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Villagers denounce public hearing on setting up coal mines in Chhattisgarh

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Youth arrived in SUVs to take part in the hearing for supporting the Jindal project

Young men – some locals and some from far-flung areas – arrived in hundreds of SUVs to demand setting up of Jindal’s coal mines in Tiklirampur on Wednesday. Some of them told The Hindu that they were asked by employees and contractors of Jindal Group to participate in the public hearing for environment clearance. Some of these men were in an inebriated state and had occasional tiff with their rivals – tribals and civil society members – who were opposing the project. “I have not been paid any money but I know people have been paid a few hundred rupees for supporting the coal mine [in public hearing],” said a supporter of the Jindal’s project, Subran Sai Rathia of Saraitola, an affected village.

Another group of young men, in a while SUV, told The Hindu on condition of anonymity that they were “organised” by a contractor of Jindal in Raigarh to support the mining project.

Tushar Patel, a big farmer of Tapranga, claimed that “hundreds of contract workers of Jharkhand and Bihar” were lured by contractors. “They were kept close to our village and were assured a job if they support the mining project in public,” said Mr. Patel.

A spokesperson of Jindal Steel and Power Limited (JSPL) denied the allegation. “We have not arranged transport to bring project supporters to the hearing venue, it does not help us,” he told The Hindu.

The tribal women of half a dozen villages of Tamnar block in eastern Raigarh said, in no uncertain terms, that they did not want another coal block of Jindal Group in the area. The power producing company already has three coal mines – Gare IV/01, IV/02, IV/03 – in Tamnar block and villagers said that they would “sacrifice lives to stop mutilation of Gare again.”

Livelihood taken away

“Our land, our livelihood has been taken away, now you are here to take away lives. Jindal is devouring Raigarh,” said Shantibai of Gare, standing in a cage-like structure that was closed from three sides.

Dr. Harihar Patel, one of the main organisers, said that the entire area, including the main river Kelo, has “turned black” and the villagers cannot afford one more plant. Hiramoti, a tribal woman from Gare village, had a different problem.

“I was told that as per rules, we are supposed to have the hearing in our villages. But we had to travel 5 km for the hearing, which is a problem as we do not have many vehicles in the village,” Ms. Hiramoti told The Hindu.

The collector of Raigarh, Mukesh Bansal, said the selection of the venue was done in consultation with the environment officer of the State. “We need to find out a suitable place [for hearing], where 5,000 people can be accommodated and cars could be parked. I myself visited Tiklirampur and it is not too far off from the villages,” he said. However, in 2008, the venue was Khamaria, a village adjacent to Gare.

“Hearing is illegal”

Environmental activists feel the hearing is “illegal”. They quoted Niyamgiri judgment of the Supreme Court to say unless community and individual right of forest land is distributed before the hearing, under Forest Rights Act (FRA) of 2006, tribal land can not be acquired.

“FRA has not been undertaken in the villages affected by the proposed mine and washery which is in Schedule V area…public hearing without forest right settlement is violation of the law,” said activist Guman Singh.

Rajesh Tripathi of Jan Chetna Manch — another environment support group — raised a separate issue. “According to a 2006 MoEF notification, hearing has to be done within 45 days of company’s application [for the hearing]. Jindal Group applied in April and the hearing was today, which makes it illegal,” said Mr. Tripathi. He also objected to the fact that Gare IV/06 is one of the “disputed” blocks and under consideration of Supreme Court. “Public hearing would be infructuous if the block is cancelled,” he said.

Environment (Protection) Act, 1986 and rulings of various courts ensured that Environment Impact Assessment (EIA) report has to be accessed by the public before a public hearing. This norm has also been violated in Tiklirampur hearing.

“The EIA report is in English, a language that one percent of the tribals do not understand…hence the hearing is illegal,” said Jayant Bhaidar, a social activist.

The senior officers of JSPL explained the welfare project that the company has sponsored in the area over the years. However, unlike the activists, the officers refused to give a copy of the statement toThe Hindu.

Courtesy: The Hindu

Warrants against 17 for illegal mining on Yamuna

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The National Green Tribunal on Thursday issued bailable warrants against 17 persons for illegal mining of sand from the Yamuna in Noida and Greater Noida in Gautam Budh Nagar district of Uttar Pradesh.

The local police said these offenders illegally extracted sand using JCB earth-moving machines and trucks even after the tribunal on August 5 banned mining without requisite clearances.

The tribunal’s order had come days after the Uttar Pradesh government suspended (the order has now been revoked) IAS officer Durga Shakti Nagpal, allegedly  for taking on the sand mafia in the same area.

After the UP government on August 29 named 18 persons for  the offence, the tribunal summoned all of them to explain why they should not be punished and made to pay for damaging the river floodplain. As only one accused appeared, the tribunal issued bailable warrants against all others.

The bench ordered that the 11 persons arrested and jailed for the theft of 80 per cent of the illegally mined sand, which had been seized, be produced before the tribunal for questioning on November 1.

