The Heart Of India’s Corporate Darkness: Coal Auctions, Climate Change And Profit

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This article was co-written with Archana Soreng, from Khadia Tribe, Research Officer, Vasundhara, Odisha—An Action Research and Policy Advocacy Organisation working on Natural Resource Governance, Tribal Rights and Climate Justice.

On June 18, 2020, PM Narendra Modi launched the auction of 41 coal mines for commercial mining, many of which are located in dense forests of central India. Majority of these sites come under Schedule V areas, whose Gram Sabhas are granted rights under Indian law to consultation before land acquisition and approval before any mining activitya procedure not followed before this announcement.

State governments of Jharkhand, Chhattisgarh and Maharashtra have opposed this decision of the central government, apart from numerous Gram Sabhas from the affected areas. They accuse the central government of violating constitutional safeguards for tribal populations as well as biodiversity, going against the spirit of ‘Aatmanirbhar’ or self-reliance, the slogan used while launching this scheme.

As the world is moving away from coal due to its detrimental impacts on climate change, it seems questionable that we are expanding our coal mining. In this article, Archana Soreng and I seek to explicate why this decision is so detrimental:

1. Air Pollution kills 1 out of every 8 Indians. Coal is responsible for majority of this.

Coal is India’s largest source of carbon emissions. It is responsible for 80% of India’s mercurial pollution, 60% particulate matter and 45% of sulphur dioxide pollution. Worst affected are those that work in the mines and communities living around them.

2.The decision violates laws that provide safeguards for tribal populations.

The Forest Rights Act, 2006 recognises the rights of forest dwelling communities over their traditional lands, affirming their right to use and manage these resources. The Panchayats (Extension to Scheduled Areas) Act, 1996 extended panchayat rule to tribal areas, mandating that village-level gram sabhas be consulted before any developmental or commercial project. The Centre, however, has failed to respect either laws.


3. It also violates International Law.

The UN Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples (UNDRIP), 2007, which India voted in favour for, enshrines the right of indigenous people to Free, Prior and Informed Consent (FPIC) before any project affecting their lands, territories, resources.

The International Covenant of Economic, Social and Cultural Rights (ICESCR) also has provisions for the Right to Self Determination, Natural Wealth and Resources, Preservation of Culture and Adequate Standard of Living. However, reality on ground is that consent of indigenous persons has been faked.

4. It accelerates environmental destruction and destroys remaining biodiversity.

Most of these auction sites are in densely forested areas, like the Hasdeo Arand, one of largest continuous stretches of forest covering 1.7 lakh hectares. Other sites are in river catchment areas as well as elephant reserves, thus posing a serious threat to flora, fauna and river systems.

5. It curtails traditional conservation knowledge of  Forest Dwelling Communities.

Adivasi and Forest Dwelling Communities are the real guardians of the forests in India. Through their traditional conservation practices, they play a key role in preserving our natural forests so as to check against the environmental crisis.

Over 10,000 communities in Odisha, for example, have been protecting state-owned forests, often through voluntary labour. Commercial coal mining displaces Adivasis and deteriorates their forests, hindering valuable conservation knowledge from passing on from older generations to the young.

6. Setback to our Climate Action pledges.

Under the Paris Agreement, India has pledged to reduce fossil fuel share of its electricity to reduce its greenhouse emissions and to expand its carbon sink capacity. By creating new commercial coal mines, India is turning back on all three of its climate targets.

Besides that, existing coal plants in India are already financially stressed. Several coal-power projects were cancelled in 2019. In India, solar is now 14% cheaper than coal-fired power. At such a time, why India is choosing the coal route to try boost its economy is under question.

7. Perpetuates systems of Discriminatory Development.

The reason put forth by the Government for commercial coal mining is to boost economic development post-COVID-19. However, the question that needs to be asked is “Development for Whom, by Whom and for What?”

Between 60 and 65 million people are estimated to have been displaced by development projects since Independence. 75% of them have not been rehabilitated. Over 40% of those displaced (till 1990) belong to tribal communities.

Time and again, it has been witnessed that investment in the land of Adivasi and Forest Dwelling Communities have deprived them of their traditional lands, viable livelihoods and their socio-economic and cultural rights. Alienating them from their sustainable and self-sufficient way of life, it puts them in a vicious cycle of poverty.

