ECONOMIC-AND- BUSINESS REVIEW – Thar coal: concerns of local community
By Zulfiqar Halepoto, Hyderabad, Sindh
Courtesy: Daily Dawn, Monday, 03 Aug, 2009
ON July 27, a three-member team of the World Bank experts on coal and mining visited Thar coal fields and met the representatives of civil society organisations and the local community. The team also visited village Thario Halepoto near Islamkot, Tharparker.
The first concern countered by the WB team was the fear of local people whether Thar and Sindh will actually benefit from the exploitation of the world’s largest resource of energy.
Perhaps it was the first-ever official visit and initial brain-storming meeting of the World Bank officials of this nature to look at the Thar coal issues. The team comprised Ms Ekaterina N. Mikhaylova, Senior Project Officer Oil, Gas, Mining and Chemicals Department, Mr Robert Murphy, a Consultant of Oil,Gas, Mining Policy Division. They were accompanied by officials of the Sindh Mines and Mineral Department and the Thar Coal Energy Board.
Officials of the Sindh Energy Board and Minerals and Mining Department claimed that the development of Thar coal reserves has been included in the priority list of projects likely to be launched during the current financial year.
Members of the WB team said their mandate was to hear the views of the community and civil society representatives to prepare their policy framework expected to be completed in one year. Representatives of leading Thar-based NGOs including TRDP were present.
Ever-since 1964, when the first feasibility report on the use of Thar coal was completed, a number of similar studies have been carried out by experts, establishing the huge abundance of good quality, easily extractable coal and other mineral deposits in Tharparkar and their potential benefits.
An estimated over 175 billion tons of proven reserves of good quality coal is spread over 9,000 square kilometers of the Thar Desert. Compare it with the figures of India’s total coal deposits of 140 billion tons. Yet, for 40 years, these reserves have remained untapped.
People in Thar live in sub-human conditions and remain deprived of even access to safe drinking water, sewerage, healthcare, transport and education. Other issues include bonded labour and violation of the fundamental rights to employment and access to food availability.
Thar coal expert Syed Mohibullah Shah is of the view that technology exists to produce potable water from coal while the mineral is utilised for power generation. Thar coal has a very large water content (over 40 per cent of its weight) and +is capable of providing an abundant water supply for the locals.
People of the area acknowledge that the country is under severe electricity and energy crisis and Sindh is ready to cater the needs but ask as to who will guarantee the protection of the rights of the local people. The community is of the view that it should be the first beneficiary of any coal project.
Thar Coal exploitation can spearhead major economic development and employment generation activities. With over 200,000 jobs flowing from it over the years, the project could rank right at the top among all investments made in Pakistan – domestic or foreign.
The first-ever baseline survey of the area and people was shared with the World Bank team and the Sindh officials were advised to do more studies and surveys to understand the area and community.
Keeping in view the importance of the issue, Thardeep Rural Development programme (TRDP) has done a baseline survey on the socio-economic and environmental aspects of this project. The report is re-produced in Sindhi, English and Urdu. The aim of the re-production of the research study was to provide baseline information and scientific data to policy and decision makers and other stakeholders for an open debate.
This research will help to understand the demographic and geographic patterns of Thar, local community, environmental issues, socio-economic realities, and human landscape and project related issues like displacement, rehabilitation, burdens for the local people and the affected communities.
The input/feedback/ briefing by the local civil society activists on socio-economic and political situation of the area and community’s concerns and expectations of the project was very impressive in terms of their level of fundamental knowledge about the project. WB team was very impressed by the level of community’s understanding and information regarding Thar coal issues including technical and socio-economic and environmental impact. From the technical issues of gasification and tariff controversy and the ownership of the recourse, every issue was discussed at length.
Following issues were tabled by the community representatives:
Policy level issues: Ownership of the project should be solely with government of Sindh; elected representatives of the area be given visible charge/control in decision making; the community (especially field area) should be part of decision-making body. There should be a single body controlled by the provincial government to deal with investors and other issues.
Community issues: There is no clear policy for community welfare in Thar coal project;
Sindh has a bitter experience of IFIs engagement in different projects and a lack of trust between the community and the donors/investors.
Displacement issues: Protection of cultural, heritage and religious sites; guarantees of employment for the local people; compensation issues as per current day rates of the lands and other belongings and; change in environmental landscape, impact on water and other livelihood commodities
The local community is happy to see its area developed but wants protection of political, social, economic, cultural and environmental rights for which a genuine effort on the part of Sindh government is required. The community feels more comfortable with the Thar Coal and Energy Board (TCEB) which it believes be treated as the only notified legal and authorised body to exercise all powers in deciding matters pertaining to mining and power generation from Thar coal. It should also address all the concerns and fears of the local people.
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