Approval of a coal mine to be operated by Adani in the central Indian state of Madhya Pradesh was rushed following repeated interventions by the Modi Government. The Suliyari coal project had previously received a conditional one-year approval, pending studies on social impacts and a river-protection plan. However, after the ministry queried these conditions, full approval was granted in 2021. Over 1500 families are to be uprooted by the mine; their future is uncertain. And it is unclear how impacts of the huge excavation on major streams within the lease area will be mitigated.
More than 1500 families are set to be displaced for an Adani-operated coal mine in central India, but apparently no social impact assessment has been conducted to ascertain what consequences this large-scale displacement will have upon their lives. Of the families to be evicted from homes earmarked for obliteration by the mine, 465 of them are Adivasi (Scheduled Tribe) or Dalit (Scheduled Caste). These are vulnerable groups in Indian society.
The 5-million-tons-per-annum (MTPA) Suliyari coal mining project belongs to a state-owned enterprise, the Andhra Pradesh Mineral Development Corporation (APMDC), but would be developed and operated by the Adani Group. The mining lease, which has 142.36 million tons of coal, is spread across 1298 hectares and includes 259 hectares of forests. The remaining portion of the lease area includes 252 ha of agricultural land and another 52 ha under village settlements. Approval for the coal mine was granted in February 2021.
The documentation says that 1386 families (a number now revised upwards) living in the core area of the project, including 361 Scheduled Tribe families and 104 Scheduled Caste families, are to be displaced from their homes. Unfortunately, the total number of employment opportunities that will be generated by commencement of mining operations is only 1157.
(See Section (v) under Serial Number 2 in paragraph 50.1.1)
Meanwhile, according to a May 2022 report by India’s National Green Tribunal, the felling of over 50,000 trees has begun in earnest. Even though marginalised Adivasi and Dalit here are dependent on forest resources for their livelihoods, permission to clear nearly 260 hectares of forest was granted by the Modi government in June 2021.
The Singrauli district is classified as ‘severely polluted’ due to emissions from coal-power plants and leaks of toxic slurry from associated fly-ash storage ponds.
Nevertheless, the Modi Government not only approved the mine, it also approved the destruction of a huge tract of forest and the diversion of a major stream that flows through the lease area.
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On 5 December 2019, an expert panel (the EAC) of the central government’s Ministry of Environment, Forests & Climate Change (‘the ministry’) asked the project proponent to submit a Social Impact Assessment Study, given the scale of displacement of local communities. This was to occur before the proposal could be considered for environmental approval.
But when the proposed coal mine was again considered on 17 April 2020, the proponent merely supplied the following paragraph regarding the social impact assessment study:
‘Out of total Project Displaced Families of 1386 Scheduled Caste families are 104 (7.5%) and Scheduled Tribe families are 361 (26%) The main tribal groups of the proposed project area belong mainly to Baiga, Gond and Bhil tribes. Agriculture is the primary occupation for the people living in the core zone but most of the Tribals/SC/ST are marginal workers and landless poor. The vulnerable group are majorly dependent on the forest products viz Mahua trees, Tendu leaves and other forest products for their livelihood.
'Houses in Tribal/SC/ST helmets (sic) are mostly kutchha houses made of mud, straw and the roof were made up of twigs, bamboo or baked clay. Drinking water facility for the Tribals/SC/ST is also inadequate and the people are dependent primarily on open wells and hand pumps for the fulfillment of their water consumption needs. Due to lack of awareness as well as the lack of income of the people, open defecation prevails. Poverty and non-availability of adequate educational infrastructures in the villages are the main reasons for early dropouts of the children of SC/ST families,’ submitted the project proponent in terms of the Social Impact Assessment study. (See Serial Number 11 of Table contained in paragraph 54.8.2).
At this time, all of India was under lockdown during the first phase of the Covid 19 pandemic and this meeting took place through video conferencing. Notably, the proposal of Suliyari coal mining project was not part of the original agenda of this meeting. It was included as an additional item at the behest of the Modi government’s environment ministry, which was headed by Prakash Javadekar, a senior leader of the ruling right-wing BJP.
‘This proposal is considered by EAC after due approval of the Ministry as an additional item for the consideration of EAC. The EAC members had very limited time to go through the detailed proposal,’ state the EAC’s minutes of meeting (See paragraph 54.8.4).
