India's mineral wealth obtained by violating tribal rights, says ILO study

Date of publication: 
7 February 2011

New Delhi – Indian law automatically assumes that all minerals found underground are state property.
The ministries of environment and coal may still be bickering over the classification of ‘ go’ and ‘ no- go’ areas for mining , but an International Labour Organisation (ILO)- funded report on India’s indigenous population claims that more than half the country’s mineral wealth is obtained by violating the rights of tribals.

‘India and the Rights of Indigenous Peoples’, a report prepared by the Asia Indigenous Peoples Pact with the ILO’s support, states that minerals found in adivasi or tribal areas reportedly contribute to more than half of the national mining production.

The geographical concentration of minerals in adivasi areas has often been noted. Yet, mining policies in India have overlooked the existence of adivasi communities and the constitutional provision for the protection of their land and resources, the report notes.

According to the report, Indian law automatically assumes that all minerals found underground are state property.

The rules framed under the Mining and Minerals ( Regulation and Development) Act, 1957, the main law on mining, while providing detailed procedures for a company or individual to obtain permission from the respective state government ( and in some cases central government) to search for minerals, does not talk about the victims of such activity.

The affected community is not required to be informed or consulted before mining leases are granted. There is no mention of adivasis ‘ rights or protection in any of the procedures, observes the report.

Though a disaggregated data on the number of mines operating in the country or the number of people displaced by such projects does not officially exist as the information is deemed to be “ politically sensitive,” the report estimates that an overwhelming majority of mines are located in the adivasi areas. In 1991, out of the 4,175 mines in the country, 3,500 were in tribal areas.

Another estimate states that between 1950 and 1991 at least 2,600,000 people were displaced by mining projects of which only 25 per cent received any resettlement. Among those displaced 52 per cent belonged to the Scheduled Tribes, the report notes.

In the case of private lands, proceedings under the Land Acquisition Act 1894 are initiated in order to acquire the land.

The legislation also allows the government to acquire lands upon payment of cash compensation for any public purpose, including mining.

The report is also stridently critical of Jharkhand. The new state, instead of enforcing constitutional and protective rights of the indigenous communities and restoring their alienated lands and resources, has signed over 100 memorandums of understanding with the industry causing anger, it notes.