MAC: Mines and Communities

Land, Forests, Displacement and Livelihoods: Protecting Womenís Rights in Mining

Published by MAC on 2003-04-15


Land, Forests, Displacement and Livelihoods: Protecting Women’s Rights in Mining

Background Paper by Mines, Minerals and People (MMP) for the Indian Women and Mining seminar, Delhi April 2003

The horrors of land acquisition are experienced by mining affected communities in a similar manner or perhaps more severe in nature, than that of dams and other big projects. When mining leases are given, the immediate threat to local communities is displacement and land alienation, which are inevitable features especially with regard to largescale mining. Minerals are considered national resources and sub soil rights over lands belong to the state and not to the individual owners. The powers of eminent domain, which are enjoyed by the state while acquisition of lands for mining, positions local communities in totally helpless situations.

Although apparently, there are complex procedures for acquisition of lands and for obtaining mining leases for exploration, prospecting and extraction, in reality, mining projects are sanctioned more with the view of encouraging and catering to the interests of the mining industries rather than to protect the interests of the local communities and the rest of the natural resources which exist in a mining area apart from the minerals, as reflected in the New Mineral Policy of 1993. The shifting focus of India’s economic reforms are reflected in the series of recommendations to the Mineral Policy as well as to push for amendments in other Acts which are related to mining activities like the Labour laws, the Coal Nationalisation Act, The Fifth Schedule, the Land Acquisition Act, the Forest Conservation Act, the Environment Protection Act, the PESA and others, shows an increasing disrespect of the state towards the rights of communities.

Livelihoods and Access to Natural Resources: Impact of Mining

In the context of gender positioning, mining has only multiplied the exploitation and degradation of women’s rights with regard to land and livelihoods. Historically and also in the existing legal framework, women have no legal rights over lands or natural resources. There is an invisible distinction between rural and tribal women with regard to control over lands in traditional land based situations in mainstream India. Tribal women enjoy a greater social status with regard to control over resources. This ensures their active participation and decision-making with regard to land utilisation, agriculture and powers over cash flow in a tribal economy. This is enjoyed to a lesser extent by rural women in India. Yet, they have a distinct role in the agrarian society with regard to participation in agricultural work, livestock management, and access to common properties.

However, both rural and tribal women are completely alienated from these accesses and rights when the mines come. Testimonies of women from coal mining areas of Orissa (Talcher) show that displacement and loss of land were the most serious problems affecting their lives, as their link to livelihood, economic and social status, health and security all depended on land and forests.

Whenever villages have been displaced or affected, women have been forced out of their land based work and pushed into menial and marginalised forms of labour as maids and servants, as construction labourers or into prostitution, which are highly unorganised and socially humiliating.

Women displaced by mining, have lost the rights to cultivate their traditional crops, and forests being cut down for mining, they are unable to collect forest produce for consumption (food, fodder, medicines or ceremonial needs) or for sale. The cash flow that tribal and rural women have access to, by sale of forest produce and by breeding livestock, has disappeared. They are forced to walk miles away from their villages leaving behind their children, either to collect forest produce or find wage labour and have had to sell away all their cattle. In many situations there is seasonal migration leading to work insecurity, breaking up of family relations and exposing them to various social hazards.

Transformation of Roles and Rights

It has always been the men who received any form of rehabilitation either in cash or as employment which has led to complete ‘idleness’ in the economic sphere for women while they wait the whole day long, for their men to return from the mine-pits. When some of the men received employment, the women were forced to manage the land (some of those lands still left under their control), and agricultural activities on their own. In such situations, their drudgery has increased, and has led to situations of share-cropping and gradually to mortgaging of land.

Women from land-owning communities have been forced into wage labour, which is a socially and economically humiliating shift. Women are also forced into petty trades or other businesses but the social taboos of participation in these sectors, their lack of literacy or skills, exposes them to further exploitation in these trades.

Tribal communities, displaced multiple times by mining and other projects, have migrated to bordering states in search of land and forests. A very clear example is the migration of tribals from Orissa to the neighbouring state of Andhra Pradesh where the Khonds had to occupy lands high up on the hills or encroach onto forest lands at the risk of being harassed as ‘criminals’ by both revenue and forest departments. They have cut down vast stretches of forest for survival and are accused of practicing ‘unsustainable’ agriculture called ‘podu’ or ‘jhum’ (shifting cultivation). Women, old and young, have to keep moving with their little children due to displacement multiple times. Some of them who have settled closer to the tourist towns had to shift to construction work, petty trades or prostitution as a means of survival.

