The devastating cost of India’s push towards a coal-based economic recovery

31 July 2021
Excavators load soil onto trucks at an open coal mine near Mahagama, in Jharkhand.
XAVIER GALIANA / AFP / Getty Images
Excavators load soil onto trucks at an open coal mine near Mahagama, in Jharkhand.
XAVIER GALIANA / AFP / Getty Images

“We came to know of it from Google—these days, you can find out everything on Google,” Prabhu Dayal Oraon, a 54-year-old resident of Basiya, a village in Jharkhand’s Latehar district, told me, in February, about the recent coal-block auctions. “If we sit and decide, nobody can do anything in our villages,” he said. “The governance of the parha raja is even recognised by the state. No bada babu can do anything. Article 244 gives us rights to manage our forests.”

Oraon is the parha raja of his community. A parha is a local politico-sacral institution that comprises a cluster of up to two dozen villages. Each parha is presided over by a chief, whose responsibilities include protecting his people and resolving conflicts over land. Article 244 of the Indian Constitution says that the provisions of the Fifth Schedule are to be applied for the administration and control of Scheduled Areas, identified by the government as having a sizeable tribal population and facing relative deprivation. These provisions include the establishment of Tribes Advisory Councils—such as parhas—which are to be consulted before making any regulations that pertain to Scheduled Areas, and allow for restrictions on the transfer of land in such areas.

Basiya abuts the Chakla coal block. In the commercial coal-block auctions that began in November 2020, the Chakla block was auctioned to the aluminium manufacturer Hindalco. More than eight hundred hectares of land will be diverted for mining. Residents of four villages—Chakla, Hariyatoli, Nawatoli and Ambuatanr—are likely to be displaced. 

In January and February this year, I visited the Chakla, Gondulpara and Urma Paharitola coal blocks in Jharkhand. While Hindalco had successfully bid for the Chakla block, Gondulpara had been auctioned off to Adani Enterprises, and Urma Paharitola to Aurobindo Realty & Infrastructure. Most people I met in these areas told me they did not know about the auctions. Nearly a year after the coal blocks were listed for commercial auctions, and three months after the bidding took place, they had not received any official communication.

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Sushmita is a researcher, journalist and a multimedia artist. She works on issues related to the rights of indigenous people, environment, climate change, violence against women, governance and more. She is part of an ongoing assessment on the impact of COVID-19 on Adivasis and forest communities.

Keywords: Coal mining Jharkhand Adivasi rights forest rights act Fifth Schedule of the Constitution COVID-19 climate change
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