Indigenous People, Marginalization and Mining

Goldy M George

Published in Issue II, July 2013

The Debate at large

The indigenous people are in the centrality of all discussions in recent times, particularly in the context of land rights, forest rights and industrial operations. These have given rise to multiple crisis in many Central Indian states. Glaring uncertainties revolve in the Central Indian states on the questions of development, economic growth, utilisation of natural resources, ethnic cleansing, militarisation, violation of human rights and dismissal of constitutional rights. The political segment and social system of this country smartly discusses the means and modus operandi of combing the Maoist menace, however, unconvincingly yet conveniently forgets to discuss the core issues at the ground level. This paper discusses the reality of the mining on indigenous land in the context of Chhattisgarh, one of the states which is faced with this critical calamity.

Industrial revolution, which made a colourful and dreamy entry, is turning out to be the worst form of human development. The steady economic growth of industries with active support from the state is directly proportional to the unchecked exploitation of masses. Most of them belonged to marginalised communities such as Dalits, Adivasis, women and working class. Displacement, migration, repercussion of workers, loss of land and livelihood, pilfering state revenue and depletion of forest resources had outgrown with impulsive concerns. Altogether these had resulted in the amplification of the pre-existing social and cultural conflict of caste.

With the concept of Planned Development, planned mining was introduced in 1951. The Private Sector and the Public Sector were clearly demarcated giving the Public Sector a bigger role in India’s mineral wealth. There was spectacular progress in Indian Mining Industry from 1947 to 1985 when mineral production grew by about 120 times. The Indian Peninsular had a varied and complex geology, as a result of which rich mineral endowments covering a variety of mineral types are found. All Five Year Plans have focused on mining to achieve ‘development’, demanding the forfeiture of people’s lands for ‘national prosperity’.

A sizeable percentage of mineral and mining operations are found in forest regions, habituated by Adivasis and other indigenous communities. Mining projects vary from rat hole mining, small-scale legal and illegal mining, to large-scale mining – most of which has been historically managed by the public sector. Since the introduction of private sector participation in the 1990’s, a number of mining related community conflicts have arisen with far reaching consequences.

Mining industry gives employment to a large proportion of the industrial workforce. But are the developments in the mining industry in keeping with national interests? This draws a lot of controversies; including flouting the Constitutional and other rights of the people in mining areas, which is a matter of grave concern.

Mining and the Question of Land – The Case Study of Chhattisgarh

Chhattisgarh is the richest State in terms of mineral wealth, with 28 varieties of major minerals. Chhattisgarh, along with two other Indian States has almost all the coal deposits in India, and with this the state has planned the power hub strategy. All the tin ore in India is in Chhattisgarh. A fifth of iron ore in the country is here, and one of the best quality iron ore deposits in the world is found in the Bailadila in south Chhattisgarh, which is exported to Japan. Rich deposits of Bauxite, Limestone, Dolomite and Corundum are found in the State. The State has large deposits of Coal, Iron Ore and Limestone too.

All doors for private participation in the mining sector are widely open in the state. The State’s Mineral Policy, 2001 has created conducive business environment to attract private investment in the State, both domestic and international. Procedures have been simplified. At the same time, the state is willing to provide resources and manpower having trained in tailor-made programs in geology, geophysics, geochemistry, mineral beneficiation, mining engineering, etc.

The State is ensuring a minimum lease area with secured land rights so that investors can safely commit for large mining projects. For surmounting the long-drawn process of getting mineral-related leases, at the State level, quick processing of applications is given top priority. For major minerals under the Mines & Minerals (Development & Regulation) Act, where approvals are required from Government of India, the State Government is helping in strong advocacy to get such approvals quickly.

Sarguja, Raigarh and Bilaspur districts are the coal zones in Chhattisgarh. It is estimated that more than 72 thousand acres of land have leased out to South Eastern Coalfields Limited (SECL) for coal mining, by which hundreds of villages have already been affected. Bastar and Durg districts have some of the rare quality of steel in the world. Nearly 20 thousand acres of land have been occupied for mining steel in Bailadeela and Dalli Rajhara area of these districts. New deposits have been explored and ready for prospecting, for which the prospecting license has been provided to Tata Steels and Essar.

Heavy deposits of limestone are also found in Chhattisgarh region. In an area of three districts Raipur, Durg and Bilaspur, there are 12 big factories of all big industrial houses and with many more small ones and its auxiliary units. Most of these have been established in the last 20-22 years. Huge diamond deposits in Devbhog (Raipur) and Bastar are also in the eyes of the MNCs. In all, for cement industry 6990 acres, 14530 acres for rice mills, 14665 acres for steel industry, for ferry alloys 940 acres and 285 acres for re-rolling mills have been already acquired in the area. Apart from these, 18652 acres of land has been rendered on lease for other mining purposes. Therefore, land acquisition followed by the adverse impact on the people, is a major issue in Chhattisgarh.