Land Acquisition: The Nuances of land grabbing

The Land Acquisition Act of India is draconian and obsolete and gives over-riding powers to the state to encroach onto people’s lands for any ‘public purpose’ including mining. In most mining situations, communities become aware of projects only at the time of eviction when the bull-dozers are brought in, many a times with police presence. The public hearings are organised in a biased and almost discreet manner where the local administration, the statutory bodies for clearing the projects and the mining companies are in close collusion to ensure that there are no effective objections raised by the public. Most mining companies also operate on a deemed consent basis so that even without the mandatory clearances, mining operations are expanded beyond lease areas and periods. The ‘public purpose’ of a mining activity from a gender perspective and especially with regard to what the women in the communities stand to ‘publicly’ gain, is highly questionable.

As communities have no access to project information, they have to rely on the revenue officials or on the local politicians, to inform them of the extent of land proposed for occupation. In many cases lands and forests and common properties are acquired far more than sanctioned for the projects. This blatant violation was exposed in one of the mining projects of the Indian Rayons and Industries in the scheduled area of Andhra Pradesh where the area occupied by the company was greater than the area actually sanctioned as per the government order. It was only with the information gathered from government orders and circulars, which were unearthed by the local movement and by the Adivasi women who physically stopped the company from entering their lands, that prevented further encroachment by the company.

Land Acquisition, PESA and the Fifth Scheduled Areas:

In most mining projects the Land Acquisition Act has been wielded to supersede the Fifth Schedule laws for acquiring Adivasi lands for mining until this was nullified by the Samatha Judgement. In Andhra Pradesh, the cancellation of all mining leases in the scheduled area has been the greatest relief for Adivasi women who have started cultivating, after years of having worked as wage labourers in their own lands.

After the enforcement of PESA, it is now compulsory for the lease applicants to obtain a NOC from the Gram Sabha. In states like Chattisgarh, where Adivasi women, in thousands, have valiantly protested against public sector mining projects like the NMDC Steel Plant in Nagarnar, they were brutally suppressed inspite of stark violations of the Land Acquisition procedures and the PESA Act. Here the Gram Sabha was never consulted and there were gross dereliction of duties and procedures by the authorities and the company with regard to obtaining consent and NOC’s from the people. NMDC has denied any of the violations brought out by the National SC/ST Commission in its fact finding report on Nagarnar. On the other hand, it is forcibly evicting people from their lands and going ahead with the construction by intimidating the women against any democratic agitations. Several women and children were taken into custody for demonstrating against the Plant. In such situations, where is the public accountability towards women in the communities while acquiring lands for mining projects?

In some cases even where NOC’s were obtained and due procedures were followed, the local communities have realized that they have not benefited from the projects. In many a situation, NOC’s are obtained with false promises of employment and compensation none of which have any legal binding on the companies. In many sites, people’s individual lands were not taken for mining butgovernment or common lands have been acquired, where the permission of the communities or Gram Sabhas was deemed not to be necessary. These are lands which surround the villages where there are important natural resources that women lose access to once mining companies take over. The land acquisition officials are completely callous towards communities and more so with regard to women and despite serious violations in procedures, they are either oblivious to this or do not ensure that companies consult the communities adequately. This situation exists widely in Banswada and Dungarpur districts of Rajasthan where mining activities were undertaken for many years without any consultations with people.

In many Adivasi villages, people are not even aware of the PESA in order to demand for proper consultation or decision-making rights. In several instances, some of the Adivasi men are either called to the revenue offices or are assembled in one of the villages which is proposed to be affected by mining (in many a case those families who are not directly going to be displaced) are called for a ‘consultation’ and a Gram Sabha is supposed to have been convened. This is what took place in the recent land acquisition process followed by Sterlite Industries in Lanjigada, Orissa. No women have ever been ‘consulted’ even in this manner. On the other hand, local communities and human rights groups supporting the people are being picked up by police and company goons. When women gathered in large numbers to protest against this high-handedness, the hired goons of the company have beaten up women in public in the presence of the police.

