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Thar coal: compensating the locals

September 10, 2012


PERHAPS the national energy crisis has ultimately compelled the government to take measures to develop Thar coal.

This is the right time to discuss and raise concerns about locals of Thar who should be compensated enough against their resource compromises for coalmining, including agriculture lands, pasturelands, rangelands, groundwater, settlements and cultural sights, etc.

The prevailing national legislations, including the Land Acquisition Act 1894, Land Grand Policy 2000 and other relevant laws favour the acquisition of community land by the government whenever desired, subjected to satisfactory compensations.

The relevant laws and convents also claim full protection of humans and habitat in certain circumstances.

The mining create possible risks to local inhabitants in Thar which can also make them homeless.

The poor should be compensated by distributing land. According to the district revenue record, only one-third out of the total of 200,000 households of Tharparkar owns 25 acres on an average per owner, thus the two-thirds of total district lands (4.8million acres) are lying unused as government land.

Despite relevant provisions in respective Land Grand Policies of 1986 and 2000, land was not distributed among landless peasants of Tharparkar since 1986.

Tharparkar is the topmost food insecure district in the country (WFP), and has 72.4 per cent of the poor (WFP/SDPI 2003) categorised as second most poverty-stricken district, and fourth lowest district of the country as ranked in Human Development Index (District Ranking by HDI: Hussain, et al, 2003).

Thus, 200 acres per household should be distributed according to provisional limits for arid land elaborated in relevant Land Grand Policy.

In addition, the rangelands and pasturelands should also be marked and fenced for livestock and other wild habitat. Abundant groundwater is being exploited part of coalmining, thus an advanced comprehensive research-based plan should be devised for judicious utilisation of the tremendous potential of deep aquifers in Tharparkar for wider socioeconomic development, including agriculture, forestry, rangelands, livestock, fisheries, horticulture and industries, to compensate the loss of local habitat.

Likewise, educational and capacity development interventions should be launched to train local youths in national and international quality academic and technical institutes to prepare them for jobs related to mining, power generation and other associated sectors.

Besides, doable protocols should be developed to prioritise locals for jobs in order to compensate their losses and compromises.

More importantly, a comprehensive resettlement policy should be framed and applied for displaced people in lieu of national and international standards, followed by effective consultations and participations of the locals.

All the appropriate measures should also be taken to tackle dust and other pollution-oriented fatal health hazards threatening humans, animals, birds and reptiles in Tharparkar.

All the villages of Tharparkar should be provided with facilities of roads, electrification, gas and telephone lines, etc. Besides, the measures should be taken to foster and harness the potential of alternative income sources in Tharparkar, including dairy development, handicraft promotions, eco-tourisms, rainwater harvesting, besides developing other minerals resources including granite, china clay, salt mines, etc.

Tharparkar should also be declared a special economic zone, promoting industries and associated business development, focusing on compensating the losses of locals.