Centre asks states to complete audit of DMF by this fiscal

The Centre has advised the states to complete the audit of District Mineral Foundation (DMF) up to FY2018 by the end of current financial year.

“Most of states have carried out or are in the process of carrying out the audit of DMF,” Minister of State for Mines Haribhai Parthibhai Chaudhary said in a written reply to the Lok Sabha.

All states, he said, have been advised to complete the audit up to the year 2017-18 by end of current financial year.

“Ministry of Mines vide letter dated October 4, 2018 has requested the state governments to audit the funds of DMF utilised under PMKKKY (Pradhan Mantri Khanij Kshetra Kalyan Yojana),” he said.

The minister said, as per the guidelines of September 16, 2018, the accounts of DMF will be audited every year by the Chartered Accountant appointed by the DMF, or in such other manner as the government may specify.

“Section 9B of the Mines and Minerals (Development and Regulation) Act, 1957 provides for establishment of ….DMF in each district affected by mining related operations,” the minister said.

The government had earlier said that at least 60 per cent funds of the DMF, which are being spent for benefit of people affected by mining-related operations, will be utilised in high priority areas like drinking water and pollution control.

It had said that to facilitate synergy in implementation of DMF across states, the centre has launched the Pradhan Mantri Khanij Kshetra Kalyan Yojana with the objective of welfare of areas and people affected by mining-related operations.

Courtesy: Business Standard

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Interview | Agnes Kharshiing, the Woman Meghalaya’s Coal Mafia Tried to Silence

Shillong: On November 8, Agnes Kharshiing and Amita Sangma were brutally attacked by a gang in the Sohshrieh area of Meghalaya’s East Jaintia hills. Kharshiing, a well-known activist, and her colleague Sangma were visiting to verify information they had received – that coal had been mined illegally and transported out of the area in large quantities, despite a state-wide ban on ‘rat-hole mining’.

Although the National Green Tribunal, which forced the ban, had allowed transportation of already-mined stocks, it is widely believed that not all coal leaving the mines was from old stock.

Local police rescued 55-year-old Kharshiing and Sangma from their attackers in a critical condition. Kharshiing spent more than a month in hospital in Shillong, before she was released on December 10.

Six people have been arrested for the attack so far. The main accused, Nidamon Chullet, working president of the East/West Jaintia Hills of the ruling National People’s Party (NPP), is reportedly in hiding. The state government ordered an independent enquiry into the incident, but Kharshiing and Sangma have doubts about the quality of the investigation. They have demanded a CBI inquiry instead.

The Wire spoke to the firebrand activist to learn what happened that day in Sohshrieh, in her own words.

What led you travel to Jaintia Hills on November 8?

Having been in this field for so long, I keep getting information – a lot of people regularly inform me about coal-laden trucks moving on the highway without papers, which is nothing but cheating the public and looting natural resources. It is a loss to the state, and the money from coal revenue is supposed to also fund the rehabilitation of the people affected by coal mining.

So that morning, we decided to verify the information we have been getting. Before starting from Shillong, I called a senior officer to inform him about the coal trucks and the need to seize them as they were ferrying coal without making any payment to the government. Just a day earlier, police confiscated many trucks with illegal coal on the highway to the Jainita Hills.

Did you find any proof that confirmed the information?

Yes, we found many waiting trucks loaded with coal. Before reaching Lad Rymbai, we saw police checking a number of trucks and three men were detained. Thereafter, we went to Kong Ong to check some trucks which police said had been stopped too. People looked at us suspiciously. I particularly remember a lady in a white vehicle. We took photos of those trucks and left.

We then paid a visit to the Lad Rymbai police outpost to inquire about whether they had made more arrests. While coming out of it, we spotted a Scorpio car which had just arrived. A man in the vehicle covered his face on seeing me. Some policemen were with him.

I waited outside, hoping to catch a glimpse of that man. But he did not come out. We left after some time and went to other nearby places. We spotted more coal-laden trucks on a road going into the countryside. It was then that Amita told me we were being watched. We went to another side-road and found more trucks parked. Again, we took photos. Then we realised that people were coming towards us.

