Category Archives: Mining

Tigers and Tribals in India

Sharad Vats asks: “Who needs more conservation; Tiger or the Tribes of India? “

He explains that the government is trying to protect an endangered species and is considering the relocation of some tribal villages to give the tiger a safe area in which to live.


In April it was reported that for the first time in this century, the global tiger population in the wild has grown to 3,890 in April 2016 from 3,200 in 2010 – an increase of almost 22%.

Baigas have been the biggest conservators of the forest for centuries

The tribes in question are the Baigas (below), who – like the tigers – have lived for centuries in the forested districts of Mandla and Balaghat, which house Kanha National Park. Baigas practice shifting cultivation, which the government feels drives deforestation. But Sharad thinks that it is the development strategy of the nation which leads to deforestation. He explains that during his recent visit to the area via Nagpur he saw expansion of National Highway 7 cutting few thousand trees and asserts that this expansion of roads network, and small Tehsils like Baihar, Paraswada, Birsa is accounting for more deforestation than are the tribals.


In 2005, Sunita Narain, appointed chair of a Tiger Task Force reviewing the management of tiger reserves in the country, pointed out: “the British stripped the forests of Ratnagiri in coastal Maharashtra to make ships and railway lines and independent India sold its forests for a pittance to the pulp and paper industry. This was the extractive phase. Sharad adds: “Mining is destroying forests at a much faster rate than tribals could destroy in 200 years – but they would not do so. Their wants and desires are few, dependent on the forest for their livelihood and so seeing the need to preserve them”.

The Forest Act 2006 was passed following massive national demonstrations involving hundreds of thousands of people. Sharad singles out Ekta Parishad which organized some of those walks and demonstrations.

He continues: “But an ad hoc shifting is not a solution. One must do it scientifically, strategically, with their sanctions and without sufferance. Not easy to do, but possible for sure. Also, if a master plan is made to shift only some crucial villages and not all then it is fine. One must remember that Baigas have been the biggest conservators of the forest for centuries. Making a forest bereft of them could actually put the forest at risk, and this the administration and forest department realizes well”.

Sunita points out that these tribal lands are rich in natural resources — minerals, forests, diverse wild plant, insect & animal species – and are the source of water that irrigates farms, that villagers and city-dwellers drink. Her recommendation is that policies to build green, enterprising futures from the use of forests – which provide fish, firewood, fodder, building materials and raw material for industry – are needed.

Sharad Vats ends, “For me Tiger and Tribes are both integral to each other. None can be sent to another planet to survive, they must co-exist”.

And Sunita says that “the answer, untested across the world, lies in our abilities to use the environment so that forests and people can coexist”.





A challenge: selecting new technologies whilst retaining traditional skills


The arguments for introducing GM food crops are more frequently in the news than new energy technologies, but on Monday, the FT reported that India’s Supreme Court has declared that more than 200 coal mining licences have been illegally awarded to private industrial groups.

India, one of the world’s largest producers of coal, has coal-rich regions in eastern states like Orissa, Jharkhand and Chhattisgarh and pockets in the central and southern parts of the country, which provide more than half of its commercial energy.

india loading coal in mine

In 2011, BBC World News reported on a note from the federal ministry of mines which said that “legal and regulatory loopholes and inadequate policing have allowed the illegal mining operations to flourish and grow”.

india carrying coal in mine

A few influential oligarchs in collusion with politicians are said to have made massive profits

An ombudsman reporting on mining in Karnataka found that the promoters of privately owned mining companies in the Ballery region – where most of the mines are located – paid off politicians, and then joined politics themselves, rising to positions in the state government.

india loading coal on to lorries

Monday’s Supreme Court judgment which caused sharp falls in the share prices of mining companies said the process of allocating 218 licences to dozens of private groups since 1993 had been “arbitrary and illegal”. A further hearing will be held next week to assess the future of the illegally allocated mines.

Ironically, most of the coal licences awarded to private companies since 1993 have not been developed. Many mines in remote rural areas proved too costly to bring into operation, while environmental restrictions delayed the development of others.