Hindustan Times in August frontpaged a report, “Now, sand seized by Durga stolen.” The police filed two FIRs for the theft on August 13 and 14. Nagpal is reported to have seized 2,00,777 cubic meters of sand worth R8 crore.

Senior advocate Raj Panjwani said: “The tribunal reiterated its order that no mining will take place without the permission of the Union ministry of environment and forests or the state environment impact assessment authority.” The Supreme Court passed a similar order last year.

So many cases of illegal sand mining despite the August 5 order had prompted the tribunal to summon the police and administrative heads of Gautam Budh Nagar on August 29.

Miners are required to obtain licence from the MoEF or the SEIAA, depending upon the area of mining. Apart from causing revenue loss worth lakhs of crores of rupees, illegal extraction of sand more than what the river generates changes the river flow, flooding human habitations, threatening bridges, barrages and embankments, besides affecting marine life and groundwater recharge.

Courtesy: hindustantimes

Coal scam: CBI questions Congress MP Naveen Jindal

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NEW DELHI: Three months after registering an FIR against him, CBI on Thursday questioned Congress MP and industrialist Naveen Jindal in connection with a case of alleged cheating and criminal conspiracy in bagging Amarkonda Murgadangal coal block in Jharkhand in 2008.

Highly-placed sources in the agency said Jindal was summoned by CBI after which he expressed the desire to appear before it on Thursday.

He met the investigation team in the afternoon and his examination continued till late in the evening, the sources said.

The agency conceded to his request that he should not be subjected to media glare after which the venue was changed from the CBI headquarters to a safe house where his examination took place, they said.

The agency has booked him in its 12th FIR in connection with coal blocks allocation scam registered in June this year.

Former minister of state for coal Dasari Narayan Rao has also been booked by the agency in the case.

Neither the company JSPL nor Jindal gave their comments on the issue as messages and emails sent to them remained unanswered.

During its probe into the scam, it was for the first time the then minister of state was named as an accused in an FIR by CBI in which it was alleged that he had received Rs 2.25 crore camouflaged as investment from one of Jindal’s firms within a year of allocation of a coal block to him.

CBI sources said Jindal Steel and Power Limited and Gagan Sponge Iron Limited, also a Jindal firm, had bagged Amarkonda Murgadangal coal block in Birbhum, Jharkhand in 2008 by alleged misrepresentation of facts when Rao was the minister of state for coal.

CBI has claimed in its FIR that the misrepresentation was allegedly done on three counts — land, water supply and previous allocations.

Courtesy: THE TIMES OF INDIA

Coal scam: Congress MP Naveen Jindal wants ‘discrete questioning’, CBI agrees

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Congress MP Navin Jindal, accused in the coal allocation scam, has been summoned by the CBI for questioning but don’t expect to see any pictures of him. Sources have confirmed to NDTV that Mr Jindal has requested officials to be discreet and avoid tipping off the media.

CBI officials told NDTV they have accepted the 43-year-old politician’s request. It is rare but not entirely unusual for the investigating agency to give the accused a helping hand and save them from embarrassment in high profile cases. For instance, former air chief SP Tyagi was also given this ‘courtesy’.

But some would say the steel magnate turned Congress politician has been especially fortunate. Although Mr Jindal was made an accused in June, he has evaded questioning since then. He also enjoyed a trip to London despite the CBI wanting access to his cupboards. And now he is set to escape any footage that links him to the CBI.

The CBI alleges that Mr Jindal’s company Jindal Steel and Power Limited (JSPL) colluded with Minister of State for Coal Dasari Narayan Rao to influence the screening committee that allotted coal blocks, by investing more than two crores. The agency has alleged that Mr Jindal’s company did this in return for being allotted a mine in Jharkhand in 2008.

Courtesy: NDTV

Coal block allocation scam: SC issues notices to 7 state goverments

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New Delhi: The Supreme Court on Thursday issued notices to 7 state governments in the coal block allocation scam. The state governments which have been issued notices include the government of Jharkhand, Chhattisgarh, Odisha, West Bengal, Maharashtra, Madya Pradesh and Andhra Pradesh.

The apex court in its questions pertaining to the coal scam asked how the process how the state governments understand the allocation of coal block by the Centre.

It also enquired about the role of state government in the allocation. The court also raised questions regarding the role of the state government subsequent to grant of leases and the details of agreement entered by state public sector units with the private parties.

Courtesy: ibnlive

Spare Niyamgiri Hills, Ramesh Tells Odisha Govt, Vedanta

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Asking Odisha government and Vedanta Aluminium Limited (VAL) to spare Niyamgiri Hills for bauxite, Union Minister Jairam Ramesh today said the new land acquisition bill has given legal rights to tribals and farmers to reject or accept any project.

“I would like to tell Odisha government and Vedanta to spare Niyamgiri Hills. I have been saying them since three years. But, they challenged my order in the Supreme Court which ultimately asked the state government to take opinion of the local tribals. All the Gram Sabhas (Palli Sabha in Odisha) have rejected the mining project,” Ramesh said.

