"My name is Savita Rath, calling from Lat village in Dharamjaigarh block in Raigarh, Chhattisgarh.
South Eastern Coalfields (SECL) promised jobs to the villagers in Lat before acquiring their land for open-cast coal mining. But, so far they have not fulfilled the demands.
The coal mine is operational and 27 families- including around 25 adivasi families- are still living in this village because they are not getting jobs and resettlement. Houses are situated within less than 10 meters of the mine and continuous blasting from the mine has damaged many homes.
There is a huge scarcity of drinking water, since the water level has gone down due to mining. Without any option provided to them by the company, villagers are bound to live in this grim scenario.
It is my struggle to fight for the rights of communities' in terms of housing and jobs assured by the SECL.
Out of these, families are alleging that officials from SECL and the district administration are forcing them to leave their houses without full compensation and rehabilitation.
People are running from pillar to post for compensation and employment which was promised to them along with other villagers during land acquisition. This includes adivasi women with titles in their own name who have not received the compensation they are due."
The Chhal mine is spread over 641.013 ha in the village of Lat in Raigarh. A total of 550 families are affected by the mine (source: EC): of which the largest proportion are Adivasis. A significant Dalit population is also impacted by the project. A portion of this population has moved to the rehabilitation colony. However locals and activists say that the poorest and most vulnerable communities are yet to be fully rehabilitated.
A number of reserved and protected forests are found in and around the Chhal mine. "The study area including the mine area is visited by elephants of Dharmajaigarh and Raigarh Forest Divisions," says the environment clearance granted to the expansion project.
The district of Raigarh is an adivasi district with special protections around transfer of land, prescribed by the Fifth Schedule of the Indian Constitution.
It is also mandatory for communities to be consulted on their rehabilitation under the Panchayat (Extension to Scheduled Areas Act), 1996.
The consent of adivasi communities is also mandatory under the Forest Rights Act, prior to any diversion of forest land for non-forest purposes.
However, with the status of forest clearance given to the project unclear, whether community consent has been sought is also questionable.
Chhal was first envisioned as an underground and an opencast mine. The underground portion received clearance in June 2006, while the open-cast mine (upto 1 million tonnes per annum) received clearance in March 2006.
In April 2010, SECL received clearance to expand the mine's capacity from 1 to 3.5 Million Tonnes Per Annum:
However, subsequent compliance reports show that the company has shown very poor compliance to the environmental conditions set out: http://environmentclearance.nic.in/writereaddata/Monitoring/1_Monitoring.pdf
On water, while the company has said mining has not had "any adverse effect", SECL failed to submit water conservation and recharge plans during the site visit.
CoalScam was unable to find details for the forest clearance permits for the 176.710 hectares of forest land used by the project.
The Ministry of Environment and Forests, in granting the expansion clearance in 2010, mentioned that these 176.710 hectares must be used as a safety zone and not for mining. When the Ministry undertook a site inspection on 3 August 2013, SECL was unable to show a forest clearance for this land.
SECL officials CoalScam spoke to replied that this forest land was not being used for the 3 MTPA expansion, but would be used for the mine's expansion to extracting 6 MTPA of coal a year. Information pertaining to this 6 MTPA expansion has not been reflected on the Ministry of Environment and Forest's website. SECL clarified that they had received No-Objection certificates from gram sabhas for the 6 MTPA expansion, but activists say that locals in the region are not even fully aware of the Forest Rights Act to be able to grant their consent.
SECL Raigarh officials told CoalScam that since they did not use the 176.71 hectares for the 3 MTPA expansion, they did not need a forest clearance.
SECL has said that compensation and rehabilitation were initiated in 2007 where 423 families have benefited. However, they admitted that this process has not been completed- especially for those without formal land titles.