Ayaskant Das

  • Why villagers opposing Adani coal mine had a big win in court

    In January 2024, India’s top environmental court overturned approval for the Gare Pelma II coal mine. Here, Ayaskant Das describes why the court arrived at this judgment, citing failed public consultation, health risks and cumulative environmental impacts. The National Green Tribunal says that government officials conducting a public hearing about the project’s impacts ‘colluded’ with officials of the proponent to exclude people opposing the project, while admitting a select group of supporters. The Tribunal said that the affected people were deprived of a ‘fair, impartial, unbiased and valid public hearing’. An Adani Group company is the developer and would-be operator of the mine.

    Key details of the project:

    • Name: Gare Pelma II
    • Owned by: Mahagenco
    • Adani subsidiary (mine developer and operator): Gare Pelma II Collieries Private Limited 
    • Location: Raigarh, Chhattisgarh, India
    • Coal reserves: 29 million tons
    • Planned output per annum: 23.6 million tonnes per annum
    • Cost: US $902 million
    • Current status: Environmental approval overturned
    • Area of impact: 14 villages, farmland, forest, water resources and up to 2245 families

    In a major setback for the Adani Group, the environmental approval for a huge coal mine that it proposes to operate in central India has been nullified by the country’s environmental court, the National Green Tribunal (‘the Tribunal’). Approval for the US $902-million Gare Pelma II project had been granted by the Modi government despite insufficient public consultation and without a proper analysis of its wider impact on the physical health of local communities.

    The Tribunal’s judgment has been challenged by the project proponent in India’s apex court, the Supreme Court.

    The coal block, with total coal reserves of 1050.29 million tons (MT) is in Raigarh district, in the central Indian state of Chhattisgarh, an area largely populated by tribal communities. Local people interviewed by this correspondent during a visit to the area in November 2023 expressed extreme resentment over the manner in which Chhattisgarh’s erstwhile Congress government had rushed through the project’s public hearing.

    A reprieve: fertile fields threatened by Adani's proposed Gare Pelma II coal mine in central India.An Adani Group subsidiary, Gare Pelma II Collieries Private Limited, is the project’s MDO (mine developer and operator), which is a system of contractual mining pioneered by the business conglomerate. The coal block belongs to Mahagenco, a public-sector power company belonging to the government of the western Indian state of Maharashtra. In accordance with the judgment issued by a Tribunal bench comprising judicial member Sudhir Agarwal and expert member Afroz Ahmad, the project proponent will now have to seek a new environmental approval after conducting a fresh public hearing.

    ‘… we find that in the present case, public hearing has not been conducted in accordance with law, satisfying the words and spirit of the requirement of public consultation and proceedings are such so as to deprive the affected people fair, impartial, unbiased and valid public hearing/public consultation,’ said the Tribunal in a 237-page judgment dated 15 January 2024.

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  • Green light for Adani's Gondkhairi coal mine despite water fears

    Despite a public outcry against the Gondkhairi coal mine proposed by the Adani Group in central India, the Modi government has recommended environmental approval for the project. Local communities anticipate water shortages resulting from the underground mine and fear adverse impacts on farming. Protesting farmers disrupted a public hearing into the project in July last year, forcing government authorities to terminate the meeting halfway through. The region in which the mining lease occurs is already experiencing a decline in water resources.

    Key details:

    • Adani subsidiary: Adani Power Maharashtra Limited
    • Location: Gondkhairi, Nagpur, Maharashtra
    • Coal reserves: 98.717 million tons
    • Planned output per annum: 3 million tons per annum (peak output)
    • Cost: Rs 1303 crores (US $156 million)
    • Current status: Under development

    'These orchards will completely perish if water availability suffers.' A citrus orchard in the area of the Adani Group's proposed Gondkhairi coal mine.

    The 3-million-ton-per-annum (MTPA) Gondkhairi coal project is proposed in Vidarbha, a drought-prone region in the state of Maharashtra, which is known for agricultural distress and a disproportionate number of suicides by farmers. According to data presented by Maharashtra government in the legislative assembly (lower house of elected representatives in the state) 2366 farmers committed suicide across the state in the first ten months (January-October) of the year 2023. The highest number of suicides were reported from the Vidarbha region with 257 farmers killing themselves in the Nagpur administrative division alone, within which the proposed coal project is located.

    The mining lease of the Adani Group covers 862 hectares in an area where local communities are mostly dependent on agriculture. Of this lease area, 13.89 hectares are covered by water bodies such as lakes and reservoirs, of which there are at least eight in and around the mining lease. These meet many of the water needs of the farm-dependent population.

    The project proponent, the Adani Group subsidiary Adani Power Maharashtra Limited, has promised that, for the purposes of water conservation, it will not carry out underground mining directly beneath these bodies of water and has proposed a plan for rejuvenating them. However, local communities believe the network of natural underground aquifers will be degraded by mining, leading to further drying of the local environment and a reduction in agricultural productivity.

     

    Suraburdi Lake, one of several water bodies in the Gondkhairi area whose hydrological integrity could be adversely affected by the Adani Group's proposed coal mine.

    ‘Most agricultural activities in the region are dependent on groundwater, which is accessed through bore wells’, Abhay Raut, an office-bearer of a local agricultural marketing committee, told this correspondent. ‘Existing wells have dried up in several villages, forcing local communities to depend entirely on groundwater even for their drinking water.

    ‘Excessive dependence on groundwater has also resulted in quick drying up of borewells. In many villages, Gram Panchayats (village-level self-governing councils) are forced to undertake new borewell projects every year with funds from the government to meet water requirements. This situation will be aggravated if the mining activities degrade underground water resources.’

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