Executive Summary by RESEARCH COLLECTIVE of Programme for Social Action, of the Report of the Independent People’s Tribunal on the MoU between Rajmahal Pahad Bachao Andolan and PANEM Coal Mines.
Release of the Report and Panel Discussion on May 6, 2015 at Constitution Club
The Independent People’s Tribunal, held on 16 November 2014 in Ranchi, established that PANEM Coal Mines repeatedly violated human rights of Adivasis, used violence against them to force their consent to operationalise the project, and has not adequately resettled and rehabilitated project affected families. PANEM Coal Mines, which acquired Adivasi lands in 2002 in Pakur district of Jharkhand, violated the Santhal Parganas Tenancy Act, 1949 and the rights of Adivasi (indigenous) people granted under the fifth schedule of the Indian Constitution.
PANEM Coal Mines, a Joint Venture company between Punjab State Electricity Board (now PSPCL) and EMTA Group, required land from Adivasi communities in Alubera and Pachwara panchayats in Pakur to operationalise the Pachwara Central Coal Block mining project. Fearing that the large-scale mining project would ultimately destroy their homeland, the Santhal and Pahadia people did not consent to the acquisition of their land. They organized themselves as the Rajmahal Pahad Bachao Andolan (RPBA) and militantly opposed the project between 2000 and 2006. In an unexpected turn of events, on 30 November 2006, RPBA signed a Memorandum of Understanding (MoU) with PANEM and allowed the company to acquire land and mine coal.
Eight years later, in November 2014, an Independent People’s Tribunal was set up, at the behest of the RPBA to assess the incidents that led to the signing of the MoU and review the implementation of the MoU. Coallateral: A Report of the Independent People’s Tribunal on the MoU between Rajmahal Pahad Bachao Andolan and PANEM Coal Mines, published by The Research Collective of Programme for Social Action (PSA), analysis the issues and consolidates the findings of the Tribunal. Coallateral documents the resistance of the Adivasi community, methods used by PANEM to coerce the Adivasi community to give up their lands and to suppress dissent, violations by PANEM, complicit role of the State, discrepancies in the allocation of Pachwara Central Block to PANEM, unsolved deaths of numerous people, the MoU, its implementation and impact on the lives of the people.
The Pachwara Central Coal Block with extractable reserves of 289 MT extends over 1278 hectares and includes nine villages in Alubera and Pachwara Panchayat in the Pakur. RPBA successfully prevented PANEM company officials from entering and accessing the project area until 2003 and disallowed actual operation of the mine until 2006. In 2003, RPBA challenged the acquisition of land for PANEM in the Ranchi High Court on the grounds that the area fell within the Santhal Parganas and was hence in violation of the Santhal Parganas Tenancy Act, 1949, which prohibits transfer of Adivasi land to non-Adivasis. The petition also sought the Court’s intervention to ensure the safety of villagers, to quash the false cases filed against villagers and to restrain PANEM from coercing and harassing villagers. In August 2005, the Ranchi High Court disposed RPBA’s petition on grounds that the petition ‘was devoid of any merit’. Coallateral finds the verdict vague and unclear in its rationale. The RPBA challenged the verdict in the Supreme Court, but later withdrew the petition and resolved to settle the matter through an out-of-court settlement, which took form as the MoU.
The foremost guarantee in the MoU is return of 50 per cent of land, in cultivable condition, after the completion of mining. Mining by PANEM is completed in Kathaldih village but neither has the mine been remediated nor has the land been returned to its original owners. In order to economically rehabilitate the project-affected families, the MoU promised employment, contracts for mine-related work and training programs. Depositions submitted before the Tribunal reveal that local people are not employed by PANEM and none of the several training programs were provided. Other provisions in the MoU include compensation for land, compensation for loss of livelihood, creation of infrastructure such as lift-irrigation, schools, roads and hospital, measures to mitigate pollution, supply of drinking water and the promise of safeguarding religious and sacred groves.
The Tribunal unequivocally establishes that, with the exception of a few provisions, PANEM has not implemented either the MoU or the Resettlement & Rehabilitation (R&R) Package. PANEM used distribution of bribes, compensation, jobs and contracts as a strategy to split the community and alienate members of RPBA from the rest of the community, has resettled the people of Kathaldih but not as per the terms of the MoU, has not economically rehabilitated project affected families, has not taken measures to check pollution of the natural environment and has not implemented many of the infrastructural provisions guaranteed in the MoU.
Mining activity has severely affected the ground water levels in the region, polluted air, water and soil and destroyed religious and sacred groves of the Adivasi community. Depositions made by project-affected people reveal that numerous false cases of kidnapping, extortion and attempts to murder were registered against RPBA members with the police. Several members of RPBA, and in some cases their family members, have been killed in suspicious accidents involving PANEM’s dumper trucks. Coallateral finds that the MoU led to a shift in the nature of the RPBA to a contracting agency that led to the formation of competing interests within the affected villages. Six of the seven suspects involved in the murder of Sr. Valsa John, a leader of RPBA, also held contracts with PANEM. Several other members of the RPBA have also died under suspicious circumstances. Whereas, the state’s apparent disregard for maintaining law and order in this area was instrumental in the disintegration of the people’s resistance and their reconciliation with the MoU. This combined with the destruction due to mining and change in economic nature of the region, has led to a loss of identity, degeneration of cultural and traditional practices, weakening of cultural cohesiveness and loss of natural resource-based livelihoods of the Adivasi communities.
Coallateral establishes that the MoU, touted as a first-of-its-kind direct negotiation between a people’s organization and a mining company, was an outcome of sustained attack on people’s constitutional and legal rights, the deliberate use of intimidation on Adivasi communities and the state’s inefficiency in protecting its people. The study overall, brings new challenges to the debates on a ‘middle path’ towards accommodating economic growth based development.
By laying out how PANEM was constituted and operationalized, Coallateral also interrogates the model of privatising coal mining used by EMTA wherein it formed a Joint Venture (JV) with Public Sector Utilities. EMTA holds a majority stake of 74 per cent and used this to sub-contract the mining process to its own subsidiary, making the JV a shell company. The majority stake and absolute control over the JV allowed EMTA to decide costs of operation, the cost of fuel and the amount of profit it had to share with the state utilities. Bodies such as the Punjab State Electricity Regulatory Commission and the Punjab State Electricity Board Engineers Associations and CAG have raised allegations over a host of activities, on PANEM, including complicity by PSPCL. In a context where the existing Mining Development Operator (MDO) models are coming under fire, the study reinforces the need to interrogate new trend towards subcontracted MDOs.
The Tribunal recommends that the Pachwara Coal Blocks not be re-auctioned, that the land be returned to the original owners, that the State Government ensure implementation of the MoU and R&R Package and initiate grievance redressal proceedings for affected people. Other recommendations include withdrawal of all false cases filed against project-affected people, investigation into the murders of RPBA members, investigation into undue favours shown by PANEM to EMTA and action against PANEM for not implementing MoU and R&R Package.
 The districts of Dumka, Godda, Deoghar, Jamtara, Pakur and Sahibganj collectively constitute the Santhal Parganas in Jharkhand.