NAPM demands that Centre immediately revoke the commercial auction of 41 coal blocks

Last week, PM Modi had opened up 41 coal blocks for commercial mining, with many of the coal sites being in fragile, eco-sensitive regions

coal mining

After collective disapproval over the Centre’s destructive environmental clearances given to various projects like the cutting of community forests in Odisha or the virtual clearance to a four-lane highway and transmission line right through Goa’s Bhagawan Mahavir Wildlife Sanctuary during the lockdown, now the opposition against the Centre’s decision to auction coal blocks in the country is growing. Even as the country is dealing with the surging Covid-19 pandemic, on June 18, 2020, Prime Minister Narendra Modi announced the opening of commercial coal mining for the private sector through auctions. He announced the auction of 41 coal blocks, estimated to attract Rs. 33,000 crore in investments. While 9 of the coal blocks are in Jharkhand, the rest are spread across Madhya Pradesh (11), Chhattisgarh (9), Odisha (9) and Maharashtra (3).

However, states like Jharkhand and Chattisgarh have vehemently protested the move saying that the coal blocks fall under areas rich in biodiversity and that opening the coal blocks for domestic and foreign corporates will put the livelihoods of Adivasis and the ecology of the region at risk. Environmentalists and social activists have ferociously opposed the move stating the decision has subverted the consent of the Gram Sabhas and exposed the profiteering intentions of the Centre which has been granting environmental clearances for infrastructure and mining projects in eco-sensitive areas, pushing millions into a live of destitution given its history of poor rehabilitation.

Dayamani Barla, veteran indigenous activist had previously told Sabrang India how rampant displacement had taken place in Jharkhand’s Jharia due to mining. She had said, “The rehabilitation has not taken place the way it was supposed to. The displacement is only going to increase as the land under mining increases. People will continue to get displaced. Economically, the people there are very poor. There are very few landowners left in that area. Most of the migration has taken place from the colliery areas. Currently, more than 1 crore people have been displaced from Jharkhand. Most of the people who are now rickshaw pullers or coolies, are all those who are displaced from their lands.”

Speaking of the government’s decision to auction off coal blocks, Prafulla Samantara, Green Nobel Prize Winner, had told Sabrang India, “The mining industry has been operating all through the lockdown. There have no precautions been taken for the health of the tribals who are working in factories that are operating during the lockdown.” He added, “There is widespread corruption in the mining industry. Companies who take coal blocks on lease will take 1000 MT but show 200 MT on paper. Natural forests have been cut down for commercial activities. If the power distribution companies hadn’t shut during the lockdown, why did the government allocate Rs. 90,000 crore to them? This is only to earn more profits.” He had also written a letter to Odisha CM Naveen Patnaik requesting him to suspend mining and industrial activity in tribal areas to protect tribals from the Covid-19 pandemic.

Revoke the auction of 41 coal blocks for commercial mining

In light of the developments, the National Alliance of People’s Movements (NAPM) has condemned the diabolical design of the current regime and demanded that the Centre ‘stop corporate loot in eco-sensitive and Schedule V Adivasi areas of Central and Eastern india’.

Signed by eminent social activists and environmentalists like Prafulla Samantara (Lok Shakti Abhiyan), Dayamani Barla (Adivasi Moolvasi Astitva Raksha Manch), Medha Patkar (Narmada Bachao Andolan), and Anand Mazgaonkar, Swati Desai, Krishnakant, Parth, Paryavaran Suraksha Samiti among others, the statement by NAPM reads, “Opening up of these areas to profit-making domestic and foreign corporate mining entities will irreversibly jeopardize the pristine forest lands, increase environmental pollution and public health risk in Covid times and destroy the habitats of a major chunk of the adivasi population and wild-life.”

Saying that the move is a hoax  on the people of the nation couched under the deceitful jargon of ‘Atma Nirbhar Bharat’ and takes away constitutional rights of self-governance, NAPM added that under the pretext of ‘economic survival’, the government was resorting to a severe transgression of the rights of the communities dependent on land and forests in the areas.

The auctioning announcement was made pursuant to the recent Mineral Laws (Amendment) Act, 2020 to amend the Coal Mines (Special Provisions) Act, 2015 and the Mines and Minerals (Development and Regulation) Act, 1957, in order to ‘ease restrictions’ on end use and relax the eligibility criteria for participating in coal auctions, especially enabling FDI by global bidders. In fact, in Aug 2019, the Modi government approved 100% FDI via the ‘automatic route’ for coal mining, processing and sale, NAPM said.

Violation of constitutional safeguards

Highlighting the government’s scant regard for marginalized communities, ecology and laws of the land, NAPM stated that the decision of auctioning coal blocks was violative of constitutional safeguards of Adivasis in the Fifth Schedule regions and other protective laws including the Scheduled Tribes and Other Traditional Forest Dwellers (Recognition of ForestRights) Act, 2006 (in short, FRA), the Provisions of the Panchayats (Extension to the Scheduled Areas) Act, 1996 (PESA),  The Environment Protection Act, 1986 and EIA Notification, 2006 and the Right to Fair Compensation and Transparency in. Land Acquisition, Rehabilitation and Resettlement Act, 2013 (LARR Act).

