India’s drive to ramp up coal output to meet growing energy needs has resulted in members of the Adivasi tribe being displaced from their ancestral lands and forced to wait years to be resettled, Amnesty International said on Wednesday.
The global human rights group said the Adivasi had suffered disproportionately from India’s push for coal. One in six of the 87,000 Indians who have been displaced over the past 40 years by state-owned Coal India Ltd (CIL) is Adivasi, Amnesty said.
Laws to protect vulnerable communities such as indigenous groups are poorly implemented and regularly flouted, it said.
“Adivasi communities, who traditionally have strong links to land and forests, have suffered disproportionately from development-induced displacement and environmental destruction in India,” Amnesty said in a report.
“The domestic Indian legal framework does not fully recognise the rights of indigenous peoples,” it said.
Coal accounts for more than 60 percent of India’s electricity capacity, and the government plans to nearly double annual coal output by 2020, opening a new mine nearly every month.
Many of India’s coal reserves are located in the central and eastern states of Chhattisgarh, Jharkhand and Odisha where more than a quarter of the country’s Adivasi population lives.
“Coal is essential for our national security and we have to go where the coal is,” said N. Das, a chief general manager at Coal India, the country’s top coal producer.
“We follow all the laws, work closely with the local communities, provide jobs, set up welfare initiatives and take steps to minimise the environmental impact of mining,” he told the Thomson Reuters Foundation.
Adivasis are among the most marginalised communities. They make up about 8 percent of India’s population of 1.2 billion, but about 40 percent of the 60 million people displaced by development projects in past decades, the government estimates.
Adivasis are routinely shut out of decisions on the acquisition of their lands for coal mines with many evicted, poorly compensated and made to wait years for resettlement, Amnesty said.
“The violations of their rights to consultation and consent — around land acquisition, environmental impacts, indigenous self-governance and the use of traditional lands — has led to serious impacts on their lives and livelihoods,” it said.
Acquisition of land for public-sector coal mining is governed by the Coal Bearing Areas Acquisition and Development Act (1957), a law analysts say is antiquated and falls well short of international human rights law and standards.
A 2014 law on land acquisition for development projects aimed for greater transparency by requiring the consent of affected families, and a social impact assessment study. But the law exempts land acquired for public-sector coal mining.
Amnesty said in some cases legal requirements were adhered to but carried out in a way that did not help Adivasi communities.
For example, the intent to acquire land for the Kusmunda mine in Chhattisgarh was announced in the official government gazette and in a newspaper, yet more than a third of the residents near the mine were not literate, Amnesty said.
An environmental impact assessment hearing was poorly publicised and monitored by security personnel, it said.
“We’ve lived next to this mine for almost 30 years, and watched our wells go dry, forests disappear and fields become unproductive,” Amnesty quoted a villager, Mahesh Mahant, as saying.
“What is the point of this environmental public hearing, except to tell us that we’re not fit to live here anymore?”
Amnesty also highlighted the environmental damage, soil erosion and pollution caused by coal mining in India, which is largely open cast.
Among the 10 cities with the most air pollution, four are in India, according to the World Health Organization, with the use of coal in power generation a leading source of pollution.
“We should be looking at ways to increase the efficiency of existing mines, rather than open new mines,” Sreedhar Ramamurthi at the non-profit Mines, Minerals & People, told the Thomson Reuters Foundation.
“The very nature of coal mining is so harmful,” he said. “We must ensure stringent compliance of laws and resolve the issues of rehabilitation and resettlement to mitigate the damage.”