Study highlights unfair treatment to Tharis, inhuman conditions at coal mining sites

Published September 15, 2021
Donkeys stand at the entrance of a coal mine in Choa Saidan Shah, Punjab on May 5, 2014.  — Reuters/File
Donkeys stand at the entrance of a coal mine in Choa Saidan Shah, Punjab on May 5, 2014. — Reuters/File

KARACHI: Mining and coal-based power projects have spelled disaster for the people in Thar as the government and private corporations have not delivered on their promises of fair compensation, access to grazing lands, jobs and proper resettlement.

According to a soon-to-be-released report titled “Coal rush: the impacts of coal power generation on Tharis’ land rights”, the government as well as mining and power companies have used “violent and repressive tactics” while preventing women’s mobility and even “torturing mine workers”.

Carried out by the Alliance for Climate Justice and Clean Energy, a civil society network consisting of the Rural Development Policy Institute, Pakistan Fisherfolk Forum and the Alternative Law Collective, the study surveyed 10 village communities with a population of about 30,000 people having access to 78,000 acres of land for cultivation, grazing and other activities.

Pakistan generates about one-fifth of its total electricity by burning local as well as imported coal. Two open-pit mines and a power plant are already operational in Thar while more power plants and mining blocks are in different stages of planning.

While there’s a dearth of information on coal in Thar, the problem is more pronounced when it comes to policies and procedures regarding land acquisition and resettlement, it says.

For example, the study notes that land is taken away from villagers under the Land Acquisition Act, a colonial-era statute of 1894 that allows land acquisition by the state and its handing over to the private, profit-seeking corporations for “public purpose”.

The Land Acquisition Act stretches “public purpose” to include private profiteering, it says, which results in unfair compensation particularly in areas with an inactive land market. The law contains an often-employed “urgency” clause that denies people’s right to appeal against acquisition, compensation award and procedural failures. The law has routinely caused delays in compensation without adjustment of rates and lacks both a definition and requirement for resettlement and rehabilitation, the study says.

It found out that half of the total land in the surveyed villages has been, or will be, acquired under the Thar coal projects while six of the 10 village communities expect “complete displacement”. Overall displacement is expected to be 80-100 per cent of the communities surveyed in Block I and II of the coal-producing area.

“There’s a general air of uncertainty among communities and families whose land is not directly acquired, but (they) are certain to be displaced due to ecological and environmental problems,” it says.

Only three of the 10 villages reported that a public hearing was indeed held while in one of those instances the so-called hearing amounted to a mere visit by the officials of one of the Thar coal companies.

The study points out “remarkable discrepancies” in the type, amount, process and timeline of awarding compensation. Residents of most of the surveyed villages reported that the “house rate” for compensation had not been decided and that different rates were offered to different communities at different times.

Some communities have received only the first payment and are unable to purchase new homes. Land prices in the vicinity, such as in Islamkot, have increased with the rise in demand and far exceed any amount of compensation.

Similarly, the study says some communities were promised jobs and monthly payments in lieu of the loss of livelihoods. But most of them reported that they received neither monthly payments nor employment opportunities.

Working conditions in the coal mines are “inhumane” with reports of torture and illegal confinement as company practice for “instilling discipline,” the study says. “These conditions are reflected in the recent death of a local worker named Dodo Bheel who, according to media reports, died as a result of illegal confinement and intense torture.”

Published in Dawn, September 15th, 2021

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