NAPM also said that the decision of putting up coal blocks for auction violated multiple judgments of the Supreme Court including:

1.       Judgement dated July 11, 1997 in Samata vs. State of Andhra Pradesh & Ors which held that all entities including the State are ‘non-Adivasis’ and Adivasi co-operatives alone have the right to undertake mining in their land, if they so wish.

2.       Judgement dated April 18, 2013 in Orissa Mining Corporation Ltd vs. Ministry of Environment & Forest (Niyamgiri Judgement) wherein a three-judge Bench upheld the constitutional right of the Gram Sabhas to consider and decide as to whether mining in their areas can be undertaken or not.

3.       Judgement dated July 8, 2013 in Thressiamma Jacob & Ors vs. Geologist, Dept. of Mining, wherein a three-judge Bench headed by Justice R.M. Lodha held that ownership of minerals should be vested with the land owners.

4.       Judgement dated August 25, 2014 in Manohar Lal Sharma vs. The Principal Secretary & Others (Coalgate Case), wherein a three-judge Bench headed by the Chief Justice clearly held that coal is ‘national wealth’ which should only be used for ‘common good’ and ‘public interest’.

‘No-go’ coal blocks auctioned, Gram Sabhas oppose decision

In Chhattisgarh, the state government has written to the Centre to disallow the auction of around 5 coal blocks which fall in ‘no-go’ classification as they fall under the environmentally sensitive areas like the catchment of the Hasdeo and Mandi River and the proposed elephant reserve. The Chhattisgarh Bachao Andolan has vociferously opposed the decision and about 20 Gram Sabhas in the Hasdeo Arand region have written to the Prime Minister to stop the auctioning.

In Maharashtra, the state has raised objections against the auction of the Bander and Marki Mangli 2 coal blocks. The Bander coal block falls on the periphery of a tiger corridor and the Marki Mangli 2 has been classified as ‘no-go’ due to its dense forest cover. The Environment Minister of Maharashtra, Aaditya Thackeray has written to the Union Environment Minister Prakash Javadekar, pointing out the dangers of opening of the Bander coal block.

In Jharkhand, at least 3 of the 9 coal blocks, namely Chakla, North Dhadhu and Gondulpara have been classified as ‘no-go’ and they have been put up for auction even though other 33 coal blocks classified as go areas, are still available. Organizations like the Jharkhand Janadhikar Mahasabha have given protest calls against the auction. The Jharkhand government has now approached the Supreme Court citing ‘need for fair assessment of social and environmental impact on the huge tribal population and vast tracts of forest lands which are likely to be adversely affected’. The Chief Minister has also termed the auctioning a violation of the spirit of ‘co-operative federalism’.

In Madhya Pradesh too, there is a contention over 3 coal blocks – Marki, Barka and Bandha which are ‘no-go’ areas. The Marwatola block which is classified as ‘inviolate’ is also up for auction even though it is situated in a tiger corridor. The Gotitoria East coal block in Narsinghpur, Madhya Pradesh is 80% forest and acts as drainage for Sitarewa river. Singrauli region, the notorious ‘energy capital of India’ is already heavily exploited to the hilt and the adivasis and other villagers over here have been struggling against reckless mining by companies, failed rehabilitation and severe pollution. There is already ongoing resistance to the WCL mining in Chhindwara as well. Many Gram Sabhas resolutions against coal mining and allocations of coal blocks have been passed in all these areas as well.

In Odisha, one coal block, Phuljari East and West, falls in the ‘no-go’ area. The rest of the 8 coal blocks are in Angul district, spread over 30,000 hectares where people have been resisting destructive mining for years. Talcher-Angul and Ib Valley were declared as ‘Critically Polluted Areas’ by the Central Pollution Control Board (CPCB), for 3 decades now with little ‘improvement’, rather deterioration in the environment, people’s health and more displacement. The coal blocks are in densely populated areas in the proximity of important rivers. If these are opened for commercial mining, it would lead to further ecological degradation, wide-spread displacement and decimation of water bodies there.

Impact on livelihoods, displacement and environment

NAPM stated that the people in Central and Eastern India have been opposing forcible land acquisition and consequences of extensive mining for decades. Tribal communities have been the worst victims of the lot, having lost their lands and livelihoods to the menace. While in the 1960s, the size of a coal mine was 150 acres on an average, it increased to 800 acres in the 1980s and up to 3,500 acres in recent times. With most mines being open cast, it has caused the usurping of more land, destruction of large chunks of forests and destruction of water bodies and biodiversity, thus leading to adverse impacts on the health of the population residing there.