We got into the vehicle and tried to drive out, but by then a person came to the car window and asked if we could ‘negotiate’ with them. A crowd surrounded us. The road leading to the highway was blocked with vehicles. It was at that point we realised that we would be attacked.

Did you recognise anyone in the crowd?

I distinctly recognised one of them, later identified as Hamlin Rymbai. He has been arrested. I remember seeing him before, when we had some run-ins in that district earlier over illegal coal truck seizures by police based on information provided by local people. Hamlin hit me first and then the blows rained on me. I passed out after some time. I was found by police with Amita Sangma’s help.

There has been a campaign to discredit you and your activism. Accusations are levelled against you for being insensitive to the woes of the poor people of the coal mining areas of Jaintia Hills who need a livelihood. They say your activism against coal-based livelihood is depriving people of daily bread.

The poor people never attack anyone. They have no reason to. They eke out a living, whether in the coal areas or in the other parts of the district, mainly from agriculture. Livelihood is not dependent only on coal. Land was traditionally apportioned to villagers to use for livelihood; whether it was agriculture, stone or limestone quarrying, all were at a cottage-industry level. People lived in sustainable harmony with nature.

Now it is different. It is the rich who are grabbing all the land. They are pressuring people to fall in line. Even in the case of the attack on me, it was not the common people who were out to kill us. We could see that the road was blocked by vehicles which meant it was the rich who were involved in the attack.

Even people like Hamlin or Nidamon Chullet are not the real instigators. They are just the dalals of the big powers behind it. They get paid per truck, which they share with the authorities. The real owners never show their faces. It is corporate greed. It is destroying our land and environment.

In the coal mining areas, people do not even have potable water anymore. Water is all poison, red and brown in colour. The rich can buy water from anywhere. But what will the poor do? So how can we say that the coal trade is for the benefit of the common people? The poor cannot speak up because they fear for their lives. If common people at all attacked me that day, it was because they were told to; they should think why they were asked to do such a thing.

Will you continue your work after facing such a brutal attack?

The attack has made me even more sure of what I am doing and why I should continue. My fight is for the poor people, for the survival of our people and the environment. If the government does its duty, there is no need for people like us. As long as persons who are paid a salary from public funds to look after the welfare of the people work exclusively for their political masters and the rich, the fight has to continue. I’ll definitely have to be more careful next time about my safety, but the fight will go on.

Do you see your work making any difference to the situation?

I wish it was. But the situation is getting worse. That village, Ksan, where the mine collapsed on more than 13 labourers, is an example of how wrong things are. Unless stringent steps are taken by the government to stop it, we will see more such incidents.

The entire East Jainita district is ridden with deep mining shafts. The whole region is unsafe now. But the mining continues. All that coal being illegally transported by the coal mafia comes from areas where mining goes on despite the NGT ban. The government and the police should understand that the ban was put in place because everything was being done in an unsafe manner.

We keep hearing the term ‘coal mafia’. Even politicians and journalists use the term. What exactly do you mean by it?

It’s a network that allows illegal coal mining and transportation. It is a nexus of wealthy coal-mine owners and financiers with selected government officials, including from the police, and politicians of ruling parties. This nexus is clearly visible. For example, when we complain about trucks carrying coal illegally and police are forced to seize them, calls are made by the powerful to free them. Then, people are used to accuse us of depriving the poor of their means of livelihood.

A coal laden truck in East Jaintia Hills departing for a destination outside the state. Credit: Special arrangement

It is the big politicians who control the officials and cops. If any policeman sincerely works and starts seizing these illegal trucks, he is targeted, quickly transferred out. Look at what happened to the former superintendent of police of Ri-Bhoi district, Ram Singh. He was transferred out because he acted against the coal mafia. The power to transfer an officer lies with politicians; without them, this illegal business would not thrive.

The NGT says the limit of coal to be carried per truck is nine tonnes. But the trucks we saw that day had about 30 tonnes and did not have any papers.

Will the investigation ordered by the state government give you justice and expose the nexus?

Without a CBI inquiry, I doubt that anything will come out of it, because it is a nexus. It may be that the government has changed and it is another party now, but it’s the same people overseeing it. They are all in it together.

We want a change. We want the investigation by the CBI to ensure that the nexus will be exposed. Also, the government has to stop the lawlessness. We want the government to work for the people and not for the politicians and their private businesses.