8. Continues to propagate false illusions of Employment.

The government argues that commercial coal will generate employment for more than 2.8 lakh people. However, tribal activists point out how such promises of employment generation are never kept and are just used as an excuse to propagate the development agenda of private players and government officials. Community members are not benefited, but are actually deprived of their sustainable source of forest-based livelihood.

Minor and non-timber forest produce accounts to an economic value of ₹20,000 crore every year and should be looked as a vital source of livelihood and green economy.


9. Negatively impacts the livelihood and safety of Adivasi women.

Coal mining adversely affects the women of Adivasi and Forest Dwelling Communities, threatening their livelihood and safety.

Do follow @adivasilivesmatter, @ashishbirulee and @archana.soreng to keep up to date with the coal mining issue, and use #KoylaHataoAdivasiBachao, #StopCoalAuctions, #MyLifeAndIdentityAreNotForSale to continue amplifying these conversations on social media.

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An ambassador and trained facilitator under Eco Femme (a social enterprise working towards menstrual health in south India), Sanjina is also an active member of the MHM Collective- India and Menstrual Health Alliance- India. She has conducted Menstrual Health sessions in multiple government schools adopted by Rotary District 3240 as part of their WinS project in rural Bengal. She has also delivered training of trainers on SRHR, gender, sexuality and Menstruation for Tomorrow’s Foundation, Vikramshila Education Resource Society, Nirdhan trust and Micro Finance, Tollygunj Women In Need, Paint It Red in Kolkata.

Now as an MH Fellow with YKA, she’s expanding her impressive scope of work further by launching a campaign to facilitate the process of ensuring better menstrual health and SRH services for women residing in correctional homes in West Bengal. The campaign will entail an independent study to take stalk of the present conditions of MHM in correctional homes across the state and use its findings to build public support and political will to take the necessary action.

Saurabh has been associated with YKA as a user and has consistently been writing on the issue MHM and its intersectionality with other issues in the society. Now as an MHM Fellow with YKA, he’s launched the Right to Period campaign, which aims to ensure proper execution of MHM guidelines in Delhi’s schools.

The long-term aim of the campaign is to develop an open culture where menstruation is not treated as a taboo. The campaign also seeks to hold the schools accountable for their responsibilities as an important component in the implementation of MHM policies by making adequate sanitation infrastructure and knowledge of MHM available in school premises.

Read more about his campaign.

Harshita is a psychologist and works to support people with mental health issues, particularly adolescents who are survivors of violence. Associated with the Azadi Foundation in UP, Harshita became an MHM Fellow with YKA, with the aim of promoting better menstrual health.

Her campaign #MeriMarzi aims to promote menstrual health and wellness, hygiene and facilities for female sex workers in UP. She says, “Knowledge about natural body processes is a very basic human right. And for individuals whose occupation is providing sexual services, it becomes even more important.”

Meri Marzi aims to ensure sensitised, non-discriminatory health workers for the needs of female sex workers in the Suraksha Clinics under the UPSACS (Uttar Pradesh State AIDS Control Society) program by creating more dialogues and garnering public support for the cause of sex workers’ menstrual rights. The campaign will also ensure interventions with sex workers to clear misconceptions around overall hygiene management to ensure that results flow both ways.

Read more about her campaign.

MH Fellow Sabna comes with significant experience working with a range of development issues. A co-founder of Project Sakhi Saheli, which aims to combat period poverty and break menstrual taboos, Sabna has, in the past, worked on the issue of menstruation in urban slums of Delhi with women and adolescent girls. She and her team also released MenstraBook, with menstrastories and organised Menstra Tlk in the Delhi School of Social Work to create more conversations on menstruation.

With YKA MHM Fellow Vineet, Sabna launched Menstratalk, a campaign that aims to put an end to period poverty and smash menstrual taboos in society. As a start, the campaign aims to begin conversations on menstrual health with five hundred adolescents and youth in Delhi through offline platforms, and through this community mobilise support to create Period Friendly Institutions out of educational institutes in the city.

Read more about her campaign. 

A student from Delhi School of Social work, Vineet is a part of Project Sakhi Saheli, an initiative by the students of Delhi school of Social Work to create awareness on Menstrual Health and combat Period Poverty. Along with MHM Action Fellow Sabna, Vineet launched Menstratalk, a campaign that aims to put an end to period poverty and smash menstrual taboos in society.

As a start, the campaign aims to begin conversations on menstrual health with five hundred adolescents and youth in Delhi through offline platforms, and through this community mobilise support to create Period Friendly Institutions out of educational institutes in the city.

