Unwilling to part with their homes, farms, forests and water, indigenous people in central India have defiantly continued their traditional way of life as the government tries to take over their land for a massive Adani coal project. Over 600 families face imminent displacement for the Adani Group’s Dhirauli coal mine in the state of Madhya Pradesh. The proposed coal mine has yet to receive environmental approval from the government.
The mining lease of the Dhirauli coal block, the largest in Madhya Pradesh, sprawls across 26.72 square kilometres. Nearly two thirds of the lease is rich forest land that has sustained local communities for generations. The non-forest land within the proposed mining lease comprises 12.36 square kilometres and includes dwellings and farms.
The mine, if approved and completed, would extract over six million tons per annum (MTPA), five MTPA of which will be through the open cast method and 1.5 MTPA through underground mining.
A senior official of the district administration of Singrauli told this correspondent that land acquisition for the project is being processed under the Right to Fair Compensation and Transparency in Land Acquisition, Rehabilitation and Resettlement Act, 2013, (‘the LARR Act’). However, local communities have levelled serious allegations about the manner in which the land takeover is taking place.
‘Consent for acquisition was obtained during last year’s winter, after distributing blankets amongst poor sections of the local population, mostly Adivasis (indigenous tribal people). Signatures were taken fraudulently from poor people on consent forms for land acquisition,’ Dipendra Sah (25), a resident of Majholipath village, told AdaniWatch.
Private land measuring 5.54 square kilometres in the villages of Aamdand, Amraikhoh, Basi Berdah, Phatpani, Belwar, Dhirauli, Jhalari and Sirswah will be taken over for the project. The mine is being developed by Stratatech Mineral Resources Private Limited, a subsidiary of the Adani Group. The project also involves takeover of another 6.84 square kilometres of land that are at present under cultivation or under other uses such as roads and grazing of cattle.
As many as 620 families have been identified for displacement for this coal mine. This includes 216 families belonging to Adivasi (Scheduled Tribe) communities while another 48 families belong to the Dalit (Scheduled Caste) community. The Adivasi predominantly belong to the Gond, Khairwar and Baiga tribes. The Baigas have been designated as a Particularly Vulnerable Tribal Group (PVTG) in the state of Madhya Pradesh (as also in the adjoining mineral-rich state of Chhattisgarh), owing to their dwindling numbers. This designation is designed to encourage policies that improve the lives of these tribal people.
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The LARR Act stipulates that prior consent of at least 80% of the affected population is required before taking over land for any project that is being developed by a private entity (See Paragraph (2)(2)(b)(i)).
A public meeting was convened by the district administration on 15 September 2022 for discussions on Resettlement & Rehabilitation (R&R) of the project-displaced families of five villages – Aamdand, Amraikhoh, Basi Berdah, Belwar, Sirsawah – which are located within the proposed Dhirauli coal mining lease area. However, this meeting witnessed strong protests by local communities who alleged that their rights had been trampled during the land-takeover process.
‘The government is talking about taking over our land and houses without disclosing the amount of compensation that will be paid to us,’ said Sah. ‘And the coal mine’s impacts on water bodies in the region will devastate the livelihoods of the local population.’
The district administration of Singrauli informed this correspondent that the procedure for land acquisition has reached Section 19 of the LARR Act, which entails publication of a declaration and summary of Rehabilitation and Resettlement (R&R).
Local communities, unwilling to part with their land, have carried on their traditional way of life. Meanwhile, the project proponent has complained that large-scale illegal sale and purchase of parcels of land identified for acquisition is occurring as a tactic to obtain higher compensation. Further, the company has also alleged that illegal constructions are being rampantly erected on land notified for acquisition in order to claim compensation against the eventual demolition of all structures, and as a means of fraudulently procuring an R&R package.
The minutes of a meeting held by officials of the Ministry of Coal in July 2021 with allottees of various coal blocks across the country reveal that the Adani Group raised the following issue with the central government:
‘Representative of M/s Stratatech Mineral Reserves Private Limited [Adani subsidiary] briefed about the obstruction by local people within the mining area to get compensation benefits and requested Nominated Authority to take up the matter with Secretary Revenue, Madhya Pradesh State Govt for maintaining status quo on the allotted Dhirauli coal block and to stop any sale/transfer/purchase of land and any new construction.’
