“When land is lost, do we eat coal?” This stark question from a tribal in mineral-rich Chhattisgarh sums up the story of India’s development trajectory. Tribals in Chhattisgarh, Jharkhand and Odisha feel they got a raw deal when their land was taken by companies owned by Coal India Limited as the Government races to double coal output by 2020. Even as India receives laurels for being the world’s ‘fastest growing economy’, the situation is worsening for tribals. With about 40 per cent of the 104-million tribal population already displaced by development projects, Amnesty International’s latest report on coal mining and adivasi rights finds more tribals being shut out of India’s ‘development agenda’.

The survey of 124 affected tribal families found large-scale violation not only of human rights but also various laws. There were token ‘public hearings’ and disregard for gram sabha consent for land use. What is most disconcerting is that the surveyed open-cast mines are run by public sector mining firms. Incidentally, India has not yet ratified ILO’s convention number 169 on following international standards in dealing with indigenous populations. With the environment ministry on overdrive to relax green clearance norms for ease of doing business and TV channels whipping up hyper-nationalist sentiments from studios lit up by coal-fired electricity, tribal communities legitimately ask why they are the only ones expected to sacrifice their livelihoods for nation-building.

Isn’t it the Government’s duty to ensure ‘informed consent’ on land acquisition as also fair compensation ? If the Government’s focus on ‘financial inclusion’ can yield over 22 crore bank accounts for the poor, why not a similar fervour for ensuring sustainable livelihoods?

Senior Deputy Editor