South Asians for Human Rights

Promoting Democracy, Upholding Human Rights

India’s state-controlled coal firm routinely violates the rights of local communities in the rush to open new mines to meet the country’s growing demand for power, Amnesty International said earlier this month.

A report from the human rights group said Coal India, the world’s largest coal producer, had failed to consult the indigenous communities living near mines in central and eastern India on acquiring the land, or the environmental impact.

In some cases, it found, local communities did not even know that their land was being acquired for mining purposes until it happened.

“Both the company and central and state governments don’t seem to care to speak or listen to vulnerable Adivasi (indigenous) communities whose lands are acquired and forests destroyed for coal mining,” news agency AFP quotes Aakar Patel, head of Amnesty International India as saying.

India’s indigenous communities form more than eight percent of the country’s 1.2bn people, according to the latest census of 2011.

Many are illiterate and live in extreme poverty, relying on the land for food.

The report said the central government had acquired land in all three Coal India mines its investigators examined, without directly informing affected families, or consulting them about their resettlement.

One interviewee said he only discovered the land was being acquired after the deal was signed.

A Coal India official dismissed the findings of the report, saying it was “next to impossible” to blatantly flout rules and regulations in place for such communities that are often protected by various agencies, including state governments.

“CIL (Coal India Limited) cannot forcibly evict people for projects. There are too many laws, rules, statutory stipulations in place to check such violations,” the official said on the condition of anonymity.

Coal reliance

Amnesty, however, says Coal India followed rules superficially only to show on paper and failed to genuinely enforce them on the ground, citing cases of authorities spending barely minutes to explain impacts of mining or government panels hardly raising the communities’ concerns at approval meetings.

“Authorities and companies appear to have seen public hearings more as a bureaucratic hurdle to overcome than a genuine opportunity to hear and address community concerns,” said Aruna Chandrasekhar, a senior researcher at Amnesty International India.

Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s right-wing government is seeking to double coal production by 2020 to one billion tonnes annually to meet the needs of its burgeoning economy.

India sits on the world’s fifth largest coal reserves and already relies on coal for 60% of its power.

The Amnesty report was based on interviews with 124 affected people, government officials, Coal India representatives and local journalists, activists and lawyers between January 2014 and February 2016.

Amnesty said it had submitted its findings to state authorities and the companies concerned for comment, but had not received a response. 

Updated On: july 20, 2016