In Janjgir-Champa district alone, in the last 10 years, 65 MoUs have been signed, mostly for power plants. An approximate estimation of 140000 acres of land is required for these, which includes establishment of plants, establishment of ancillary units, dumping space for overburden, fly-ash, colony development for staff, etc. For all these projects coal will be brought from Jashpurnagar, Raigarh and Korba districts. Water would be drawn from Mahanadi, Maand, Sheonath and Kelo rivers.

Between 2005 and 2007, Jindal alone had applied for the prospecting licence (PL) and mining licence (ML) for 6111 sq km and another 1559 hectare (3853 acres) in Dantewada, Bijapur, Narayanpur, Rajnandgoan, Bilaspur, Janjgir-Champa, Raigarh, Jashpur and Surguja districts. The minerals in this area are iron ore, limestone, dolomite, coal, diamond, precious & semiprecious gemstone, etc. The area for which Jindal Group has applied for mining activity falls mostly within forests areas.

Apart from the various minerals mentioned above, the state is also rich in the deposits of precious and semiprecious stones like diamond, corundum, alexandrite, garnet, etc. The main bauxite producing areas are Phutka Hills, Main Pat, Samri Pat, Keshkal Valley and Maikal Ranges. The state is also a huge producer of limestone and dolomite and is being targeted for diamond prospecting and mining in a big way. Deposits of kimberlitic pipes are reported in Payalikhand and Behradih villages of Deobhog area of Raipur and Tokpal of Bastar district. These are present in the form phenocrysts in kimberlite-like volcanic rocks. The main coal producing areas are: Korba Colliery, Hasdo-Rampur Colliery, Mand-Raigarh Colliery, Vishrampur Colliery, Lakhanpur Colliery, Tatapani-Ramkola Colliery, Jhilmili Colliery, Sonhat Colliery, Jhagrakhand Colliery, Chirmiri-Kurasiya Colliery.

The following areas within the state containing different minerals are being looked at for future exploitation: Deobhog in Raipur district and Tokpal in Bastar district has been identified for the exploration of Diamond; Bijapur in Bastar district for Corrandum; Saraipali of Mahasamund district for Gold and Tin (Cassiterite); Bailadila, Raoghat and areas in Rajnandgaon district for iron ore; Jhanjhar, Meru, Durg, Bhaupratapur, Kondal area of Kanker district for gold; Renger, Markanar, Vasanpur area of Dantewada district for tin; Chhirahi-Newari, Saradih, Garrabhata and Patharkundi village of Raipur district and Sakti area of Janjgir district for limestone. In addition 500 lakh tonnes of high grade dolomite has been found in Lagra-Madanpur in Champa-Janjgir district; 5 lakh tonnes of metal grade bauxite in Dorima (or Barima) of Surguja district; 220 lakh tonnes of coal has been identified in Hardi Bazar-Kertali in Korba district; 170 lakh cubic metres of flagstone having different shades and colours has been demarcated in revenue land of Chitrakot and Matkot area of Bastar district; clay and Banded heamatite quartzite (BHQ) in the Balod area in Durg district.

It also means several hundred million tonnes per annum of solid wastes and fly ash will be indiscriminately dumped on land. These wastes contain highly contaminative elements that over the years would leak into both surface and ground water, turning the water unfit for human and animal consumption. This would endanger all other forms of life and vegetation. The entire ecological balance indigenously evolved over several millenniums will get destroyed in a very short period without any reason.

So far the people are concerned, the situation is grim. They are pushed beyond the margins. Usurpation of thousands of acres of land is a usual phenomenon of all mining and industrialisation operations. Automation and mechanisation almost eliminates the employment opportunity provided by these industries. Health in general in these areas and more specifically occupational health is another area of severe concern. Children’s education of the already battered strata becomes a distant dream in such places.

Rights of Mineworkers

Eight years back, I was part of a survey of Vedanta’s bauxite mines in Mainpat and Daldali. While Mainpat is in Surguja district, Daldali falls in Kabirdham district. At Mainpat – the biggest single bauxite-mining complex in Chhattisgarh – we met with some thirty Adivasi workers, un-helmeted, clad in shirts and sarees under the blazing sun, as the lateritic overburden was blasted. They then moved in with a few iron rods and hammers, to break and sort the ore before loading it by hand onto waiting trucks. The same story is that of the workers in the Daldali mines of Vedanta.

