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Illegal and unfair acquisition of mining land in Korba

SECL has been using loopholes in the law and sometimes even violating laws altogether to avoid compensation against acquired land

There are seven coal mines, 12 thermal power plants and other industries operating within 25 kilometres of the Korba district (Agnimirh Basu/CSE)
There are seven coal mines, 12 thermal power plants and other industries operating within 25 kilometres of the Korba district (Agnimirh Basu/CSE)

Dilharan Sarthi recalls the time when land acquisition first took place in his village, tracing his memories back to 1980. He resides in Pali village located in Korba district of Chhatisgarh, that witnessed the first phase of land acquisition under Coal Bearing (Areas Acquisition and Development) (CBA) Act 1957 around that time. More than three decades have passed since then but villagers’ trouble continues. “Farmers in Korba sacrificed their land thinking about the nation’s future and development. Our farmers treat their land like their own parents. If they cannot secure their and their children’s future even after giving their land—their main source of livelihood—then there is some serious problem. The profit has to be shared with the people who have parted with their land,” says Sarthi.

Korba witnessed a massive protest on May 2, 2016 against land acquisition for mining by South Eastern Coal Fields Limited (SECL)—a flagship subsidiary of Coal India Limited (CIL). Around 679 protesters from 41 villages were arrested, including the sitting MLA Jaisingh Agrawal, however they were released later. As has happened in the past, the administration had put prohibitory orders under Section 144 in The Code of Criminal Procedure, sensing further protest from locals.

The coalfield has been exploited for decades. Its expansion may swallow the lands of many, including people belonging to scheduled caste and scheduled tribes. Meanwhile, proper compensation and rehabilitation has still not been granted to those who were moved when mining land was first acquired, in the 1980s.

The power hub of Chhattisgarh, Korba district, is situated two hundred km from the state capital Raipur. It has seen rapid industrial growth in the past 15-20 years due to coal mining. Currently, there are seven coal mines, 12 thermal power plants and other industries operating within 25 kilometres of the district.

Gevra opencast coal block is located in the south-central part of Korba coalfield , that also includes Dipka and Kusmunda mines. It is one of biggest coal mines in the country—with an estimated 10,000 million tonnes of coal reserve and spread across almost 19.03 sq kms. In 2011-12, this project contributed a little over eight per cent of CIL’s annual production of 435 metric tonne and approximately 15 per cent of the company’s pre-tax profit of Rs 8,606 crore.

Unfair settlement

The forest land around Podi, Ralia and Amgaon villages is crucial to their largely ST and SC inhabitants. The forest land is used by the villagers for grazing cattle, collecting fuel, forest products and cultural activities, making them heavily dependent on it. The SECL’s proposal plans to use this for mining, depriving locals of their livelihood and way of life, undermining their forest rights.

The recent protests are an outcome of growing discontentment regarding compensation, resettlement and rehabilitation.

Initially, SECL was reluctant to accept “The Ideal Rehabilitation Policy 2007 (Adarsh Punarwas Niti 2007)” passed by Chhattisgarh government and chose its own resettlement and rehabilitation policy brought from time to time. In a rush to expedite the land acquisition process, the company announced land compensation ranging from Rs 6 to 10 lakhs in 2011 depending upon the fertility of land, as per the Chhattisgarh Rehabilitation policy. However, the demand of jobs for one member from each of the displaced families was not fulfilled. SECL gave priority to big land owners and excluded girl children from the provision of jobs. As of now, only 179 people in four villages of Pori, Bhagora, Bahanpat and Raliyal have been given employment. Total claims for employment in the region have been close to 500. The situation in other villages continues to be similar.

Dilharan Sarthi adds, “Initially when the company started acquiring land around 1980s, they discussed the benefits of mining in village meetings and even gave jobs to marginal land owners having less than ten decimals of land (100 decimals equal an acre).”  Things have changed over the years as the company has adopted capital-intensive methods for mining, with minimum requirement of labour. Farmers were forced to give up their land without an alternative source of livelihood; this has made the protests fiercer.  As per media reports, the root cause of the problem lies with early notification for land acquisition by CIL in 1980s and delaying it for actual possession of land.

