Socialist India

International Socialist Alternative
No to the Deucha-Panchami Coal Block in West Bengal!

Joint statement PAPA (Project Affected People’s Association) and ISA (International Socialist Alternative)

About PAPA: Our journey started in 2001, where the Sarisharatali Project Affected People’s Association took its form around the forced acquisition of land for Sanjeev Goenka’s Sarishatali open-cast coal mine in Barabani block of Paschim Burdhaman, West Bengal.

Following the experience of these affected people’s struggle in the Sarishatali, the organisation decided to protect the oppressed people of the tribal, Dalit and OBC (otherwise backward caste) communities from the corporate world, while creating new mines in the public and private sectors.  For the greater good the name of our organization was changed to Project Affected People’s Association (PAPA) in 2008 at the general meeting of the organization.

About ISA: International Socialist Alternative is a global fighting organization of workers, young people and all those oppressed by capitalism and imperialism. With a presence in over 30 countries on all continents, we fight to advance a working-class alternative across national borders, for a socialist world. 

ISA, formerly the Committee for a Workers’ International (CWI), was established in 1974. It is currently organized in over 30 countries in all continents in a common struggle for working-class solidarity and socialism. We get involved, discuss and put forward initiatives and ideas to help win victories, build up movements and fight for a socialist alternative.

An ugly monster is rearing its head over the state of West Bengal: the Deucha-Panchami Coal Block. This proposed open-cast mining area contains over 2 billion tons of coal and stands to become the second largest coal mine in the world, and the largest in Asia. At a cost of ₹450 billion (approx 5 billion Euro), This massive project belies not only the so-called green initiatives of the far right BJP government, but also the sham of Mamata Bannerjee’s Trinamool Congress, as in the wake of the horrific Sandeshkhali rape scandal, the bankruptcy of their concern for women and tribal people is on full display.

The implementation of this project will result in the displacement of more than 21,000 people, the majority of whom are Adivasi (9000+), and Dalits (nearly 4,000), with a significant population of Muslims as well. These people have deep ties to their homeland, particularly the adivasi (indigenous) folk who have lived in West Bengal for possibly tens of thousands of years continuously. Their relationship to the land and way of life cannot be expressed as a monetary sum.

Furthermore, open cast on mining will bring disastrous effects to the entire area. Topsoil will be lost, agriculture will be disrupted, biodiversity decreased, ground water level decreased, and flooding and contamination will increase as a result of this. Pollution, which is poorly regulated under the best of circumstances, has not even been spoken of by the government. It is likely that the government considers caste-oppressed people, minorities, and Adivasi to be expendable for the sake of so much money, and has no concern whatsoever about their health.

The coal block itself is particularly poor for mining, with the coal layer lying beneath 225 to 245 metres of igneous basalt. Drilling through this material has a massive impact on quality of water and air, with the inhabitants of the region already largely suffering from silicosis, a chronic lung disease resulting from inhalation of silica dust, this having come about due to the excessive and unregulated quarrying of stone, particularly illegal sand mining. Drilling through a quarter of a kilometer of volcanic rock will also likely require large scale use of explosives, which are expected to have a major physical and psychological impact on nearby residence, in addition to releasing gas and chemicals into the air and ground water.

Above all other sources, coal has contributed the most to global warming, and the Bengal Delta, where the city of Kolkata and the Sundarbans region are located, is one of the most vulnerable regions in the world as a result of sea level rise. Kolkata is the 11th largest city in the world by urban population. In 2019, it was already the site of the highest number of premature deaths due to coal-fired power plant pollution, and a 2°C rise in global temperatures will lead to more than 50% of its over 20 million inhabitants being flooded out of their homes. Flooding of the Sundarbans will not only displace countless people, but also leave inland parts of West Bengal more vulnerable to storms of ever increasing intensity without the mitigating effects of wetlands.

With all these factors combined, the government itself has admitted that the proposed mine is unlikely to be profitable. In fact, Eastern Coalfields Limited refused the project, handing it over to West Bengal Power Development Corporation Limited. In addition, the already developed mines in the hands of WBPDCL have enough coal in them to generate electricity for the next 30 years without expanding mining whatsoever. West Bengal exports electricity to nearby states as well as the neighboring country of Bangladesh! 

By all reasonable standards, the project makes no sense, and should be scrapped. However, capitalism is a system in which rational choices of individuals collectively lead to a system which produces irrational results on a large scale. Whether the World Bank, IMF or other groups take up the immediate task of finding this operation, it is ultimately the taxpayers of West Bengal who will pay the bill. It is the corrupt officials of the TMC or any other political party which finds itself in charge of this coal mine which will personally profit at the expense of public health, destruction of the tribal way of life, the massive environmental effects of climate change, and so on. The prospect of putting the government in the red, along with all the aforementioned problems, is of no concern to them. Even before any coal is dug up, contractors and their political handlers will be rolling in cash. In addition, the proposed Tajpur Port built by Adani is completely dependent on the export of coal from this mine in order to be economically viable.

The Narmada Bachao Andolan Movement’s successful drive to withdraw World Bank funding from the Narmada Dam Project has already demonstrated a weakness of the project: These massive projects rely on external funding to cover upfront costs. Yet the governments of West Bengal and India rely on the isolation of these rural and highly oppressed people, doing everything that they can to make sure that their voices are unheard. The TMC government has gone to great lengths to silence the people of West Bengal who have demanded to keep this coal in the ground. Marches have been attacked, false charges have been laid against organizers, activists have been arrested and fake political organizations have been created by the government to create the appearance of grassroots support (astroturf organizing). The physical locality has become a battleground involving police and Naxal insurgents and is no longer safe to visit.

We all know that the capital they need is stored in banks such as the World Bank, IMF, Asian Development Fund etc.  These banks fund excavations all over the world. This has become the biggest challenge for PAPA: to prevent the investment into Dirty Energy. Our leaders from Deucha Panchami urge allies to appeal to these banks to stop funding dirty energy, especially coal mining and coal based thermal power plants.

Ultimately, there is only one solution to this crisis: it is capitalism that created the conditions for this disaster, and only a socialist re-organization of society can ensure environmentally sound and responsible development free from corruption. Yet socialism can only be achieved by a working class which is empowered physically and politically, and we cannot achieve this without satisfying the immediate demands of working class and oppressed people and their needs to survive. ISA and PAPA stand together in demanding these changes:

  1. The Deucha-Panchami coal mine must not be built. There must be no mine and no evictions.
  2. An end to coal mining: no more mines, and the phasing out of coal mining over time with the retraining of the workforce involved towards the green energy sector.
  3. Withdraw all police cases, and end the harassment and intimidation against the protesters.
  4. The governments of West Bengal and India must give highest priority to the production of responsible green energy, rather than dirty fossil fuels or destructive and dangerous mega-dams.
  5. Agitate against Indian embassies, the World Bank, IMF and others: Stop funding coal!

The unfortunate truth of the matter however, is that these demands will not be met without the support of the international community. Modi and Banerjee count on environmentalists in the west to not notice or simply not care. We cannot let this be the case. We urge our supporters all across the world to take up action in support of the poor and working class people who are being oppressed right now. We must ensure that international sources of funding and companies like Adani are unable to involve themselves in this project without paying a price too great to bear for their part. Please join us in condemning this monstrous project and fighting for a coal free world, and a socialist, green future!