The National Mineral Policy does acknowledge that there is a lack of adequate contribution to economic development of the tribals due to mining and admits the need to involve them in mining projects besides giving them the first choice of mining in smaller mines. This, coupled with the Samatha Judgement which directed that only state owned companies or societies of tribals should undertake mining activities in the Scheduled Areas, appear to show a way for reducing the debate over tribal development vis-à-vis privatization, liberalization and divestment in mining.

Yet, the ground realities are that communities are not properly consulted and where they come forward to take up mining on their own, the state machinery, instead of providing an environment of promoting local initiatives, suppresses these by denying leases and frustrating them with intimidating procedures whereas private mining companies, particularly MNC’s get leases with ease. A live example which stands out in this context is the Markatola Adivasi Khanij Utkanan Sramik Samiti in Kanker district of Chattisgarh which has atleast nine Adivasi women as members and has been pursuing for a mining lease since 1995. It has yet to get a prospecting licence.

The present trend of divestment offers a larger scope for women’s exploitation. When it has become extremely difficult to make public sector mining industries socially accountable and just as was seen in Nagarnar, NALCO, Coal India Ltd and other projects where the local communities are still fighting for proper rehabilitation, it only multiplies the vulnerability of communities when private companies without a social mandate (other than self nominated codes) are increasingly taking over the mining sector. The land acquisition is done by the state machinery and the public sector company is then handed over to private and multinational companies. Typical examples are Sterlite Industries which took over BALCO and Rio Tinto Zinc (RTZ, now Rio Tinto) which has a joint venture with Orissa Mining Corporation Ltd in Keonjhar.

In Chattisgarh some tribal lands in Khudaridih village are being acquired to provide the raw material for BALCO but after the Sterlite takeover, the promises made at the time of acquisition are being bounced between the government and the new private owners, neither of them taking responsibility for proper rehabilitation. Similarly, RTZ is supposed to have conducted an Environment Impact Assessment through the Delhi based TERI and claims that women have been consulted and will ensure respect for the rights of women from the communities in their project. Here, it becomes difficult to define consultation of women and on what grounds they have given their consent and what has been the basis of their information to give consent. It is also not clear how the state and the mining companies will ensure respect of women’s rights in the absence of any statutory guidelines, laws and mechanisms.

The state’s obstinacy to disinvest in the mining sector has serious consequences for Adivasi women in the Fifth Scheduled areas. The Divestment Ministry’s lobbying for amendment to the Fifth Schedule in order to accommodate private mining activities is being pushed for at the judicial and parliamentary processes ignoring the protests of Adivasi communities. Mining is being done in sanctuaries and national parks, and in protected and ecologically fragile areas where women are prevented from collecting firewood or other NTFP on the pretext that they endanger the ecological wealth. These dichotomies have to be addressed by the state especially in the present context where there are moves towards large-scale forest evictions on the one hand and, where the state is contemplating the recommendations of international financial institutions like the World Bank who are lobbying for mining projects in these same forest regions. The schizophrenic approaches to gender participation and gender rights have to be critically weighed against our new concepts of development.

Relief and Rehabilitation

The country, to this day, does not have any Relief &Rehabilitation policy as a constitutional safeguard for people. There is no basis on which communities fight for compensation of their losses either of land or common properties or of livelihoods.

In most pre-mining situations in rural and tribal areas, land is a joint ownership of brothers and sons. The labour is jointly distributed and invested and the output is jointly enjoyed. The rehabilitation procedures followed so far in mining projects has proved that families are neutralized as jobs (if given) are extended only to one of the sons or brothers whose wages or income from the mines becomes his individual income and not shared with the rest of the joint family. This has thrown entire families into a state of poverty and lack of livelihoods, forcing them to migrate and break up social relationships. Monitory compensations are always wasted away in a short period leaving the families impoverished.

Rehabilitation has never addressed the need for women’s livelihoods and land rights as it is only the family as a unit and the men in the family who are considered to be compensated for their loss of lands. Projects which have been set up decades ago, like the NALCO in Damanjodi (Orissa) have yet to complete their rehabilitation activities properly. As there is no policy on rehabilitation, this had been implemented from individual project to project basis where the nature of rehabilitation depended on the voluntary interest of the company and not on any set guidelines or rules.