Courtesy: The wire

Why We Need to Re-Think Our Relationship With Land, in Chhattisgarh and Beyond

The newly-elected government of Chhattisgarh has come good on one of its election promises. It has declared that the 1,764 hectares of land acquired from adivasi farmers for Tata Steel in Lohandiguda and nine other villages in Bastar, will be returned to them.

Ten years after acquisition, there is no sign of a steel plant. The company appears to have lost interest in the site. With industry not taking off, there is no reason to not return the land to its earlier users.

The action of the Chhattisgarh government is unusual, which is why it has made the national news. At the same time, the predicament of the Tatas in Bastar is quite common. The multiple factors that go into capital taking root: the coming together of land, labour, investment and enterprise in a secure and economically conducive environment – need not materialise.

If this is the case, why does big capital and the governments that facilitate it, squat on land? Why is land put on a linear trajectory of agriculture, grazing or other commons use in the primary sector giving way to industry, infrastructure, real estate or other secondary or tertiary sector activity? Why would most governments rather ‘bank’ or hold on to land unused by industry, instead of returning it to its previous users?

The answers lie in our relationship with land, and with nature more broadly. For a couple of centuries at least, human ‘progress’ or modernity has been identified with the institutional control of nature. Humans and their institutions have measured success through the capture, manipulation and disciplining of nature for producing uniformity, productivity and organised social and economic life. Our dams, mass scientific agriculture, mining, industry, big infrastructure and urban conglomerations are all symbols of this modernity, extracted from our domination of nature.

In this growth and GDP-obsessed mindset, land can go from small scale agriculture and pasture to modern industry. But it cannot go the other way; it cannot be reverted from industry or possible industrialisation to ‘mere’ farming.

That would be anti-development when development equals economic and spatial expansion. As a senior bureaucrat told me in Delhi in 2012: “how long can our people go on digging holes in the ground? We need to enter a 24/7 lifestyle.” The derision for rural Indians ‘digging holes’ was echoed by none other than Prime Minister Narendra Modi in parliament in 2015.

Despite prevailing attitudes, climate change demands that we rethink our relationship with nature. Profound environmental degradation brought about by indiscriminate exploitation has taken us to a point where our continued existence on this planet is in serious question. This moment demands that we break from our established ideas. Our engagement with land is a good place to start. We don’t have to look far to discover that the dominant elite’s ideas of linear land use – going from supposedly less to more productive, or ‘24/7’ use – have challengers.

Since 2008, the Dongria Kondh peoples of the Niyamgiri hills have successfully fought the handover of bauxite mining rights of these forested and inhabited areas, to Vedanta Alumina Ltd. for an aluminium refinery. They have protested what they see as land grab, which has endangered their forest-dependent livelihoods, the local environment and their entire way of life.

Instead of a uni-dimensional engagement with land for extraction or construction, the Dongria Kondh show us a multi-dimensional perspective. Here, land is livelihood, but it is also life itself. It is the air we breathe and the environment we live in. For them, land is also enlivened in hosting that which they hold sacred. Their deity Niyam Raja is believed to reside in the hills of Niyamgiri.

In the linear march of modernity, the views of the Dongria Kondh may be archaic and far-removed from the fast-paced, glass and chrome lifestyles we have come to value. But in a mindset of environmental sustainability tethered to survival, rather than unrelenting economic growth, the Kondh and many others are signalling alternatives to us.

We don’t even have to rely on indigenous groups to rethink what land and nature are to us. My decade-long, field-based research with stakeholders in land – ranging from government officials and politicians to land-brokers and farmers – evinces multiple ways of seeing and engaging with land.

Multi-dimensional land

My interviewees speak of land as the base of economic growth and livelihood. But they also see it as home, as history, memory and ancestry (baap-dada ki zamin ‘land belonging to forefathers’). Land may be considered sacred: spaces in which we pray and invoke that which is holy. Land is territory to be contested, demarcated and secured. Land is politics: it is emotive, worth fighting for, it attracts voters and votes. It is property, over which we have state-adjudicated rights. It is powers of access and exclusion, or the ability to go past the framework of property via mechanisms of possession or kabza.

