At least 50 families have been relocated, claims official. A house was razed on June 2  

By Ishan Kukreti
Last Updated: Friday 05 June 2020

It is a double whammy for residents of Banjikhol village in Chhattisgarh’s Raigarh district — their homes are under threat due to mining at a time when the novel coronavirus disease (COVID-19) outbreak has anyway piled on hardships. 

The village is under the process of demolition to allow mining at Gare Palma coal block IV / 4 by Hindalco Industries Ltd, a private mining company. 

On June 2, the house of Urmila Rathiuya, a widow and mother of two, was demolished, according to DP Chauhan, land rights activist and lawyer. Hers was the only house that was razed in the village that day.

“Since 2016, people from Hindalco have been intimidating villagers and forcing them to leave. They say this is government land and that the government gave it to them,” said Kamlesh Bhagat. His family is among three that refused to move out.

He added that different people were being offered different compensation. “They are offering me a little over Rs 8 lakh. They gave some people Rs 12 lakh,” he said.  

At least 50 families have been relocated and only three-four families have refused to move, claimed Ashok Kumar, sub-divisional magistrate, Gharghoda.  

Other villagers alleged they were being evicted illegaly and that the provisions under the Land Acquisition Act were not being adhered to.

Chauhan said the Social Impact Assessment Study wasn’t carried out and people were being coerced into leaving their homes.

“This is a human rights violation. At a time when people should be helped and supported, they are being evicted from their own homes,” Chauhan said.

He added that despite the village being a Schedule V area, the consent of Gram Sabha was not taken as mandated under the Provisions of the Panchayats (Extension to the Scheduled Areas) Act, 1996. “The Gram Sabha wrote to authorities, but to no avail,” he added.

A formal complaint against the eviction process was filed at the subordinate court of the Tamnar tehsildar on May 27, but the hearing hasn’t started so far, according to Chauhan. 

The coal block, along with the Forest Clearance, was transferred to Hindalco in 2015 from the previous lessee, Jayasawal NECO Limited. This was done following the 2014 Supreme Court judgment that cancelled all mining leases in the country and ordered that a fresh allocation process to be undertaken. 

“The Scheduled Tribes and Other Traditional Forest Dwellers (Recognition of Forest Rights) Act [FRA], 2006, says that residents cannot be evicted unless their claims are settled, but that hasn’t been the case here,” Chauhan said.

Kumar, however, claimed the coal block allocation and forest clearance happened in 2004. “The process was carried out before FRA came into existence. The question of FRA claims do not exist in this case,” he said. 

Experts, however, said the renewal of mining lease will attract provisions of FRA. 

“The new lessee will have to get all permissions again on renewal of the lease. This includes Gram Sabha’s consent and FRA compliance,” said Shomona Khanna, Supreme Court advocate and former tribal affairs ministry consultant.  

DTE tried to reach out to Hindalco Industries, but did not receive any response. 

Courtesy Down To Earth