SECL notified section 4 (i) under CBA Act 1957 in Bahanpath and adjoining villages for the expansion plan of its Gevra coal mine in 2011. The villagers rejected the compensation from SECL as the management only wanted to pay the land price as per the state government’s policy and had refused to give job to the affected people.

The expansion of the Gevra mine, one of India’s largest open-cast coal mines, threatens thousands of families who are already impacted by air pollution, depletion of their water resources and loss of common lands.  India’s Central Pollution Control Board ranks Korba among the country’s most critically polluted regions.

Apart from the 12 thermal power plants producing 9000 MW power in the city, there are various new coal mining and thermal power plants that have been proposed in Korba. The cumulative impact of these industries has made this region critically and highly polluted, as declared by Ministry of Environment, Forest and Climate Change in 2010[G3] . A moratorium was imposed on 13.01.2010 for setting-up of new industries, but it was withdrawn in 2013[G4]  even though the district’s ambient air quality, water bodies, land, agriculture and health of the people reel from environmental pressure.

Land Acquisition Act 2013 and Gevra project

Although the mining land in Korba was acquired through CBA Act 1957, it is mandated that compensation and rehabilitation should be provided under the new Land Acquisition Act, 2013. Undermining this law, the SECL has followed its own rehabilitation provisions. As part of Coal India’s latest policy of 2012, SECL will give one job per two acres, leaving small landholders without a job. The rest have been offered livelihood compensation of Rs 5 lakh per acre, which the farmers have rejected as too low.

The Land Acquisition Rehabilitation and Resettlement Act, 2013, states that if acquisition proceedings were not followed by payment of compensation or possession, the land acquisition lapses after five years. Further, the Supreme Court has also ruled that land acquisition proceedings are deemed to have lapsed if the government fails to compensate landowners or take possession of acquired land within two years on 3rd March, 2015.

Acquisition of land and departure from procedure

Land acquisition for the block was done primarily under Coal Bearing (Areas Acquisition and Development) (CBA) Act, 1957 and partly under Land Acquisition Act, 1894.  Around 3,000 hectares of land was made available to the Gevra mine during 1980s. In 2011-12, SECL had shovelled out last of the coal reserves from the mining area.

In 2009, the then Ministry of Environment and Forests had permitted SECL to expand its production from 35 metric tonnes per annum (MTPA) to 40 MTPA, which could lead to the eviction of over 5,000 people from their homes in over 18 villages. Dwellers of these villages include Kawar, Gond and Korwa Adivasis (indigenous tribes) and dalit families. 

A Public Interest Litigation (PIL) filed in Chhattisgarh High Court by a local non-profit, Sarthak Srijanatmak Sanstha, claims that multiple laws have been violated during the acquisition. It mentions violation in the provision of CBA Act 1957, PESA Act 1996 and Forest Rights Act 2006.

A notification under the Section 4 (1) of CBA Act was issued in 2001 for acquiring land in five villages–Podi, Ralia, Bathora, Wahanpath and Amgaon for the expansion of SECL’s Gevra open cast mining project. However, as per the act, the land can be taken over only within a period of three years of the notification. By acquiring the land after a gap of 11 years, SECL has violated the law.

The Chhattisgarh government has created land banks by taking control of land under various land acquisition laws like CBA Act 1957, Land Acquisition Act 1894, and Madhya Pradesh Land Revenue Code 1959. The land was then handed-over to private players. “In many of these cases the land was being acquired under urgency clause and in the name of public purpose,” says Lakshmi Chand Chouhan, secretary, Sarthak Srijanatmak Sanstha.

