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 to The Hindu.