Due to the number of rivers, streams and other major water bodies in close proximity to the project, the EAC recommended on 17 April 2020 that a comprehensive River Protection Plan be designed to avoid water pollution. Surface water bodies comprise 46 hectares within the mining lease itself. The EAC recommended that a sub-committee visit the area to study the impact of diverting the Hurdul Nalla, as well as the impacts of mining on other water bodies.
‘A proposed site visit of EAC sub-committee for the proposed diversion of Hurdul nallah/river (Perennial tributary of river) which falls into Gopad River. There are various nalla such as Hurdul Nala, Amta nala, Chhtraha nala, Bibiao nala, Jhana nala, Sulkhia Nala including Mahan and Gopad river in the buffer zone. Mahan river is 100 m from the confluence of Hurdul Nallah in the north of the block. Therefore, comprehensive River Protection Plan with detailed study has to be presented including the recommendation of site visit to avoid pollution in the river due to mining activity,’ state the minutes of meeting of the EAC (See Section (iii) in paragraph 54.8.4).
The EAC meeting of 30 June 2020 again considered approving the mine. The first phase of the nationwide Covid lockdown in India had yet to be completely lifted. In this meeting, the proponent claimed to have obtained a conditional clearance from the water resources department of Madhya Pradesh for diversion of the Hurdul Nalla. The proponent sought to have the proposed site inspection by the EAC sub-committee deferred on account of the Covid pandemic, and wanted the environmental approval to be considered without such delay.
‘We welcome a visit of the EAC subcommittee. However, it is requested to kindly relax the EAC sub-committee site inspection due to ongoing Covid-19 pandemic lockdown and consider above reply for Environmental Clearance of Suliyari Coal Block. We will abide by the sub-committee recommendation when the visits take place,’ stated the project proponent (See Serial Number 3 of Table in paragraph 56.1.2).
The proponent stated during the course of the meeting that other tributaries of the Gopad River within the study area are outside the catchment area of the Hurdul Nalla. It further stated that the drainage system of Suliyari coal block had no bearing on these tributaries of Gopad River. Surprisingly, on the basis of these submissions, the EAC recommended environmental approval for the project ‘for a period of one year’ while simultaneously listing a number of terms and conditions, including a direction that no water from the Hurdul Nalla be used for any activities in the project.
A set of nine other terms and conditions (See Section (xxviii) to Section (xxxvi) in Paragraph 56.1.4) were separately listed for the proponent on the grounds that the site fell within a ‘severely polluted area’, while granting environmental approval for one year.
But the proposal bounced back to the EAC on 26 February 2021. The ministry had raised questions about the EAC’s recommendation to grant environmental approval to the project for a period of only one year and the requirement for a site visit during the Covid pandemic.
‘The ministry while processing the proposal sought clarification for justification of being recommending environmental clearance for one year and also need of site visit in Covid situation. In this context, the Project was reconsidered by sectoral EAC. The project proponent has submitted the following information in regard with the two conditions, i.e., requirement of site visit and EC for one year,’ state the minutes of the EAC meeting held on 26 February 2021 (See Paragraph 9.2.1)
In this meeting, the proponent presented details of the plan to divert the Hurdul Nalla that envisaged a 9.02-km concrete trapezoidal canal with a bed width of 20 meters away from the mining-lease area. (The Hurdul Nalla also flows through the mining lease area of Dhirauli coal block which has been allocated to the Adani Group subsidiary company, Stratatech Mineral Resources Private Limited.)
The proposal was recommended for final approval with the following observation: ‘The EAC, after deliberations, found responses given by project proponent are satisfactory in view of protection measures being proposed for embankment construction and safeguard for flood protection and also excluded the condition of site visit, being green filed (sic) project and recommends the proposal for grant of Environment Clearance to Suliyari Coal Mining Project.’
So the Modi government granted final environmental approval for the mine without the proposed visit ever having taken place. It occurred at the height of the first phase of Covid pandemic in India on the basis of very scanty details on proposed resettlement of affected communities. No cumulative environment impact assessment study had been conducted for the project, even though the mining site is located barely 30 km away from an area that had been designated as ‘severely polluted’ by the Indian government. Two other coal blocks, Bandha and Dhirauli, are located within Singrauli district and are in the process of becoming operational, highlighting even more the need for an assessment of cumulative impact.