Mining worldwide – though often profitable to owners and shareholders has immediate dangers to the poorest who work in them – and crippling long-term damage to health.

india wind energy alongside trad agric

The future? The country’s carbon tax on the coal industry which raised fifty rupees for each metric ton of coal used in India was doubled in July by the new finance minister and the money is directed to India’s National Clean Energy Fund to provide low-cost finance to the renewable industry. State of play:

india renergy installed


Before reading about protests about the Mahan coal mining project in Madhya Pradesh . . .

richard douthwaite2Impressions of Singrauli written by the late Richard Douthwaite in Chapter 13 of THE GROWTH ILLUSION – a book written after a visit to India which included time spent with Winin Pereira at the Centre for Holistic Studies in Bandra, Mumbai – pictures added.

The lack of a proper system of checks and balances meant that anyone whose land was required for, say, an opencast mine or a dam was displaced with minimal compensation and little attempt at resettlement; if they protested they were branded as anti-national.

Growth IllusionOne of the worst examples of government companies running out of control is in Singrauli, an ancient tribal princely state between the Mirzapur district in Uttar Pradesh and the Sidhi district of Madhya Pradesh. Until thirty years ago Singrauli was almost untouched by modern industry and its people made their living by grazing animals, collecting forest produce, and a blend of fixed and shifting cultivation.

In 1961 the opening of the Rihand dam to generate electricity undermined all that. Nearly 200,000 people lost their land as the dam’s waters rose – their villages were flooded without notice as the easiest way of making sure they moved quickly away No-one knows where 50,000 of them went, but the rest settled on the only land they could get, the valley sides.

'Greenfield aluminium smelter' Singrauli

‘Greenfield aluminium smelter’ Singrauli

The next step in the development programme was to build an aluminium smelter to use the power the dam was generating. This required the construction of a railway line to bring in the alumina. Other chemical factories, such as one making sodium hydroxide, also moved in. Then, in the late sixties, coal was found in the narrow valleys, and huge opencast mines were opened to extract it, and, rather than haul it away, three `superthermal’ power stations were built close by. Three more even larger ones are under construction today.

As Suresh Sharma wrote in the Lokayan Bulletin in 1986:

Bare statistics hardly convey the anguish and trauma of the suffering. To begin with, the people accepted terrible hardship in the innocent belief that it was for the greater good of all. But uprooting of homes has become a permanent feature of life in Singrauli. People have been displaced from their homes as many as six times in twenty years. And this has happened as a part of what is supposed to be planned development. The near absence of the most elementary concern for human decency makes the hardship unbearably humiliating. People are driven out of their homes like cattle and dumped anywhere, even in pouring rain …

With each passing year, the world around appears to the inhabitants of Singrauli less and less within their control and comprehension. Forests have disappeared as the reach of the Forest Department and contractors extended into the hinterland … to satisfy the demand for timber in the large cities … but the small cultivators and the landless, for whom the forest has been an unfailing refuge for food and fuel since time immemorial, have to bribe or steal wood even to cremate their dead (and) women and children have to spend more and more time foraging for fuel to cook the family evening meal.

(p238) Penetration of the modern market into the hinterland has undermined both the viability and legitimacy of local crafts and skills. The massive ecological disturbances entailed by large-scale mining and power generation have created serious problems of soil erosion and pollution. Benefits that flow from coal mining, power generation and timber felling … have become the prerogative of the better-off sections of society and the large urban centres. Local inhabitants are expected to be content with paying the social and cultural costs entailed in development.

During a visit to Singrauli in 1988, its muddy hillsides, bare except for an occasional lopped tree, gave me the impression of a First World War battlefield. Slums and shanties surround the aluminium works, although further away there are smart housing colonies, complete with schools and hospitals. These are almost exclusively for the workers imported from the plains: very few of the tribals have been able to get jobs with the industries that have moved in. `Outsiders are taking the jobs and the tribals’ land,’ a social activist, Prembhai, told me. `This area is going to be the energy capital of India, but its people are not.’

