Em­pow­ered by coal

Farm­ers in Ch­hat­tis­garh's coal-rich Gare vil­lage have floated a company to as­sert their rights over nat­u­ral re­sources and re­sist land ac­quisi­ton by min­ing gi­ants

Down to Earth - - CONTENTS - ANU­PAM CHAKRAVARTTY |

Farm­ers in a coal-rich Ch­hat­tis­garh vil­lage have floated a company to mine the nat­u­ral re­source and gen­er­ate power

RES­I­DENTS OF coal-rich Gare vil­lage in Ch­hat­tis­garh’s Raigarh dis­trict have found a unique way to as­sert their rights over the nat­u­ral re­sources found on their land—they have floated a company to mine coal and gen­er­ate power. In­spired by Ma­hatma Gandhi’s prin­ci­ples of self-suf­fi­ciency and non­vi­o­lence, the res­i­dents started Gare Urja Pri­vate Limited in June 2013. Regis­tered in Gwalior, Mad­hya Pradesh, the company to­day has more than 250 farm­ers from 10 vil­lages as share­hold­ers.The farm­ers own 450 hectares that fall in the coal block,Gare IV/6, which holds high-qual­ity coal.

The idea of float­ing a co­op­er­a­tive min­ing company was born in 2006,when the Cen­tre al­lo­cated the block to Jin­dal Steel Works (jsw) de­spite op­po­si­tion from the res­i­dents. And this was not a one-off in­stance in the coal-rich Tam­nar taluka. “In the past few years, the Cen­tre has al­lo­cated land in Gare and its ad­join­ing vil­lages to coal min­ing, power and steel com­pa­nies, such as Jin­dal, Jaiswal Neco and Mon­net-Is­pat, against peo­ple’s con­sent,” al­leges Harihar Pa­tel, for­mer sarpanch of Gare.

In­ter­est­ingly,Gare IV/6 is one of the 218 coal blocks whose min­ing leases were can­celled by the Supreme Court in Au­gust

this year be­cause of their ar­bi­trary al­lo­ca­tion (see ‘Coal quandary’, Down To Earth, Septem­ber 16-30, 2014). Res­i­dents say the Cen­tre’s decision to al­lo­cate the coal block to a pri­vate firm with­out their con­sent is also il­le­gal as per the Supreme Court judge­ment on July 23,2013, which states that the owner of land has ab­so­lute rights over the min­er­als un­der or over it. The 2013 Supreme Court or­der was passed on a pe­ti­tion filed by a group of Ker­ala farm own­ers who chal­langed a Ker­ala High Court ver­dict which said the state had rights over nat­u­ral re­sources in pri­vate land.“After form­ing the company,we are now ready to bid for coal blocks un­der­neath our own land once the Cen­tre opens an al­lo­ca­tion bid,” says Pa­tel, one of the 10 direc­tors of Gare Urja.

Coal satya­graha

Though the Gare res­i­dents are yet to earn from the nat­u­ral re­source un­der­neath their land, they have be­gun as­sert­ing their rights over it. Since 2013, they have been cel­e­brat­ing birth an­niver­sary of Gandhi by stag­ing coal satya­graha. This year, over 700 res­i­dents, in­clud­ing 500 women, met at the vil­lage tem­ple in the morn­ing and marched to the bank of the Kelo river,a trib­u­tary of the Ma­hanadi. After a com­mu­nity feast, the group col­lected coal from an ex­posed seam and marched on to sub­mit the pieces at the agri­cul­tural mar­ket co­op­er­a­tive of­fice in Gare in the pres­ence of gov­ern­ment of­fi­cials.

“It was a protest against com­pa­nies that force­fully wanted to ac­quire peo­ple’s land to mine coal,” says Pa­tel, also a mem­ber of Jan Chetna Manch,a non-profit work­ing for the rights of peo­ple af­fected by min­ing.

Ra­jesh Tri­pathi,land rights ac­tivist with Jan Chetna Manch, says the satya­graha is a de­par­ture from the pre­vi­ous protest in 2008 that had turned vi­o­lent.On Jan­uary 5,2008, jsw had called for a pub­lic hear­ing, a re­quire­ment to get en­vi­ron­men­tal clear­ance. But res­i­dents staged protests at the hear­ing. In re­sponse, the po­lice lathi-charged the crowd, leav­ing 122 peo­ple wounded and 22 crit­i­cally in­jured, says Tri­pathi.

The res­i­dents then moved the Na­tional Green Tri­bunal (ngt) con­test­ing the pub­lic hear­ing. In 2011, ngt termed the pub­lic hear­ing il­le­gal and asked jsw to or­gan­ise another pub­lic hear­ing. By that time, the res­i­dents of Gare had got or­gan­ised and the idea of float­ing their own company had gained ground (see ‘Tak­ing charge’).

Good eco­nomic sense

A hectare of agri­cul­tural land in and around Gare holds coal re­serves worth 55 crore,says

` Mishra. But jsw was of­fer­ing only 10 lakh

` per hectare to the land own­ers.“This is when our cal­cu­la­tion shows that after pay­ing roy­alty and other taxes, a farmer can earn up to 11,000 per 2.5 tonnes of coal mined from

` his land. This trans­lates into an in­come of about 3 lakh per month.So why do we need

` a company to come and mine here?”he asks.

Be­tween 2012 and 2013, Delhi-based non-profit Mines, Min­eral and Peo­ple or­gan­ised a se­ries of work­shops in Gare, sen­si­tis­ing the res­i­dents about their land rights,cost of coal and power.

The co­op­er­a­tive min­ing business model, Mishra and Pa­tel agree, is far more sus­tain­able and can take care of lo­cal en­ergy needs. Mishra points out that a com­mu­nity min­ing company sim­i­lar to that of Gare is al­ready suc­cess­fully op­er­at­ing in Jhark­hand’s Dumka town.A three kilo-Watt power plant is op­er­at­ing with coal mined by vil­lagers. It gen­er­ates enough elec­tric­ity to light up houses and run fans in the sur­round­ing vil­lages, says Mishra.

“Elec­tric­ity plants in our vicin­ity have failed to stop power cuts. In sum­mers, when ci­ties need more elec­tric­ity dur­ing peak hours, the coal mined from our vil­lages can ful­fill their need,”says Pa­tel. Un­like big coal min­ing com­pa­nies, Gare Urja would also en­sure that once the coal is mined, the aban­doned mine is back­filled.

“I want my chil­dren to study well.With a com­pen­sa­tion of 10 lakh we would have

` had noth­ing.But with this new model,I can af­ford good ed­u­ca­tion for my chil­dren and have enough to lead a com­fort­able life,” says Man­jula Oraon,whose two hectares are lo­cated on the Gare Palma IV/6 coal block.

Gare Urja will soon carry out its first au­dit. Direc­tors have shelled out 10,000

` each to form a cor­pus,while their ac­coun­tant re­cently in­formed that a Per­ma­nent Ac­count Num­ber for the company has been al­lot­ted by the In­come Tax depart­ment. “We have col­lected about 10,000 each from

` 10 direc­tors as a cor­pus to start the company, while land would be used as col­lat­eral to raise money to start min­ing,”says Pa­tel.

He says Gare of­fers a sus­tain­able min­ing model and that the gov­ern­ment should support the res­i­dents to strengthen their novel ini­tia­tive.

More than 700 Gare res­i­dents col­lected coal pieces from an open mine on Oc­to­ber 2, 2014, to as­sert com­mu­nity rights over nat­u­ral re­sources

Gare vil­lage H R A G H IS TT A H C

ODISHA

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