October 8, 2014
A recent ruling from India’s Supreme Court declared all mining licenses issued after 1993 to be illegal. We reached out to the 2014 Goldman Prize winner from India, Ramesh Agrawal, a right to information activist who successfully shut down one of the largest coal mines in his region, to get his feedback on the ruling. Here is what he had to say:
“The recent Supreme Court verdict that canceled all but a handful of coal mining licenses is certainly great news. It exposes the unholy nexus that exists between politicians, bureaucrats and the extraction industries in India. The ruling provides a reprieve for millions of hectares of good forests, millions of people who are dependent on these, and numerous other species and uncountable amount of water resources.
However, it’s important this reprieve will only be temporary. The ruling still allows some of the existing coal mines to continue operating for six months and settle various business issues. But the fact is, these coal mines will never stop. The permits will come up for auction, and the present owners will make a cartel of it. Their mantra among them is “You don’t touch mine, and I won’t touch yours.”
And when the government gets to auction off the coal blocks, will the communities have a right to any input at this stage? They are the ones who have suffered the most from coal mining. The government will make a handsome profit from the auction route, but it won’t bring any good to the environment and poor people who live off the land.
Over the last four months, the new BJP-led government has been busy diluting and dismantling whatever little exists in terms of environmental governance in India. The Ministry of Environment, Forests and Climate Change (MEFCC) has convened a committee to review core legislation that was originally developed to protect India’s environment. There are no clear requirements or objectives for this reinterpretation of existing laws; it’s clear that the convening of this committee is aimed at completely dismantling the laws and institutions related to environmental governance in India. It is not a good sign for the future of this country and her people.”