Every Coal Mine has a history!

Pandabeshwar coal mines in Durgapur owned by ECL, where 45 mine workers were trapped in May
Pandabeshwar coal mines in Durgapur owned by ECL, where 45 mine workers were trapped in May
Proposed Sonepur Bazari Open Cast coal mines owned by Eastern Coalfields Limited (ECL) which is located in Raniganj Coalfield displacing 15 villages
Proposed Sonepur Bazari Open Cast coal mines owned by Eastern Coalfields Limited (ECL) which is located in Raniganj Coalfield displacing 15 villages
Sonepur Bazari Coal Mines
Sonepur Bazari Coal Mines
Sarshatali Open cast Coal mines in Asansol developed after destroying Roshanpur Forest, which was vast forest with waterfalls and mountain peaks. It’s owned by Integrated Coal Mining Limited (ICML) a subsidiary company of CESC run by RP Goenka. The mine has been sub-contracted. Sarashatali produces more than 3.1 million tons of coal per year
Sarshatali Open cast Coal mines in Asansol developed after destroying Roshanpur Forest, which was vast forest with waterfalls and mountain peaks. It’s owned by Integrated Coal Mining Limited (ICML) a subsidiary company of CESC run by RP Goenka. The mine has been sub-contracted. Sarashatali produces more than 3.1 million tons of coal per year

Missing the MDGs, Collecting Thoughts

U5 or under five mortality refers to the risk of a child dying before completing five years of age. MDG-4 as it is called required India to reduce U5 mortality below 39 by 2015 (of 1000 live births). The state wise variations cast a doubt that barring some possibility of few states meeting the target, rest will not meet the MDG-4 target.

India/States/UTs Total-2008 Total-2009 Total-2010 Total-2011 Rural-2008 Rural-2009 Rural-2010 Rural-2011 Urban-2008 Urban-2009 Urban-2010 Urban-2011
INDIA 69 64 59 55 76 71 66 61 43 41 38 35
Andhra Pradesh 58 52 48 45 64 58 53 49 40 39 36 34
Assam 88 87 83 78 93 92 88 83 50 43 42 39
Bihar 75 70 64 59 77 71 65 61 56 49 47 41
Chhattisgarh 71 67 61 57 74 69 63 59 56 54 48 46
Delhi 40 37 34 32 40 42 42 41 41 36 33 30
Gujarat 60 61 56 52 72 71 65 60 38 42 39 35
Haryana 65 60 55 51 70 64 58 54 50 50 47 43
Himachal Pradesh 50 51 49 46 50 52 50 47 39 36 37 36
Jammu and Kashmir 55 50 48 45 58 52 51 47 41 39 33 30
Jharkhand 65 62 59 54 69 66 63 57 44 38 35 32
Karnataka 55 50 45 40 62 55 49 43 40 39 36 33
Kerala 14 14 15 13 14 14 16 14 12 13 12 10
Madhya Pradesh 92 89 82 77 98 95 88 82 62 58 54 50
Maharashtra 41 36 33 28 49 43 39 33 28 26 23 19
Odisha 89 84 78 72 93 88 81 76 59 52 46 43
Punjab 49 46 43 38 55 53 49 43 39 33 31 28
Rajasthan 80 74 69 64 88 82 76 70 49 46 42 38
Tamil Nadu 36 33 27 25 39 35 30 28 31 28 24 21
Uttar Pradesh 91 85 79 73 97 89 82 77 63 63 60 54
West Bengal 42 40 37 38 45 42 40 41 32 30 28 29

Apart from maternal and demographics factors, socio-economic factors, there is a third factor i.e. environmental which also determines the progress or decline in mortality. The rural areas show high U5 mortality across the spectrum in the table above. Regarding environmental factors, UNICEF in its factsheet states that U5 mortality rates are consistently lower among children living in families who accessed drinking water from a safe source as compared to those who accessed drinking water from an unsafe source; the same is true for those having access to improved toilet facilities compared to those who don’t.

This refers more to environmental quality of amenities like potable water, environmental sanitation etc. but rural areas are where the natural resources exist like minerals (coal and non-coal) and their exploitation over the decades has definitely impacted the environmental health and quality of life. The state level statistics do not provide relevant hints about which areas (in administrative terms, say block level) have high mortality overlaid with environmental factors like mining or industrial pollution.

Looking at Census of India’s statistics, the drinking water needs are met from 4-5 kind of sources but qualitatively how drinking water fares in rural areas is a story known. Strikingly high percentage of cooking fuel is coal in most of the coal mining regions (here we talk of Bardhhaman District which has 70-80% of coal and fuelwood usage in rural areas) again indicate poor environmental factors that might lead to high mortality over long term exposure. High incidence of exposure and environmental health impacts is further validated by high reliance on cooking inside the house. These environmental factors improvement is crucial for the sustainability of basic facilities and services like potable water availability, environmental sanitation, improved cooking and better quality of life.