Following the complaint of the project proponent, the district administration issued a notice on 24 February 2022 urging an immediate halt to construction allegedly being carried out in the villages of Aamdand, Amraikhoh, Basi Berdah, Belwar and Sirsawah by local people as well as by ‘outsiders’. A copy of this letter is with AdaniWatch.
When contacted, a senior official of Singrauli district administration denied allegations of obtaining consent for land acquisition through fraudulent means.
‘The consent from project-affected families has been taken by government officials and not by private representatives of the company,’ the official told AdaniWatch. ‘There is no question of fraud, and the entire exercise was conducted in a transparent manner in the presence of many people.’
‘Local communities were told in detail about the implications of the project, only after which their consent was obtained. In addition, the houses that will be demolished for the project have already been surveyed and marked. The survey report has already been finalised. It is futile for anyone to erect new constructions for the sake of obtaining higher compensation, after the survey cut-off date. In fact, the administration will take action against anyone resorting to such practices.’
Local communities have further alleged that a public hearing that was conducted on 4 May 2022 as part of the Environment Impact Assessment (EIA) study of the project was not conducted in a fair manner. Local people have alleged that not all statements of the people who attended the public hearing were recorded.
The proceedings of this public hearing were later uploaded by the Madhya Pradesh Pollution Control Board upon its website. Fifty-seven written submissions and 40 oral submissions were recorded. However, the proceedings do not mention details of the objections to the project that were raised by local communities. The note does not mention the total number of people who attended the hearing or their names.
The proceedings further claim that not a single written submission was received in the 30-day period prior to the hearing as part of the public consultation process. Nevertheless, energetic protests, including road blockages, against the project were held in the Sarai tehsil area in April 2022.
The Dhirauli project site is located in Sarai tehsil of Singrauli, where work is already underway to excavate minerals from the Suliyari coal block. The Adani Group has been appointed contractor (Mine Developer & Operator or MDO) to excavate coal from Suliyari, which is owned by the state-owned enterprise Andhra Pradesh Mineral Development Corporation (APMDC). Approvals for the Suliyari coal mining project, including environmental clearance and forest clearance from the central government, have already been granted.
The central government has allowed APMDC to divert a crucial river, the Hurdul Nalla (Nalla means stream in the local language), a tributary of the local Gopal River, which flows through the Suliyari mining lease, by constructing an artificial cement-concrete canal. A section of the Hurdul Nalla also flows within the Dhirauli lease. The significance of the Hurdul Nalla for the riverine ecology of the region is described in the approved mining plan of the Dhirauli coal block.
‘Drainage of the block is mainly controlled by westerly flowing Hurdul Nalla which traverses the block and passes almost through the central part of the block. Many small seasonal nallas originating from elevated topography of the north eastern and south central parts of the block drain their waters into Hardul Nalla’, (See Page 5, Paragraph 1.2.4).
Another stream, the Jhana Nalla, also flows through the Dhirauli mining lease area. At least five more water bodies, apart from the Gopad River, flow near the Dhirauli mining lease area (See Serial No. 2 in Section III on Environmental Sensitivity of Project).
While determining the terms of reference for an EIA study for the Dhirauli project, the central government observed that mining would adversely impact the area’s riverine ecology. It proposed a site visit by a sub-committee in order to assess the impact of the project on these streams. Notably, another huge commercial mining project, not belonging to the Adani Group, the Bandha coal mining project, in which 1851 hectares of land will be required for extracting coal from the Sarai tehsil as well, is also in the pipeline.
In a meeting held on 6 July 2021, in which the Expert Appraisal Committee (EAC) of the Union Ministry of Environment, Forests & Climate Change (‘the ministry’), a central advisory body that reviews and examines potential environmental impacts of industrial projects, noted:
‘Also, as submitted by the project proponent that adjoining mine of Suliyari OCP [Open Cast Project] allotted to M/s APMDC Ltd wherein EC [Environmental Clearance] has been granted considering the diversion of Hurdul stream, the EAC desired that the full scheme of hydrology may be required to be seen and accordingly proposes to conduct a site visit of a sub-committee of EAC members. Further, the EAC desired the proponent to explore different mining technology so that these streams should not be disturbed and remain pollution-free being joining/ feeding to Gopad river and further to the Son or Mahan river [two major rivers flowing through Madhya Pradesh].’ (See Paragraph 15.3.4)
The EAC ruled out any diversion of water from the Hurdul Nalla for mining activities in the list of terms of reference that it handed out to the project proponent. However, on 14 December, the panel made a complete U-turn and reversed its recommendation made earlier that the Hurdul Nalla should not be disturbed for mining purposes and agreed to the Adani Group’s proposal to divert the stream. Adani told the EAC meeting that only the method of open cast mining was found to be 'technically and economically viable'. It said the diversion of the Hurdul Nalla had already been approved by the Ministry of Coal as part of the mining plan of Dhiruali project. The coal ministry had supposedly taken cognisance of the fact that mining underneath the Hurdul Nala’s catchment area would pose a high risk of subsidence making it technically unfeasible and unsafe.
