Money from illegal coal mining in tribal areas is helping fuel the violent insurgency of India’s Maoist rebels, commonly knows as Naxals, according to an official in India’s coal ministry.
“There has been growing evidence that revenue from illegal mining is going towards Naxal activities,” Union coal secretary C. Balakrishnan said. “It is a difficult problem. Efforts are being made to curtail it at every level.” Mint couldn’t independently confirm the assertion.
Many of India’s coal mines are located in remote forests populated by tribals. Poverty, illiteracy and exploitation of labour are rife in these areas, which form the pocketboroughs of Naxals. Criminal gangs active in these parts extract coal illegally and also steal the mined fuel from government depots.
To prevent illegal mining, the government has taken steps such as filling up holes with stones and debris, digging trenches to isolate illegal mining sites and sealing off access to abandoned mines.
Still, coal continues to be illegally mined even as the country’s vital source of energy is unable to feed growing domestic demand. India has a known gross resource base of 264,000 million tonnes (mt), the fourth largest in the world, of which proven reserves are around 101,000 mt.
Naxals have choked the movement of coal from the mines of state-owned Coal India Ltd, the country’s largest producer of the fuel, Mint reported on 2 December.
“The Naxal movement has affected coal production of Central Coalfields Ltd in the state of Jharkhand mainly due to frequent bandhs (strikes) called by Naxal organizations and also due to stoppage of work because of threats meted out to the workforce engaged in coal production and transportation,” Sriprakash Jaiswal, minister of state (independent charge) for coal, told the Lok Sabha on 4 August.
The Naxal insurgency is particularly strong in Jharkhand, Chhattisgarh, Andhra Pradesh, Madhya Pradesh, Bihar, Orissa, West Bengal and Maharashtra. Prime Minister Manmohan Singh has decribed it as the country’s gravest internal threat.
With Maoist violence escalating and scores of security personnel and civilians being killed this year, the Union government recently urged the governments of Chhattisgarh, Jharkhand, Orissa and West Bengal to run a joint operation against Maoist insurgents, and promised financial and logistical support to boost their security infrastructure. Besides fighting the Naxals, the government has prepared a special infrastructure development plan for districts where the problem is most acute. It also wants coal mining companies to share a part of their revenue with local residents who are displaced by mining—a move that it thinks will wean tribals away from Naxalism.