Find out more about the campaign here.

A native of Bhagalpur district – Bihar, Shalini Jha believes in equal rights for all genders and wants to work for a gender-equal and just society. In the past she’s had a year-long association as a community leader with Haiyya: Organise for Action’s Health Over Stigma campaign. She’s pursuing a Master’s in Literature with Ambedkar University, Delhi and as an MHM Fellow with YKA, recently launched ‘Project अल्हड़ (Alharh)’.

She says, “Bihar is ranked the lowest in India’s SDG Index 2019 for India. Hygienic and comfortable menstruation is a basic human right and sustainable development cannot be ensured if menstruators are deprived of their basic rights.” Project अल्हड़ (Alharh) aims to create a robust sensitised community in Bhagalpur to collectively spread awareness, break the taboo, debunk myths and initiate fearless conversations around menstruation. The campaign aims to reach at least 6000 adolescent girls from government and private schools in Baghalpur district in 2020.

Read more about the campaign here.

A psychologist and co-founder of a mental health NGO called Customize Cognition, Ritika forayed into the space of menstrual health and hygiene, sexual and reproductive healthcare and rights and gender equality as an MHM Fellow with YKA. She says, “The experience of working on MHM/SRHR and gender equality has been an enriching and eye-opening experience. I have learned what’s beneath the surface of the issue, be it awareness, lack of resources or disregard for trans men, who also menstruate.”

The Transmen-ses campaign aims to tackle the issue of silence and disregard for trans men’s menstruation needs, by mobilising gender sensitive health professionals and gender neutral restrooms in Lucknow.

Read more about the campaign here.

A Computer Science engineer by education, Nitisha started her career in the corporate sector, before realising she wanted to work in the development and social justice space. Since then, she has worked with Teach For India and Care India and is from the founding batch of Indian School of Development Management (ISDM), a one of its kind organisation creating leaders for the development sector through its experiential learning post graduate program.

As a Youth Ki Awaaz Menstrual Health Fellow, Nitisha has started Let’s Talk Period, a campaign to mobilise young people to switch to sustainable period products. She says, “80 lakh women in Delhi use non-biodegradable sanitary products, generate 3000 tonnes of menstrual waste, that takes 500-800 years to decompose; which in turn contributes to the health issues of all menstruators, increased burden of waste management on the city and harmful living environment for all citizens.

Let’s Talk Period aims to change this by

Find out more about her campaign here.

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A former Assistant Secretary with the Ministry of Women and Child Development in West Bengal for three months, Lakshmi Bhavya has been championing the cause of menstrual hygiene in her district. By associating herself with the Lalana Campaign, a holistic menstrual hygiene awareness campaign which is conducted by the Anahat NGO, Lakshmi has been slowly breaking taboos when it comes to periods and menstrual hygiene.

A Gender Rights Activist working with the tribal and marginalized communities in india, Srilekha is a PhD scholar working on understanding body and sexuality among tribal girls, to fill the gaps in research around indigenous women and their stories. Srilekha has worked extensively at the grassroots level with community based organisations, through several advocacy initiatives around Gender, Mental Health, Menstrual Hygiene and Sexual and Reproductive Health Rights (SRHR) for the indigenous in Jharkhand, over the last 6 years.

Srilekha has also contributed to sustainable livelihood projects and legal aid programs for survivors of sex trafficking. She has been conducting research based programs on maternal health, mental health, gender based violence, sex and sexuality. Her interest lies in conducting workshops for young people on life skills, feminism, gender and sexuality, trauma, resilience and interpersonal relationships.

A Guwahati-based college student pursuing her Masters in Tata Institute of Social Sciences, Bidisha started the #BleedwithDignity campaign on the technology platform Change.org, demanding that the Government of Assam install
biodegradable sanitary pad vending machines in all government schools across the state. Her petition on Change.org has already gathered support from over 90000 people and continues to grow.

Bidisha was selected in Change.org’s flagship program ‘She Creates Change’ having run successful online advocacy
campaigns, which were widely recognised. Through the #BleedwithDignity campaign; she organised and celebrated World Menstrual Hygiene Day, 2019 in Guwahati, Assam by hosting a wall mural by collaborating with local organisations. The initiative was widely covered by national and local media, and the mural was later inaugurated by the event’s chief guest Commissioner of Guwahati Municipal Corporation (GMC) Debeswar Malakar, IAS.

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