There are many public projects like Singrauli in India and, without exception, they have involved the taking of resources away from the poor. This has convinced many Indians that it was not enough for Nehru to restrict private enterprise to avoid its harmful consequences. State enterprises with the same goal as capitalism – economic growth, the increase in output above all else – can be equally bad, or perhaps worse, as once the state is involved directly there is no-one to adjudicate between the exploiters and the oppressed.

Economic growth is a new colonialism draining resources away from those who need them most, says Vandana Shiva, and looking around Singrauli, with its yawning gulf between the prosperous newcomers and the tribals they have displaced, you can see what she means.

Next, news from Anne about the Essar protest in Singrauli


The destruction of Singrauli’s environment continues apace

mahan dense forest in background

Anne sent this link about the Essar protest in Singrauli outside the Essar offices here and in London. In January, the Business Standard reported that Greenpeace activists had organised public meetings (picture below) and demonstrations against the proposed coal mining project which would destroy biodiversity-rich sal Mahan forests in Singrauli, Madhya Pradesh (in the background above).

public meeting singrauli

Masquerading as building cleaning agents, they entered the company’s office in Mumbai. An Essar spokesperson said “In this illegal act, the trespassers misused the office premises to spread anti-corporate, misleading and false propaganda.These people suspended themselves from the top of the building. In doing so, they endangered lives of those working in the building and disrupted normal working of the employees”. The police later arrested all activists for trespassing.

baiga familyHome to about 14,000 adivasis belonging to Baiga community, Mahan reserve forest’s unique biodiversity was recorded by previous Forest Advisory Committees.

The 1,084 hectare mine block is a rich source of forest produce and livelihoods for the Baigas.

Villagers in the Mahan forests were part of the protest outside the Essar building.

“We have travelled 2,000 km to send them a strong message that our voices cannot be silenced,” said Kripanath, a resident of Amelia village in Singrauli district.

Former environment minister Jairam Ramesh and the present minister, Jayanthi Natarajan, had opposed the allocation of the Mahan coal block, saying mining would lead to destruction of the rich biodiversity of the area. However, after refusing to grant forest and environmental clearances four times, the Union Ministry of Environment and Forests (MoEF) approved the controversial Mahan coal block in Singrauli district of Madhya Pradesh. The coal will be used for Hindalco and Essar industrial units in the region, including a 3,000 MW power plant and a aluminium smelter.


“Cronyism”: the label given by the Reserve Bank’s new chairman to India’s version of the global corporate political nexus

Raghuram RajanRaghuram Rajan, professor of finance at the University of Chicago, is the new Governor of the Reserve Bank of India. He has good credentials: a former Chief Economist at the IMF, he warned about the dangers of the US financial bubble as early as 2005. He also described the failings of India’s financial sector in 2008 and the country’s credit bubble in 2012.

The Financial Times reports that he has long called for an end to ‘cronyism’, which he says has led to an unfair distribution of gains from land and property sales in India, causing a severe political backlash.

Last year the NDTV website reproduced an article on this subject from the New York Times, describing “a brazen style of crony capitalism that has enabled politicians and their friends to reap huge profits by gaining control of vast swaths of the country’s natural resources . . . “  Adding a case study, it continues:

“A recent study of contributions to India’s political parties offered a telling insight into the nexus between politics and money. Companies in technology and other service businesses – industries that require few government licenses or permissions – contributed almost nothing. The biggest donors were involved in mining, power and other sectors dependent on the government to obtain rights to natural resources”.

Though acknowledging Mr Rajan’s record as a critic of cronyism, the Economist believes that he will “have his work cut out to prevent licences going to well-connected tycoons”.

Rampant also in Britain and the United States, there is little hope for a decent life for the ‘man in the street’ in these three countries unless people like Mr Rajan combine to eliminate this ‘brazen style of crony capitalism’.