If a region is notified under section 4 of the CBA Act, sale of that land is banned, with immediate effect. The owner cannot sell any portion of this land, howsoever pressing the financial need.

llegal acquisition

Korba qualifies as 5th scheduled area, with 41.5 per cent of its population falling under the scheduled tribe category, as per census 2011. Due to this status, the Panchayats (Extension to Scheduled Areas) (PESA) Act, 1996 mandates consultation with the gram sabha or the Panchayat before land acquisition. However, the SECL has not followed this procedure, claiming that Coal Bearing Act 1957 applies in this scenario and not PESA. SECL has been following the CBA since its promulgation, which does not takes the consent of gram sabha or the owner of the land , and the prices of the land given to affected people are dynamic and changes time to time, as dictated by the company. The district collector of Korba, in 2012, stated that SECL must follow PESA Act. Implementation of PESA should have been coordinated by the state government, but it has remained silent on this matter till date and SECL still continues to violate PESA.

Chronology of events
Dates Events
In the year 1957 Coal Bearing Areas (Acquisition & Development) Act 1957 was enacted.
In the year 1980 Coal India Limited acquired 3000 ha of land for Gevra Open Caste Mine
In the year 1996 Panchayat Extension to the Scheduled Area, i.e. PESA Act 1996 was enacted.
31/1/2000 Govt. of Madhya Pradesh issued guidelines for implementation process of PESA Act in land acquisition matters in scheduled areas.
In the year 2001 Section 4 notification was published under Coal Bearing Act 1957 for acquisition of land in villages Podi, Ralia, Wahanpath, Bathora & Amgaon for extension of Gavera Project.

Source : PIL filed in 2013

In year 2006 Forest Dwellers (Recognition of Forest Rights) Act 2006 was enacted.
5/5/2008 MOEF granted permission for diversion of 100.898 Hectares of forest land for Gavera Open Cast Mining Project of SECL.

Source : PIL filed in 2013

30/7/2009 MOEF issued administrative instructions to chief secretaries of all the states regarding ensuring compliance of the Scheduled Tribes and other Traditional Forest Dwellers (Recognition of Forest Rights) Act 2006 in the matter of diversion of forest land for non-forest purposes under the Forest Conservation Act 1980.

Source : PIL filed in 2013

7/1/2010 Proceeding details regarding acquisition of land in villages – Podi, Ralia, Wahanpath, Bathora & Amgaon for extension of Gavera Project was recorded in the office of the Collector, Korba.

Source : PIL filed in 2013

14/11/2011 Sarthak Srijanatmak Sanstha,Korba requested  the chief minister of Chattisgarh as well as to the district collector of Korba for compliance of PESA Act and to cancel the acquisition proceedings.

Source : PIL filed in 2013

14/12/2011 The villagers Podi, Ralia, Bathora, Wahanpath and Amgaon villages made representation to the governor of Chhattisgarh as well as to the collector of Korba for cancellation of the instant land acquisition proceedings, because the state and SECL were not complying with the provisions of PESA Act 1996.

Source : PIL filed in 2013

24/3/2012 Respondent SECL informed the petitioner organizstion that the acquisitions in the said villages are being done under Coal Bearing Act 1957 in which there is no provision for compliance of PESA Act 1996.

Source : PIL filed in 2013

24/4/2012 The collector of Korba informed Sarthak Srijanatmak Sanstha that SECL is not complying with the provisions of PESA Act and for compliance of PESA Act instruction can be issued at the State Level

Source : PIL filed in 2013

7/5/2012 Sarthak Srijanatmak Sanstha made a representation to the Chief Secretary, Govt. of Chhattisgarh as well as to the Collector, Korba for cancelling the acquisition proceedings in the instant land acquisition.

Source : PIL filed in 2013

7/1/20013 Notification under Section 9(1) dated 4/1/2013 was published by the office of the Collector, Korba

Source:  Dainik Bhaskar.

8/1/2013

to

16/1/2013

Villagers protested against the extension of Gavera project.

Source : PIL filed in 2013

In the month of January, 2014 (MoEF) cleared the expansion of the Gevra mine. Authorities exempted the project from conducting an environmental public hearing to inform and consult communities on the impacts of the expansion.

Source : Amnesty International

28/08/ 2015 Eviction started in Ponri village for Gavera mine expansion. People were not served any evictions.

Source : Amnesty International

02/05/2016 679 people from 41 Villagers protested against the extension of Gavera project demanding compensation and employment part of R&R. They were arrested and released

Source : Business standard

 

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