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Mining giant Coal India accused of 'corporate neglect of human rights'

India’s state-owned mining operation Coal India Limited, the world’s largest coal producer, is riding roughshod over their rights and land of vulnerable indigenous communities in pursuit of corporate expansion plans, Amnesty International said in a new report published today (13 July).

The 80-page report documents how Coal India subsidiaries, central government ministries and state government authorities in Chhattisgarh, Jharkhand and Odisha are routinely failing to consult properly with Adivasi communities -  indigenous ethnic and tribal groups across India, in breach of India’s laws and international standards.

The failure to conduct due consultation with communities has meant that the often vulnerable members of these communities have been unable to voice concerns about decisions on land acquisition, rehabilitation and resettlement, and the environmental impacts of mines, all of which seriously threaten their lives and livelihoods.

In each of three Coal India mines examined in the report, the central government acquired land without directly informing affected families, or consulting them about their rehabilitation and resettlement. Frequently, the only official notice given was a declaration of the government’s ‘intention to acquire’ land in an official government gazette, which is virtually impossible to access for affected communities many of whom are not formally literate.

Aakar Patel, Executive Director of Amnesty India, said:

“The government plans to nearly double coal production by 2020, and Coal India wants to produce a billion tonnes of coal every year. Yet both the company and central and state governments don’t seem to care to speak or listen to vulnerable Adivasi communities whose lands are acquired and forests destroyed for coal mining.

“Abusive laws, poor enforcement of existing safeguards, and corporate neglect of human rights are now leading Adivasi communities to oppose the expansion of the very mines they once thought would bring employment and prosperity.”

At a public hearing for the expansion of the Kusmunda mine in Chhattisgarh, company officials spent only a few minutes explaining the impact of the project. Of 38 people who spoke at the public hearing, the only one who spoke in favour of the expansion was a Coal India employee. Yet an advisory committee at the Ministry of Environment, Forests and Climate Change cleared the mine’s expansion without adequately addressing the concerns raised.

Amnesty’s report has found that proper impact assessments are never conducted for coal projects, and there is no meaningful and accessible data that enables communities to understand how their rights will be affected throughout the project’s lifecycle, with particular regard to impacts on health, housing, food, water and livelihoods.

India’s environmental laws require state pollution control authorities to set up public consultations with local communities likely to be affected by industrial projects to give them an opportunity to voice any concerns. However public consultations conducted in the three mining areas suffered from serious flaws. Pollution control authorities made few attempts to engage villagers who were not formally literate, or to explain the impacts of mining. Advisory committees at the central Ministry of Environment, Forests and Climate Change often attached little weight to the concerns of affected individuals and communities raised at public hearings before granting environment clearances to mine expansions.

India’s Panchayat Act requires authorities to consult gram sabhas (village assemblies) in protected Adivasi regions before acquiring their land, or deciding on rehabilitation and resettlement measures. These consultations were not held in any of the three mine areas.

Similarly the Forest Rights Act requires state governments to obtain the consent of Adivasi gram sabhas before using forest land for industry, but again consent of communities was not properly sought in the three instances examined.

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