The Adani Group also told the EAC that it in April 2022 it had obtained the permission of the water resources department of the BJP-ruled state of Madhya Pradesh, where the mining project has been envisaged, for diversion of the Hurdul Nalla.
The EAC advised the environment ministry to ask its Forest Conservation Division to take the forest’s biodiversity into account in its approval for felling trees for the project.
In addition, the EAC recommended that the Adani Group carry out a Cumulative Impact Assessment Study, a Carrying Capacity Study and Ecosystem Services Study of the area. These were deemed necessary given the presence of many other coal-mining projects and industries in the Singrauli region. The Singrauli region is classified as a ‘severely polluted area’ by the central government owing to the fact that air quality in the region was abysmally low on several parameters.
However, none of this information figured in the eight-page executive summary of the EIA report that was uploaded upon the website of the state’s pollution control board prior to the public hearing that was held on 4 May 2022. A huge section of the local population (some estimates put it at 40% of the population of the eight villages to be affected by the Dhirauli mining project) is dependent on the Hurdul Nalla to meet their daily needs of water. Communities in villages further downstream also depend upon this tributary of the Gopad River.
The EIA executive summary is also completely silent on the scale of forest clearance that the project entails, and on the cumulative impact that this large-scale loss of forest would have upon the environment, particularly given that destruction of other large areas of forests has already been approved for the Adani-operated Suliyari coal mine.
Clearing nearly 50,000 trees from 259 ha of forest for the Suliyari coal mining project has already commenced, according to the National Green Tribunal, which conducted a site visit earlier this year. APMDC began extracting coal from the Suliyari block in March 2022.
Nevertheless, the process to enable clearing of a further 1436 ha of forest for the Dhirauli coal mine has already commenced. The project proponent is yet to respond to the forest department’s query on whether an equivalent parcel of alternative land has been identified for the purpose of compensatory afforestation. An official of the forest department told this correspondent that the query was still pending and that any action regarding the approval can be taken only after an equivalent and appropriate parcel of land is made available for compensatory afforestation.
Administration officials said the process of finalising the rights of local communities on forest land, as per India’s Forest Rights Act, 2006, is being finalised. Meanwhile, the application for environmental approval of Dhirauli was again considered by the EAC on 13 December 2022. The minutes of this meeting were yet to be published by the environment ministry at the time that this article was published.
It has also been alleged that the jobs generated by the protect will be fewer than those wiped out by the obliteration of farms, forests and villages. There also appear to be discrepancies between company documents regarding just how much employment will be generated by the mine.
According to the application for environmental approval filed by the Adani company, 970 persons will get direct and/or indirect jobs throughout the life of the mining project, which is 40 years for opencast mining and 87 years for underground mining (See Paragraph 15.3.2, Sections (vii) and (xviii)). However, the forest-clearance application of the company puts the total number of permanent jobs that will be generated from the mining project as just 60! (See Section E (iii))
The Dhirauli coal block, with estimated geological reserves of more than 586 million tons, was allocated to the Adani Group’s subsidiary Stratatech Mineral Reserves Private Limited in November 2020 as part of the Modi government’s auction of coal blocks to private players for commercial mining. The company, which was awarded the block on the basis of a 12.5% revenue sharing model with the central government, will have no end-use restrictions upon the excavated coal, being free to sell to the highest bidder.
In December 2020, while inaugurating a new airstrip in Singrauli, the chief minister of Madhya Pradesh, Shivraj Singh Chauhan, of the ruling right-wing BJP promised that he would make Singrauli the ‘Singapore of India’.