India’s peak body representing civil society has called on the Modi Government to cancel Adani’s approval to obliterate villages in the Gondalpura area for a massive coal mine. The proposed coal project, mis-named Gondulpara by Adani, would destroy five villages as well as associated farmland, forest and watercourses. Inhabitants of the area have repelled attempts by Adani and the government to do preparatory works on the coal project.
The National Alliance of People’s Movements (NAPM) has expressed support for struggling villagers and demanded withdrawal of a proposed coal-mining project in the state of Jharkhand in order to protect farms, forests and biodiversity. In a statement, NAPM said the proposed Gondulpara coal mine ‘is likely to obliterate over 500 hectares of farms, dwellings and forests, generating over 229 million tonnes of solid waste. At least five villages including Gondalpura, Phulang, Hahe, Balodar and Gali would be affected adversely by the project.’
NAPM said it is distressing that governments have paid no heed to the grave concerns raised by the indigenous villagers who are keen to safeguard local resources from destruction.
The Gondalpura coal block, with an estimated 176 million tonnes of coal reserves, was acquired by Adani Enterprises Limited (AEL) in November 2020 as part of the Modi Government’s controversial auction of 41 coal blocks.
Attempts were made by the company to gain environmental approvals and to initiate project work in the midst of the second wave of the pandemic. Surveyors sent to Gondalpura were reportedly chased off by the villagers on a couple of occasions in the latter half of 2021. The villagers of Gali and their forest-protection committee also formally objected to proposals of the government seeking consent for preliminary works in December 2021.
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This has been followed up by efforts of the forest-protection committee to uphold the laws that protect forests and the rights of indigenous inhabitants of the forests in the face of Adani’s planned onslaught. A local news report featured a photo of a gathering by committee members at which a sign declaring this intent was erected.
The report says ‘today, 28 February 2022, the Balodar and Gali members of the Forest Protection Committee, taking a solemn promise to uphold the 2008 Forest Protection Act, erected a board to this effect. The leaders of the group, Jagdev Ganjhu and Girja Bhuiyan, solemnly erected the sign board. On this occasion others were present – headman Deepak Das, Cherewa Prawakta, Elias Ansari, Dilesar Mahato, Inderdev Ram Shanker Bhuiyan and Roshan Horo addressed the attendees. Hundreds of the villagers, men and women, were present.’
The farmland is fertile, which makes agriculture a critical source of sustenance for the villagers. Crops such as rice, sugarcane, wheat and mustard are cultivated here. A sizable chunk of land is communal forest used for grazing, gathering firewood and collecting forest herbs.
The area is also rich in biodiversity and serves as a wildlife habitat. Villagers state that the project authority is not presenting an accurate picture of the diverse range of flora and fauna in the forest and is showing the areas as sparsely forested and inhabited by only a few wild animals.
NAPM said that if the coal project proceeds it will decimate villages, farmlands and forests. Villagers are also said to be worried that elephant routes will be further disturbed by the coal-mining operations, resulting in crop loss and danger to human habitation. They also feel such extensive coal mining would have severe climatic impacts over time, producing erratic crop cycles and unseasonal rains.
Concerns have been expressed regarding the waste materials that would be discharged into the Badmahi river, an important lifeline of the region. Environmental experts fear that the waste generated by mining could be much higher than indicated by project proponents, leading to the destruction of an additional 103.26 hectares of prime land, over and above the land used for the actual mining.
Gondalpura coal block, which is part of the North Karanpura mining block, had been scheduled as a ‘no go zone’ by the central ministry of forests and environment before the Modi Government came to office. Questions have been raised about the circumstances in which the coal block was auctioned to Adani and the approach of the Expert Appraisal Committee (EAC) of the environment ministry in diluting its own previous requirements and overlooking past minutes, especially regarding the pollution of the river and depletion of forest biodiversity.
NAPM has therefore extended its full solidarity to the villagers of Gondalpura, Phulang, Hahe, Balodar and Gali in fighting the state and mega-corporations such as Adani to protect their lands, forests and livelihoods. It issued the following demands:
- The Government of India must immediately revoke the decision to permit coal mining by Adani Enterprises Limited at the Gondalpura coal block.
- No process/ survey work/ land acquisition must be undertaken in violation of the provisions of the Forest Rights Act, 2006, Wildlife (Protection) Act, 1972, Environment Protection Act, 1986, Biological Diversity Act, 2002, Land Acquisition and Rehabilitation Act, PESA Act, 1996 and the judgements of the Supreme Court on mining and rights of Gram Sabha.
- As per its commitments made in global fora, India must proactively de-prioritize coal-based mining and shift towards environmentally sustainable, non-displacing modes of renewable energy generation.