to them stating that he was not present at the site when the incident occurred?" questioned Velip.
He approached Timblo and pointing an accusing finger at him cried out,"Our relatives are buried inside. What are you doing?" even as other villagers consoled him. Meanwhile, Babi Velip who had filed a petition in the Panjim bench of the Bombay High Court against the mine owners for causing pollution and destroying the fields and wells in the area, said, "I have always maintained that the Mine owners were neglecting the welfare of the workers and now we pay for our owner's mistakes with our lives."
'Asia Energy still hatching conspiracy'
The Daily Star, Dhaka, Bangladesh
26th January 2007
Leaders of National Committee to Protect Oil, Gas, Mineral Resources, Electricity and Port yesterday claimed that Asia Energy Corporation (AEC) is still hatching conspiracy centering the Phulbari coal mine through changing its name, says a press release.
In a statement of the National Committee, the leaders also said that AEC has changed its name on January 11 and the new name of AEC is Global Coal Management (GCM).
National Committee Member Secretary Anu Muhammad and Convener Engineer Sheikh Muhammad Shahidullah expressed deep concern over the new strategy of AEC and said GCM has already signed a contract with a tele-company as a part of its conspiracy.
At the face of people' upsurge against the AEC Phulbari coal mine project, BNP led four-party alliance government has been compelled to sign a contract for cancelling the project. But the alliance government did not cancel the project formally, they said, adding that taking this opportunity AEC is again hatching conspiracy.
They demanded formal cancellation of the AEC Phulbari project and urged the caretaker government to take stern actions against the AEC.
Asia Energy changes name but remains the same
NewAge, Dhaka, Bangladesh
23rd January 2007
The UK-based Asia Energy PLC, which has become controversial in Bangladesh for the Phulbari coal-mine project, has changed its name to Global Coal Management PLC.
The company, at its annual general meeting in the second week of this month, approved the change in the name, according to a company statement posted in different websites.
'Global Coal Management PLC (formerly Asia Energy PLC) is a London-based AIM whose primary activity is the development of the coal basin at Phulbari in northwestern Bangladesh into a world-class open pit coal-mine,' says the company's website.
However chief executive officer of Asia Energy's Bangladesh operation, Gary Lye, said that the company's Bangladesh subsidiary's name would remain Asia Energy Corporation (Bangladesh).
'The Asia Energy PLC changed its name as it has expanded its operation in other sectors including the coal sector in Africa and as per the demand of the shareholders,' he told New Age on Monday.
The company was forced to stop its activities at the Phulbari coal-field in Dinajpur in the last week of August, 2006, after local people demonstrated against the company's planned open-pit mining. Five people were killed when police opened fire on demonstrators.
Local demonstrators got so angry at Asia Energy that they started to vandalise everything which had Asia Energy's logo. They even beat up a youth who was wearing a tee-shirt on the back of which was written 'Asian Theatre'.
Many in the energy division and the demonstrators opined at that time that the company would change its name as the company's name — 'Asia Energy' — became controversial after the Phulbari killing.
Sources in the energy division said that the law ministry was yet to give its opinion on the agreement that Rajshahi mayor, Mizanur Rahman, signed with the demonstrators in Phulbari that the government's agreement with Asia Energy would be scrapped and the company would be ousted from Bangladesh.