He was addressing a press conference here on the Right to Fair Compensation and Transparency in Land Acquisition, Rehabilitation and Resettlement Bill, 2012, commonly known as the land acquisition bill.

The Rural Development Minister said he as Environment and Forest Minister had in August 2010 suspended forest clearance to the mining project. “If Odisha government is sincere to arrange raw material for Lanjigarh refinery, they should look for alternative sources instead of Niyamgiri,” Ramesh said.

Asked whether the bauxite of Niyamriri would remain unexploited, Ramesh said, “If the Palli Sabha says to go for it, then only bauxite can by explored from Niyamgiri Hills.”

Dubbing the old Land Acquisition Act as “anti-democratic”, he said the new bill will ensure that there is no forcible land acquisition.

While Describing the Land Acquisition Bill as historic and revolutionary, the Union minister said that provisions have been made to provide more compensation to the people. Farmers and landowners would be paid up to four times the market value for land acquired in rural areas. In urban areas, they would get two times the market value.

Approval of 80 per cent of local people would be required for private projects in non-scheduled area, Ramesh said adding 70 per cent land owners need to give their consent for projects which would be carried out under public-private partnership mode.

The bill, according to Ramesh, is in continuation of the UPA government’s commitment to enacting rights based legislation with the objective of empowering the common man.

Seeking to correct the wrongs of its predecessor the Land Acquisition Act 1894, the bill which has got approval of Parliament, rests on three main pillars – consent (process of acquisition), compensation, and rehabilitation and resettlement.

He said the new bill, all set to get the Presidential assent very soon, has the provisions which empowered states to make their own law to provide for benefits and safeguards that go over and above the provisions of this new law.

Under the new system, before any process of acquisition is initiated, before any notice, preliminary or otherwise is issued, there must first be a Social Impact Assessment (SIA).

The process is an elaborate exercise to determine consent, measure foreseeable impacts on a wide scale of indices. Everything, from the socio-economic impact on an area to the number of families to be affected, presence of viable alternatives and the loss of livelihood that occurs as a result, is considered and recorded.

This is accompanied by a mandatory public hearing to gauge public opinions on all matters of concern regarding the purpose for which the SIA is being carried out.

In the matter of Rehabilitation and Resettlement, Jairam said the new law incorporates entirely new provisions and links them to those related to land acquisition including a new Schedule that lists the various entitlements that accrue. Some of these benefits include houses for all affected families, he added.

Courtesy: outlook india

Government gives new twist to Coalgate

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NEW DELHI: After being at the receiving end for months in the ‘Coalgate’ case, the Centre on Wednesday changed the complexion of the controversy by telling the Supreme Court that coal block allocations meant mere identification of mine areas without conferring any right on private project proponents.

Arguing before a bench of Justices R M Lodha, Madan B Lokur and Kurian Joseph, attorney general GE Vahanvati said the PIL petitioners created an unsavoury and unnecessary controversy by alleging that coal block allocation letters by themselves amounted to distribution of largesse and frittering away of natural resources by the government.

Though the Centre was focusing on coal block allocations during a non-controversial period between 1993 and 2004, Vahanvati was at his assertive best when he said, “Allotment (of coal blocks) is nothing but identification. Allotment, at the highest, can be a letter of intent and confers no right on allottees to start mining. The letter is not a bankable document.

“Allotment, allocation or identification letter is only the first step towards obtaining mining lease and that by itself cannot be construed to be giving away of natural resources. It is only a step towards identification of coal blocks which is a duty cast on the Union government.”

At this, the bench said, “If this is the position, then what is the hue and cry all about? What is the debate all about?”

On a much stronger wicket by displaying clarity on facts, the AG said, “That is what we (the government) are wondering. We only did our job as a regulator. The concern of the government was only to identify the coal blocks. The whole exercise was to identify it. That is why there was neither any hue nor any cry till 2005, when new coal blocks were added to the kitty and there was a clamour for it.”

With this statement, the controversy over coal block allocations gets narrowed down to the period from 2005 to 2009, when there was competitive bidding and the screening committee allegedly gave a go-by to transparency in selection. The files, which have gone missing, pertain to this period.

The AG said under existing laws, the Centre had a regulatory role, which it discharged by identifying coal blocks for private parties for captive consumption. The screening committee evaluated requirement of coal by a private project and identified the coal block having the potential to meet it, he said.

The Centre’s statement took the wind out of arguments advanced by PIL petitioners — advocate M L Sharma and Prashant Bhushan, who appeared for NGO ‘Common Cause’ – both having conveyed that coal block allocations amounted to frittering away of natural resources without a transparent procedure.

Sharma argued that allocation of mines was the most important facet of the entire controversy as once the allocation took place, all other conditions fell in place and ultimately entitled the private party to extract coal from the blocks.

But Vahanvati insisted, “Identification has nothing to do with actual mining to be done by the private party. That is the reason why many, despite passage of years, have not yet started mining. They have to meet several other conditions — signing mining lease with the state where the mine is located, getting environment clearance and forest clearance. And the petitioners allege that the mines were handed over gratuitously.”

Courtesy: THE TIMES OF INDIA

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