Virtually all Vedanta’s bauxite miners are contract labourers. The labourers at Mainpat informed during 2005 that, on a good day they can earn over 60 rupees (less for women), for delivering one ton of ore. In Daldali it is different story since the rates are different for different group of people. Those who could bargain better rates get better and those who couldn’t bargain it to their level are the lost ones. Particularly the Baigas (a primitive tribe) couldn’t bargain to the extent of the Gonds (a much better tribe). However it won’t be more than 60 rupees per person per day in either case.

Employment issues are of deeper concern in mining areas. Dalli-Rajhara is an iron ore-mining town. It meets the total iron ore requirements of the Bhilai Steel Plant. In Dalli-Rajhara, since 1958 onwards mining activities have been continued. The preparations for mechanizing the Dalli mine began in 1977. By 1978, the situation of mechanization became even more clear and lucid, when at deposit no. 5 in Bailadila mines, 10000 labourers were rendered jobless at one stroke. All resistance was crushed. Hundreds of huts were burnt down, numerous women raped, and labourers fired upon. The orgy of mechanization forced nearly 10000 labourers to face the desperation of hunger. A growing argument was that machinery in question was produced in Russia and was therefore socialistic, progressive machinery – however it did not mitigate the grim fate of these labourers.

Land Acquisition versus Land Purchase

In recent times, a new tendency is observed among the corporate houses to appropriate farmland. Instead of engaging the state in acquiring land, the corporate house has started buying land directly from the farmer. This trend is widely seen in parts of Janjgir-Champa district where the corporate house directly bought land from the farmers. In fact, the latest amendment in the LAA bill also speaks about these aspects. The amendment says that land acquisition wouldn’t be the responsibility of the government. 70% should be directly either acquired or bought by the company itself. State’s responsibility would only be limited to provide 30% of land either through acquisition of public land or by transferring government land in favour of the company.

Mining on Forestland

The mining areas have a huge overlap with the forest and Adivasi-Indigenous land in the state and the increasing mining activities and allied industries have had a tremendous negative impact on these. An on-going study, by the Forest Survey of India (FSI), looking at ‘Forest cover in metal mining areas’ shows some revealing statistics. In the Bastar district, one of the biodiversity rich areas of Chhattisgarh, out of the 13,470 hector  area under leases for iron ore mining, 11,657 hector is covered by forests. This of course indicates the forest within the actual lease, but the impact on the forests, biodiversity and the communities dependent on this region due to ancillary impacts of mining extends far beyond the actual lease area.


Conflicts over industrialization and particularly mining in Chhattisgarh have existed for more than five decades in different forms. In earlier days it wasn’t taken to be conflicts as such, but only as immediate questions related to the question of inadequacy. The standpoints of trade unions were also only one-dimensional, related to increment in wages or related matters of labourers. It could never address the entire question of mining in totality. Moreover, mining has been strongly presupposed as a major means of industrial development contributing to the state economy. So how a means of development could be understood as a conflict is another point. Over the course of time, the very definition of state and its economy has changed.

It is under this context that we need to develop a wider understanding and proper perspective about the diverse dynamics of Dalit and Adivasi rights over natural resources. To understand the dynamics of the problem in totality, one needs an understanding of the logic of the underlying forces that govern the current pattern of ownership. The specific economic form in which unpaid surplus labour is pumped out, determines the relation of the rulers and the ruled. Hence, the crisis of indigenous people and rights over natural resources has to be understood in its historical perspective. Historical evidences are ample to prove the conception of depeasantisation as a net result of the uneven structural changes, land holding patterns that have taken place from time to time due to the commoditization of the economy in which land plays a critical and predominant role.

It is beyond all doubts that industrial land acquisition and free market economy goes hand in hand. The mechanism of compensation and rehabilitation is a supportive kitty of the corporate sector; this only pauperises the poor instead of changing their destiny. The principles of compensation never estimates or often forgets that on the very first day of reaching a rehabilitation colony, a poor family has to buy firewood, which they procured free from the Common Property Rights (CPR).

The tripartite of politicians, bureaucracy, and capitalist on the edifice of Brahminical Social Order raise a whole range of questions. The hire and fire formula of the capital-fascist brigade and the coherence of world capital with Hindutva fascism is the greatest of the challenges. In the globalised era, the sweeping changes in political structures, coupled with the disempowerment of state, it won’t be so easy for the people to survive. Dr. Ambedkar’s dream of a ‘welfare state’ has disappeared in the whirlwind of centralising caste in nation-state rule and further outgrown with the Globalization – Privatization – Liberalization policies. Perhaps this is where the crux of the problem lies.


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  • Chhattisgarh Biodiversity Strategy and Action Plan (draft), (2002), Forest Department, Raipur, Chhattisgarh.
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  • The Scheduled Tribes and Other Traditional Forest Dwellers (Recognition of Forest Rights) Act 2006


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