By Tierney Smith
RTCC in Hyderabad
India must stop human rights violations by coal companies determined to exploit its vast reserves, according to a new report from Greenpeace and local NGO Kalpavriksh.
Launching the joint report on the sidelines of the Convention on Biological Diversity’s summit, the three organisations urged the Indian government to issue a moratorium to stop coal mining in India’s forests until proper environmental and social assessments are carried out.
Roughly 70% of India’s power generation currently comes from coal.
The geological survey of India estimates that the country has around 277 billion tonnes of coal reserves and the consumption of coal is expected to increase by around 1500 million tonnes per year by 2031.
According to the Centre for Science and Environment around 26,000 hectares of forested land have been diverted for coal mining since 2007.
Any new coalmine will also need the infrastructure around it, including power plants, roads and rail – requiring even more land.
Millions of people in India live near or within forests, and rely on them for their livelihoods.
The Forest Rights Act, passed in 2006, aims to give these forest dwellers the rights to use, manage and conserve their forests, and protect them from encroaching industry.
It should mean no industry can move into the forest without their prior and informed consent.
Greenpeace India, Kalpavriksh and Amnesty International India, who attended the report launch, say they do not believe the Act works.
“We, as Amnesty International do not normally ask for such things as coal moratoriums,” said G. Ananthapadmanabhan, Executive Director of Amnesty International India. “We do not normally interfere with coal, or business activities. But this may be the only way with these real, grave abuses of human rights.”
Ashish Kothari, founding member of Kalpavriksh said this report highlights the twin faces on the Indian government.
“You cannot have the Forest Rights Act and also continue to ignore the rights of forest dwellers,” he said. “Either you have to protect the forest rights and the people in the forest or you have to divert it all for mining.
“What we are unfortunately seeing is the later.”
Video: Ananthapadmanabhan, Executive Director of Amnesty International India talks to RTCC about the human rights abuses in India from mining…
Human rights abuses
The groups say that around 1.1 million hectares of forest are under threat in the central Indian region from 13 coal plants. They say this could displace as many as 14,000 tribal people in the Mahan forest, in Madhya Pradesh, alone.
And while the attractive prospect of jobs, and a new way of life, is offered to many of the forest dwellers, the groups say these do not materialise.
While coal production in India has risen by 40%, jobs in the coal industry are down 30%, they say.
One mother, Amravati, who lived in the Moher forest, was interviewed for the report.
“Before the work of the mine began, I used to go into the forest and collect forest produce, but now they have made boundaries all around the forest and they do not allow any villager to enter the forest,” she said. ‘They say that the forest now belongs to the company so you cannot go in there.”
Those villagers who joined the groups for the report launch at COP11 shared similar stories. They explained how their entire livelihood comes from the forest and while the offer of new jobs is given, they cannot give jobs to everyone.
They talked of how they have written letters to the corporations and government about the issue but that their voices have not been heard.
They also shared stories of violence and intimidation within the forest from the coal companies, with one saying they were stopping him from coming to the conference to share his story.
“The story in respect to mining, which we know from other parts that have been studied and is again echoed by people from the ground, is the story of rampant abuse of rights,” Ananthapadmanabhan said. “That is the right to assemble and protest, the right to dissent, the right to seek information, the right to pass resolutions in their own village council.
“It is clear that these corporations are not adhering to the human principles for businesses when it comes to human rights. While they do not have the obligation to protect human rights, they have to respect them.”
Shifting the paradigm
Despite having an Electricity Act, established in 2003, around 300 to 400 million Indians still living without access to energy.
The country has an electricity supply shortfall of around 15% during peak demand hours.
Finding the balance between increasing the supply of energy for the country’s 1.2 billion people and protecting the environment can be difficult.
Minister for Environment and Forests, Jayanthi Natarajan has been slammed for being a ‘green terrorist’ by those who say the government’s outdated environmental laws are crippling the country’s economy.
She has been criticised for objecting to the proposed National Investment Board – planned to speed up development – over concerns that it would disregard environmental regulations.
The latest report from Greenpeace calls for the coal moratorium until at least all other coal sources – outside of forested areas – and renewable energy sources have been assessed.
Samit Aich, Executive Director of Greenpeace India says the country must wean itself off coal.
“What we want to see is an alternative paradigm,” he said. “We have heard for many years now how important coal is for India. Why is it so important?
“What is needed for the solution is a paradigm shift. Renewable energy but not only renewable energy, also decentralised energy. There is evidence that decentralised energy works within India. There are various ways and means to supply people with energy.”
More from COP11
Video: Samit Aich, Executive Director of Greenpeace India talks to RTCC about getting the balance between access to energy and environmental conservation…