Odisha in the news again: land for South Korean industry

posco logoFollowing the last post on this site, in February, about pollution of water by a World Bank supported project in Odisha, we have received news of a petition from an AVI member. This relates to our detailed February post: “Opposition to POSCO’s Indian project” –  with which  financier Warren Buffett,  Bill Gates’ ally in ‘aiding’ India, is said to be involved.

In March NDTV reported from Bhubaneswar:

Posco is a South Korean company that proposes to set up a 12-million-tonne-per-annum steel plant near the port town of Paradip in Odisha. It is the largest foreign investment in India.

The government says it has acquired about 2,000 acres of land in the region in 2011 and needs to acquire another 700 acres, mostly in Govindpur area, for the project. It says the villagers have agreed to the land acquisition but the villagers deny this and the stand-off has continued for some time now, with the administration being forced to abandon land acquisition activities every now and then.

 The state government had resumed land acquisition, which involves clearing betel plantations in the villages, four days ago. The drive began only hours after three anti-Posco protesters were killed in a bomb attack. The activists allege that supporters of the Posco plant were behind the attack . . . Mostly frail women, old and young, stood up to the blows that the police rained on them with canes, some of them stripping partially in protest.

posco scene

Brief video of police action:

Background to the petition:

For more than seven years, villagers from the Odisha state have been repelling the attempts of the Korean company POSCO who, with the local government’s support, wants to use their fertile land for the settling of a mining industry and a commercial harbour on the coast.

This is why we are asking the government of the Odisha State, represented by M. Naveen PatnaiK, “Chief Minister” and Shri B K Patnaik, “Chief Secretary”, to listen to the assaulted communities’ claims:

Terms of petition:

– Immediate withdrawal of the police forces from the countryside
– Termination of the acquisition under duress of the villagers’ lands by the local state
– Respect for the Law of the rights of the populations depending on forests or Forest Rights Act
– Respect for the fundamental rights of the affected communities without fear of arrests or false accusations

It may be signed here:

And one destructive step backwards

village in meghalaya

Matthew Newsome reports that land and tribal rights in India might well be endangered by the government’s announcement that major infrastructure projects will be exempt from obtaining consent for forest clearance from some tribal communities living in the forest.

Environment minister Jayanthi Natarajan said “The ministry took a decision that, subject to [the] Forest Rights Act, there will not be requirement of consent of each of the gram sabhas through which such linear projects such as roads, canals, pipelines, transmission towers etc pass.”

Tribal and forest rights activists fear that the decision leaves village councils (gram sabhas) powerless to reject such developments. This appears to be in conflict with the country’s 2006 Forest Rights Act:

  • which grants legal recognition to the rights of traditional forest dwelling communities, partially correcting the injustice caused by the forest laws;
  • and involves communities and the public about forest and wildlife conservation to some extent.

Dr Swati Shresth, from the Ashoka Trust for Research in Ecology and the Environment says: “This is serious breach of trust and a huge step back in ensuring the dignity and survival of traditional forest-dwelling people across the country. Forests are going to be cleared to make way for a particular kind of economic development; it will adversely impact communities and the environment.”

In 2009, the ministry of forests and environment (MoFE) made the consent of affected forest communities mandatory for all projects that would destroy forests. The move was in response to the attempt by British mining company Vedanta to clear swathes of forest in Orissa state belonging to the Dongria tribe. The announcement appears to revoke the 2009 order.

Activists say this move will allow industry to build roads or canal systems for mining projects to transport extracted minerals to the refinery. “The only objective is mining access. Mining companies need six road highways and optical fibre installations. Tribal communities don’t want this, and don’t want their precious forests replaced by these. The only beneficiaries of this amendment are the mining companies. This is about GDP, not about the rights of India’s tribal communities,” said Sanjay Basu Mullick from the All India Forum of Forest Movements.

Dr Shresth sees this move as “part of a larger endeavour to restore investor confidence by a government facing general assembly elections in 2014. Various environmental protection rules have been seen to be responsible for a slump in the growth rate.”