Rehabilitation programmes taken up so far, have been entirely insensitive to gender concerns whether in providing land, housing, jobs or cash. Rehabilitated colonies provide no space for women needs for privacy, toilets, washing, domestic, health, recreation or educational facilities. Neither have these provided for taking up economic activities on their own as forests are too far away from the colonies, have no space for livestock rearing or for storage of forest produce. They have been implemented with complete disrespect for social relationships and cultural beliefs. The approach of both industries and governments towards communities with regard to rehabilitation has always been one of performing magnanimous favours than with a sense of duty or responsibility. Hence, gender needs have never been a priority in rehabilitation programmes.

The greatest impact of displacement due to mining has been the transformation of Adivasis from a close association and symbiosis with nature to culturally and ecologically degraded communities. With the degeneration of association from nature has been the degeneration in cultural values, ceremonies and social celebrations and common property management practices. Festivals have lost their significance as association is with mine-pits and not forests. The rich art and music heritage of adivasis has been lost to the influences of markets and external forces. So has been the degradation in their oral and traditional law and order systems in ensuring protection of forests and community relationships. These changes have had innumerable impacts on women social status and cultural roles.

A critical issue with regard to legal rights of Adivasi women over lands is the problem of ‘benami’ form of marriages. Adivasi women are lured into marriage by non tribal men even in non-mining situations, in order to enjoy rights to lands and properties. Land alienation in the many of the scheduled areas of Adivasi regions took place in this manner where the non-tribal families heap the rewards of the lands owned by the tribal woman who, on the other hand, remains a mere concubine. It is feared that if legal rights are provided for Adivasi women, over their lands, this could result in more land passing into the hands of non-tribals. This becomes an issue of serious conflict when fighting for women’s rights to rehabilitation and compensation. Especially in a mining situation, the infiltration of migrant labourers and non-tribal populations into Adivasi regions, places women in more vulnerable situations.

Sustainable Mining Sustainability of Gender Justice

The anticipated economic development from mining does not accrue to local communities and, on the contrary, reduces the women into worse forms of survival than pre-mining conditions. Hence, when companies and governments give projections of project costs and estimated profits, it is very important that these are analysed from the perspective of social and environment costs in order to assess their actual costs and benefits. This is especially crucial when valuing the extractive industry in terms of the production, processing, consumption and export needs of the country for each mineral and weighing these needs and values against the social and environment costs. This should define the basis on which mining projects are sanctioned and cleared where the country has a long term economic perspective of mining rather than on individual lobbying capacities of mining industries for ‘sustenance’ of their businesses. This is also very important when weighed from the viability of the projects if social costs are included as part of project costs and further when relief and rehabilitation are taken up in a truly socially just manner. Yet, no projects have ever been valued by the state taking into detailed consideration the direct and indirect impacts on communities and the extent of human abuse, deforestation, pollution and ecological destruction and where industries are bound by rules and guidelines to pay up for these costs.

Hence how do we value our minerals? If minerals were to be valued at the cost of exposing women and their bodies to abuse and exploitation and if protecting women’s human rights is not a priority for defining our indices of human development, the sanctity of gender justice is completely endangered. Therefore, displacement, acquisition of lands, water bodies and forests, loss of livelihoods of women, atrocities and health hazards on them, transformation of villages into culturally degraded shanty towns, risks of disasters and mine accidents have to be evaluated in the entire project cost in order to determine whether a mining project is necessary against the other existing economic activities or possibilities of creating other forms of economic activities in each area proposed for mining. Unless the state takes up this exercise seriously, it’s commitment to communities and ecology and the very economic sustainability of the country stands under scrutiny.

If mining is the most crucial activity that has to be undertaken in a specific area, the state has to consciously provide for a proper plan of relief and rehabilitation which is acceptable to the communities affected and the land acquisition procedures have to ensure a complete EIA and EMP which is inclusive of compensating for women’s livelihoods and development losses in a manner which enhances the existing social and economic situation rather than degrading it further. The state has to also ensure that the industries first implement complete relief and rehabilitation in the existing and abandoned projects before fresh leases are granted for mining more lands and displacing more people in the green field areas. This is the first step towards building the commitment of the industry and the state to being responsible for mining induced impacts.

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