Land is also materially dynamic, with the boundaries between water, air and land being geomorphologically fluid. In other words, mountains change shape, or beaches appear and disappear as a matter of course. Humans, too, fill water bodies or reclaim the sea, making it hard to distinguish between where water ends and land begins in many contexts.

We engage with land multi-dimensionally everyday. We relate to it through economic, but also social, political, territorial, historical and environmental registers. In a multi-dimensional perspective, land moves in and out of commodity status, if it enters that condition at all. This land can be exchanged on the market but is far from just a marketable thing.

Yet we insist on holding up an artificial, uni-dimensional ideal in our administrative and policy-making discourses. In this view, we fail to look beyond land as a commodity, on an irreversible trajectory of ever-greater making of economic value.

Recent land acquisition legislation, which laudably brings a framework of transparency, participation and fair compensation in the transfer of land from supposedly less to more productive use, continues to fall within a utilitarian, commodity-centric perspective.

In its actions around land identified for the Tata plant, the Chhattisgarh government has shown a broader administrative and environmental vision. With or without intention, it has opened up the space for a much-needed discussion of multi-dimensional land. Apart from various governments’ political longevity, our existence on this planet may depend on changing up the same old ’24/7′ conversation.

2018, the year that was:Land acquisition biggest hurdle for Purandar airport to take off

The Maharashtra government had declared that the first flight from the proposed Chhatrapati Sambhaji Raje International Airport project at Purandar is expected take off by 2019. However, considering the pace of the process of land acquisition by the state government,the opening of the airport in 2019 appears to be a distant dream.

CS Gupta, executive director, Maharashtra Airport Development Company (MADC) said, “The minimum time required for the government to complete the process of land acquisition is one year. However, considering the fact that we have already received the permission required for the construction of the proposed International airport in Purandar, we are in a position to complete the project ensuring the first flight takes off in 2019 given the fact that the land acquisition happens in due time.”

Ever since the announcement of the international airport in Purandar, the farmers of the seven villages comprising of Pargaon, Khanwadi, Ekhatpur, Kumbharvalan, Vanpuri and Udachiwadi, Tekwadi have been staging protest till date in the form of gram sabhas, agitating in front of tehsil office, district collectorate, rasta roko and passing resolutions to the effect in gram sabhas etc.

Farmers from these villages have time and again refused to give their land for the proposed airport in Purandar which will be spread over 2,400 hectares.

Bappu Memane, the sarpanch of Pargav Mevani village, said, “As long as we are alive, we will continue to oppose the project in Purandar. The government, under the name of development, has become blind to the problems that farmers face. The state government should realise that we are ordinary farmers and that we don’t need an airport. Instead, facilities that we need are electricity, water, fertilisers and other basic things that are indispensable for us.”

However, Naval Kishore Ram, Pune district collector is confident of land acquisition despite opposition from the villagers. He said, “We are confident of completing the process of land acquisition by taking the consent of all the farmers. We will convince them for the land acquisition by highlighting the benefits of the proposed International airport in Purandar.”

Courtesy: Hindustan times

SC-appointed retired judge reviews DMF fund utilisation

Keonjhar: Retired justice AK Patnaik, nominated by the Supreme Court, arrived at Keonjhar Wednesday and started reviewing how District Mineral Foundation (DMF) funds were utilised for various projects in the district.

Patnaik was accompanied by the commissioner of the health department, the director of OPEPA and the special secretary of the SC/ST development department.

In the evening, they held a review meeting on utilisation of the DMF funds at Durbar Hall. Patnaik also took stock of healthcare facilities, help desk, CT scan, dialysis and other amenities being provided to patients at the district headquarters hospital.

Patnaik talked to doctors at the DHH about the healthcare facility.

He also visited the under-construction building of the government medical college and hospital at Kabitra.

He will review implementation of a project for ensuring livelihood of mining-affected people; a drinking water project at Hatidari, two other projects at Kodagadia and Mirigisinga; the model school at Lahanda, a 50-bed maternity hospital, apart from taking stock of issues like air pollution in Joda mining areas.

Patnaik will also visit several villages under Joda and Jhumpura blocks to see mega drinking water projects at 126 villages.

Courtesy: Odisha Post

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