The environmental factor plays a pivotal role in determining health of community and is also strengthened by the following paragraph taken from the District Development Report, Bardhaman (Chapter 6 – Health and Well Being)

“Health indicators show Western Bardhaman, Paschim region, with reference to its socio-economic and demographic characteristics, as very different from the regions of Rarh and Sadar. This zone, rich in industries and coal fields, is economically richer but poorer ecologically. It lacks greenery. The huge pollution in its environment, the presence of chemical gas, carbon monoxide etc., occasional land slides, make local inhabitants more vulnerable to diseases and ill health, causing low life expectancy. But this aspect has not quite been picked up in the parameters.

 In this part of Bardhaman, the following reduce human life expectancy in a biased manner –

 Asthma…                                                               caused by air pollution

Allergy…                                                                 caused by atmospheric chemical dust

Specific diseases…                                                borne by polluted water

Loss of life and properties…                                resulting from land slide in coal belt & mining areas

This establishes the fact that mere increase in the supply of safe drinking water, total sanitation, immunization, child and mother care programmes, cannot considerably help in making out the human development picture a reality.”

Can mortality be than looked in conjunction with these above concerns and factors to suggest the framework on Sustainable Development Goals.

Read More: http://indianexpress.com/article/india/india-others/india-missed-2015-child-mortality-target-says-lancet-report/

Whose Option, Whose Opinion? 

While the task of moving people out of the subsidence and fire zone is in the folds of Development Authorities which deal with Urban expansion and development, land is the prime resource upon which development authorities base their plans. Can one think of the same ‘mohalla’ or ‘bylanes’ replication of existing settlements at a new site where the communities tend to live together with small earnings from shops extending out of houses or near to the road edge to earn or enhance their earnings. Probably the policy looks vertical, disconnecting the horizontals where they exist now! Will the structure of policy itself refrain people from accepting this offer Or it will sail through because there is no option left with People.

But the biggest challenge and willingness is now for the States to answer whether the so proclaimed ‘coal block auction’ proceeds to the states can be channelised for restoration of lives of these communities in the subsidence zones and not merely bracketed within the limited offer by the Government (see below). Or one would say ‘Your Option, Your Opinion’!

The Options (Asansol Durgapur Development Authority, West Bengal)

For Legal Title holders:

Option I – Full compensation of the homestead land and the assessed cost of the superstructures / other infrastructure on it and 100 m2 of developed plot at the resettlement site.

Option II – Full compensation of the homestead land and the assessed cost of the superstructures / other infrastructure on it and more than 100 m2 of developed plot (not exceeding the area of homestead land at the present site).

  1. Quantum of required excess land
  2. Cost of excess land to be adjusted against the total compensation payable
  3. Cost of excess land to be paid in cash.

Option III – Full cash compensation as the cost of the homestead land and assessed cost of the superstructures / others infrastructure on it and assessed cost of 100 m2 of developed plot at the resettlement site

Option IV – 450 ft2 (41.80 m2) flat at the resettlement site with no compensation for homestead land and structures on it and no separate land.

For Non Legal Title Holders

Flat on a development site on 38.92 m2 carpet area, without any cash compensation.

The Pace & Problem Scale

More than 6 Lakh people need to be moved out from the fire and subsidence zones in JCF & RCF to safer sites, it is of course a humungous and a challenging task for the ‘development’ authorities and more so for the people facing displacement due to coal mining. Add to it the traumatic period people would have gone through while struggling to survive their families in this hostile environment. Can people expect resettlement which is like a home to them and not just a packed colony of resettlers. Will there be enough value-add in terms of social-economical-cultural planning that allow the community to light their lives once again with hope and forget the fear of living around fire! It will need a very structured but upfront approach in dealing with all this.

But…..look at how this has shaped so far…..

Although the problem of fire existed long ago as a result of exploitation of coal unmindfully from the coalfields in private hands, Nationalisation of Coal mines began in early 70s.  Internalisation of this problem was nowhere in sight until talks began in mid 90s to do something about this problem of subsidence, coal fire and risk aversion; master plans were prepared for the areas falling under two coal subsidiaries viz. BCCL and ECL which got approved in 2009. The internalization of problem would give the Coal Industry remaining coal vested in private lands which is a state subject but not before the affected area and settlements over it are resettled elsewhere.