This obvious failure of process raises serious questions on the functioning of the EAC as an advisory body to the ministry.
When asked about the displacement and re-settlement of residents, a senior official of the district administration of Singrauli told AdaniWatch that the government had issued notification to acquire land for the mining project before the enactment of the Right to Fair Compensation and Transparency in Land Acquisition, Rehabilitation and Resettlement Act, 2013 which is known popularly as LARR Act, 2013.
‘Land acquisition proceedings for this project are now complete. Compensation amounts have been disbursed too,’ the official said. ‘The notification for acquiring land was issued through the earlier Act [the Land Acquisition Act, 1894] which had no provision for social impact assessment studies.
‘Subsequently, the allotment of Suliyari coal block to APMDC was cancelled by a landmark order of the Supreme Court in September 2014 in which allocations of 214 coal blocks across the country were nullified. The block was subsequently re-allocated to APMDC, and land acquisition took off from the point at which it had previously been abandoned,’ said the official.
Socio-economic aspects of the Suliyari coal mining project, in so far as rights of underprivileged communities are concerned, are not examined in any greater length in the executive summary of the Environment Impact Assessment report. This document was uploaded to the website of the Madhya Pradesh Pollution Control Board ahead of a public hearing that was held on 30 August 2019. This document says that a full-fledged Resettlement & Rehabilitation (R&R) colony ‘having an area of 63.64 ha, with medical, educational, sanitation along with various basic community facilities etc, has been envisaged near Khanua village for project-affected families, along with agreed compensation packages”.
The official added that certain families that have been already displaced for the project have preferred to obtain compensation in cash against their houses and land in lieu of readymade housing units in the R&R colony.
‘These families are constructing their own houses over land identified for the R&R colony with the money that they received as compensation. They refused readymade housing units on the grounds that, in most instances, construction work carried out by companies in R&R colonies is not up to the mark,’ he said.
He added that latest surveys say that the number of project-displaced families has increased beyond 1500. The villages from which land has been acquired for the coal mine are Aamdand, Amraikhoh, Bajaudi, Belwar, Dongri, Dhirauli, Jhalari, Majholipath and Seerswah.
Sumit Kumar Sah, a 31-year-old man from Majholipath, told AdaniWatch he left his village home in mid-2021 in search of a job on the outskirts of New Delhi, because while his ancestral land had already been acquired, no word was forthcoming from the authorities on the provision of jobs at the mine.
‘Our family owned a small patch of agricultural land measuring 10 decimals on which our house is also constructed,’ Sah said.
‘The agricultural land was taken away for the project and compensation paid to us. The survey of our house was completed before the Covid pandemic. However, after Covid there was no word on when compensation would be released against our house.
‘There was no word on whether we will be allotted a house in the R&R colony or if anyone in our family would be provided a job in the mining project. Dejected, I left home in search of a job in Gurugram,’ Sah added.
Settlement of forest rights of Adivasis and forest-dependent communities in Madhya Pradesh is sketchy. The Madhya Pradesh government’s initiative to settle all forest-rights claims through a web-based app has not only been criticised by civil society but has also been challenged in the courts. Poor literacy prevails amongst Adivasis and other forest-dwelling communities, thereby making the web-based app ridiculously difficult to use.
However, the district administration of Singrauli claims that the process for identification and settlement of rights under India’s Forest Rights Act, 2006 has been carried out for the entire 259.239 hectares of forest land that has been proposed for diversion for the mining project.
The proceedings of the public hearing regarding the mine’s approval, which was conducted on 30 August 2019, do not detail the objections raised by local people or the recommendations suggested by them. The document is also not clear on the total number of people who attended the public hearing: the attendance register bears the signatures of 121 people only. While 102 written submissions were received by the state government as part of the public consultation process, 25 oral submissions were recorded on the day of the hearing.
A questionnaire has been emailed to senior officials of APMDC and Andhra Pradesh’s Department of Mining & Geology, asking, amongst other queries, for a copy of the Social Impact Assessment Study, if any, that was conducted for the coal-mining project. The questionnaire has also been emailed to Andhra Pradesh industries minister G. Amarnath and the state’s Secretary of Industries & Commerce. This article will be updated as and when we receive responses to the queries.