Since independence, NAPM said, an estimated 100 million people have been displaced due to development induced displacement, of which approximately 12%, 12 million have been affected by the coal mining alone, of which 70% is Adivasi population. The record of ‘resettlement and rehabilitation’ has been a mere 25% of those affected who have either got compensation or some form of job with the mining companies.

Attack on federal spirit

In auctioning the 41 coal blocks, the Centre completely sidelined the powers and opinions of the States, which NAPM said was an attack on the ‘federal structure of the Constitution’. The move showed that the regime wanted to ‘centralize’ the power of decision-making for its crony interests. Jharkhand CM Hemant Soren called it a ‘blatant disregard of co-operative federalism’. With 3 out of the 5 states raising objections over the Centre’s decision, it is evident that the States were bypassed and their authority or opinion was unabashedly brushed aside.  

Claims and costs

In announcing the auctions, the Centre claimed that the move would attract capital investment worth Rs. 33,000 crores and create more than 2.8 lakh jobs, it didn’t take into account the socio-environmental costs that offset these claims. NAPM stated, “Amongst other things, the Govt plans to ‘gassify’ 100 million tonnes of coal by 2030 for which an investment of ₹20,000 crore has been earmarked for 4 projects. The detrimental impact of the decision to allow commercial coal mining on the domestic coal industry and market is well-known. With no end use and pricing restrictions, the Govt. is literally giving up its crucial role of safeguarding public interest, environment and constitutional rights of people in the forested regions.”

Coal Exports vis-à-vis End of Coal Era

NAPM stated that the move of opening up coal blocks for commercial coal mining reflected poorly on India’s obligations under the Paris Agreement to reduce climate impact. As a signatory to the Paris Agreement at the International Convention on Climate Change in 2015, India had pledged a 33-35 % reduction in emissions intensity by 2030, compared to 2005 levels and agreed to a policy shift away from conventional energy to renewable energy forms.

The First Report on the ‘Assessment of Climate Change over the Indian Region’ was formally released by the Union Ministry of Earth Sciences, a day after the auction revealed that due to greenhouse gas emissions, the average temperature of the country had increased by around 0.7 degrees Celsius during 1901-2018 and was set to rise by 4.4 degrees Celsius by the end of the century.

NAPM questioned the Centre’s decision citing the Government’s own documents including Coal India Limited Vision – 2030, Central Electricity Authority (CEA) Plans etc. project which stated that there was no need to allocate additional mines for the coal needs of the country, at least for the next decade. Existing statistics in the public domain also revealed that India has enough coal deposits outside the ‘no-go areas’ and there is no reason or justification to mine dense forests and adivasi homelands, that too by way of commercial auctions!

What Real ‘Atma Nirbharta’ must mean

NAPM said that under the call of ‘Atma Nirbhar Bharat’ the extraction of natural resources must strictly be for public interest with due regards to land laws, judicial pronouncements pertaining to the Fifth Schedule Areas and environmental regulations.

The Centre must obtain the consent of the stakeholders like the Gram Sabhas and Adivasis and support the formation and registration of cooperatives of land owners and villagers and extend adequate capital, technological assistance, managerial skills and marketing avenues to undertake mining and allied activities on their own. This would be in the true spirit of ‘Atma-Nirbharta’ and community ownership of natural resources.

Mentioning that the Centre was moving towards complete privatization, NAPM stated that the decisions were taking away the last vestiges of a ‘welfare state’.


NAPM called upon the Union Government to immediately revoke the commercial auctioning of 41 Coal Blocks in the interest of the ecology, economy, rights of the people in the five states and India’s climate commitments. The Govt. must uphold constitutional rights of Gram Sabhas, not profiteering corporates. It also demanded that the government come up with a comprehensive White Paper on the status of all existing coal mines, including details of permissions and production and need for more mines, especially in the dense forests.

Expressing solidarity with the grassroots resistance, it endorsed the objections raised by State governments and called upon opposition parties, mass organizations and trade unions to stand together with the Adivasis and forest-dwelling communities.

It also called upon Gram Sabhas and the Tribes Advisory Council in the five states to pass unanimous resolutions against the decision of the Centre, apart from expecting the Supreme Court to reverse the decision of the commercial auction which is violative of constitutional and statutory safeguards.

The complete statement by NAPM may be read below.


Jharkhand, Chhattisgarh oppose Centre’s move allowing commercial coal mining
Commercial Mining, not a boon but a curse: Jharkhand & Central India    
Auction for Mining in 20 Coal Blocks given go ahead, protests break out: Jharkand
Raging inferno Jharia treads on hot coals as Centre opens up mining for private sector
Culling our lungs: Protests against coal mine allocations in ‘no-go’ area continue
FDI in Coal: Why Every Ounce of Our Mineral Resources Should Remain in Public Hands
The Adivasi cannot live without the forest: Dayamani Barla




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