In West Bengal, the Asansol Durgapur Development Authority (ADDA) and Jharia Rehabilitation & Development Authority (JRDA) in Jharkhand have been tasked for Resettling the vulnerable settlements in the coal belt. An investment of Rs.9657.61 Crore (Rs. 7028.40 Crore for Jharia and Rs. 2629.21 Crore for Raniganj) was envisaged for resettling the population in satellite colonies. In the 2008 Jharia Master Plan, requirement of around Rs. 660 – 770 Crores per annum from various internal adjustments like increase of coal cess, profits of BCCL was envisaged to implement the plan in 10 years. In the recent report by MoC (2014/15), the progress is as follows;

In 2015

In Raniganj Coalfileds (RCF)

  • Demographic survey has been completed in all 141 sites and 44598 households have been identified.
  • ECL has vested 270.38 acres of land to Asansol Durgapur Development Authority (ADDA) which would accommodate about 20,000 houses.

In Jharia Coalfield

  • Out of 595 fire affected subsidence prone sites, demographic survey in 532 sites have been completed in which 74354 families have been identified
  • Out of 25000 houses proposed for resettlement of affected BCCL persons, 1496 houses have been constructed and occupied, 4080 quarters are under construction, work order has been awarded for 4020 quarters and tenders have been floated for 2240 quarters.
  • Out of 54159 quarters for rehabilitation of non-BCCL endangered persons, 2352 houses have been constructed, 2000 units are under construction and tenders have been floated for 2000 units.

Looking at the description above, no expenditure has yet been made by ADDA whereas the pre-implementation stage i.e. survey of affected habitations before implementing the plan has been completed recently for which a time period of 2 years was kept and it is clear that the process is already delayed. Whereas in Jharia, around 47.344% houses / quarters (of the planned 25000 units) for BCCL personnels are under occupancy (5.98%), under construction (16.32%), work order awarded (16.08%) and tenders floated (8.96%).

The pace is even slower for the massive 54159 units for non-BCCL endangered person. So far only 2352 (4.34%) units have been constructed and even lesser are under construction.

It clearly tells for how many more years communities have to face the externalities created by multiple business seekers. This is a disaster whose realities are known from long but its acceptance and then elongating the process is only creating yet another page in the history of legacy of displacement with unending resettlement.

An Introduction

From the late 18th Century, the discovery of Coal found use in ordnance industry by the British, later the energy from steam found massive use in railways in the mid 19th century with the arrival of East Indian Railway to tap more coal. The labour was all manual and roughly a labour could take out 1 to 1.25 tons of coal and make their living.

Now we are in the 21st Century and Coal is still a paramount King. Coal has been a favourite in terms energy security but on the contrary it is non-renewable, the more coal is taken out, more land changes are seen which become unmanageable to restore and turns into a human induced wasteland. The oldest coal belt of Raniganj-Jharia is facing a peculiar problem of coal fires and solutions offered are through moving people out of these fire zones and diffuse / take out burning coal (fire removal). It points to the fact that the underground workings may not have been closed appropriately after taking out coal which left these areas vulnerable to fire. In the Gangetic plains drained by Damodar and Barakar River, the District of Burdwan (Barddhaman) in West Bengal and Dhanbad (Jharia Coalfields) in Jharkhand form a contiguous belt only to be separated by their administrative borders.

Few years back, CPCB embarked upon Comprehensive Environment Pollution Index (CEPI) to earmark areas of extreme pollution over an assessed index for air, water and land; Asansol had a CEPI of 70.20, Durgapur 68.26 and Dhanbad 78.63. The CEPI score of 70 and above categorized areas as ‘critically polluted’ and score between 60-70 categorised areas as ‘severely polluted’.

IMG_0831By setting a target to achieve 1 billion tonnes of coal production by the end of this decade seems an ambitious task but also deters from the path of sustainable development. One must remember that by the turn of Y2K a Global initiative by was brought in by the United Nations regarding a common vision and goals to human development, famously known as Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) through a set of indicators. One and a half decades of target was set (2015) and in the next quarter Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) will be finalized and countries will work further on these goals. The issue to ponder here is what level of achievement has been attained in terms of MDGs; whether the MDGs at micro levels or say in industrial or mining corridors show a differential trend than at the National level. The portfolio of MDGs and transformation to SDGs will require a all round thinking to set a more reasonable target.

What sustainable development goal would be for communities, industries or even Governments in coal mining regions because it is a ‘Catch 22’ situation for these stakeholders, weakest among them being the communities who are recipient not only of services but environmental fate too. An industry is set to earn, profiteer and grow in its domain of work and Governments are for National development, energy security being one of them. Communities have no stake to choose but to follow what comes their way, if they were to choose, sustainable choices may have shaped the roles of different stakeholders.