New Delhi: In the Union government’s action against the Centre for Policy Research (CPR), there is a name that hovers between the lines and persists as an invisible presence but is never spelt out – the Adani Group.
The recent ministry of home affairs (MHA) order suspending the Foreign Contribution Act (FCRA) license of CPR followed a show-cause notice by the income tax (IT) department to the organisation, as first reported by The Indian Express, alleging that several of its activities are not in conformity with its stated objectives and that its funding to some non-governmental organisations (NGOs) violates FCRA guidelines.
At the centre of the notice, dated December 22, is CPR’s association with Jana Abhivyakti Samajik Vikas Sanstha (JASVS), an NGO working in Chhattisgarh. JASVS is among some 30 organisations CPR has funded for data collection and various academic and research purposes.
The IT notice begins with an accusation about the “involvement of CPR in Hasdeo protests through Jana Abhivyakti Samajik Vikas Sanstha”, and goes on to list several objections over the association. The notice mentions that the IT department summoned JASVS trustee Alok Shukla, and retrieved WhatsApp and Signal messages from his phone. Significantly, Shukla recorded his statement before the IT department on September 22 last year, just a fortnight after the department’s investigation wing carried out a survey at CPR’s Delhi premises on September 7.
What the IT department doesn’t mention in the 33-page notice – which The Wire has reviewed – is that Hasdeo has been the site of a massive Adivasi movement against the Adani Group for over a decade. Several news reports have underlined irregularities in Adani’s coal mining operations in the area. Shukla, who is also the convenor of Hasdeo Bachao Andolan, is a prominent face of the Adivasi-led protests.
“The JASVS has a consultancy agreement with CPR over non-compliance of environmental laws and related research. We published reports in pursuance of the agreement. Our consultancy work has nothing to do with the Hasdeo movement,” Alok Shukla told The Wire.
Adani and Hasdeo-Raigarh zone
The IT notice repeatedly objects to CPR’s funding to NGOs and individuals “engaged in resisting the mining operations in Chhattisgarh”. The notice uses the word ‘Hasdeo’ on at least 20 occasions but doesn’t even once mention who the prime beneficiary of mining in the region is.
A natural habitat of elephants, the Hasdeo area is a fragile biodiversity zone that stretches into elephant corridors of Raigarh, and also has some of India’s richest coal fields. Spread across Surguja, Korba and Raigarh districts of Chhattisgarh, it is also the bastion of the Adani Group’s coal empire. The company has nine coal blocks in the region, several of which are yet to begin operations due to continuing protests. These blocks were allotted to various state governments, but the Adani Group won the tender for all of these as the mine developer and operator over the years.
While Rajasthan Vidyut Utpadan Nigam is the owner of Parsa East & Kete Basan, Parsa and Kete Extension coal blocks in Surguja district, Gidhmuri Paturia block in Korba district is owned by the Chhattisgarh government. The Bhupesh Baghel government awarded these blocks to the Adani Group in 2019. Significantly, Congress leader Rahul Gandhi had visited Madanpur village in Korba on June 16, 2015, and promised the villagers that he wouldn’t let mining take place in the region.
In the adjoining Raigarh district, where the elephant corridor lies, the company operates the Gare Pelma III block of the Chhattisgarh government, besides the Maharashtra government’s coal block Gare Pelma Sector II and Gujarat government’s Gare Pelma I. While Gare Pelma III is functional, the other two are yet to begin operations.
Hasdeo ensures that the Adani Group is now India’s largest coal mine developer and operator (MDO) with blocks that hold at least 3,000 million tonnes of coal. “Its cumulative peak production capacity would be 100 million tonnes per annum, more than many subsidiaries of Coal India Limited,” advocate Sudeep Srivastava told The Wire. He has been contesting several cases related to Adani’s coal blocks in various courts. “Awarding such a large number of coal blocks to a single entity monopolises the entire coal and power production market,” he says.
The coal generated from the Hasdeo zone is being supplied to various government companies, as well as to the Adani Group’s own power plants. While local Adivasis allege that the permission given by the gram sabha for mining was obtained through fraudulent means, several news reports have uncovered other irregularities in coal deals.
A Scroll report noted that “millions of tonnes of ‘reject’ coal from Parsa East and Kanta Basan” fuelled three Adani-owned power plants. The deal benefited the Adani Group and put the owner of the block, the Rajasthan government, at a huge disadvantage because “Rajasthan paid Rs 2,175 per tonne for the coal, while Adani Power paid Rs 450 per tonne”.
A recent Reporters’ Collective investigation published by Al Jazeera noted that the Narendra Modi government “brought in laws that helped the Adani Group keep its ‘coal-scam era’ deals” in the Hasdeo region. While the Supreme Court had quashed the allotment of 204 coal blocks in 2014, the Modi government brought a new law that allowed the reinstatement of the previous MDO.
“MDO is the worst model India has adopted for mining of coal that lies with public sector utilities, because under this model a private company receives a mine for perpetuity free of cost and assured profit. The profit that could have come to the PSU [Public Sector Unit] that was allotted the block passes on to the mine developer,” says Srivastava.
The objective of the coal policy is to provide cheap coal to the PSUs so that they can produce cheap electricity and pass the benefit on to the consumer, but it gets defeated under the MDO model.
Top environment bodies have also spoken against mining in the Hasdeo zone. Over a year ago, a report by Indian Council for Forestry Research and Education (ICFRE) noted that the entire Hasdeo region, except for the mines that are already operational, should be declared a “no-go” area.
A 2021 biodiversity study conducted by ICFRE and the Wildlife Institute of India noted that mining in Hasdeo will adversely affect geo-morphological/hydrological changes and the drainage system. Since over 90% of households in the region are dependent on agriculture and forest produce, displacement due to mining will lead to loss of livelihood, identity and culture, the report said.
The Hasdeo region was declared a “no-go” area by the ministry of environment and forests during the United Progressive Alliance (UPA) rule, but soon official policy took a different turn, leading to massive Adivasi protests. Gathering support at various international forums, the protests have ensured that mining is yet to start at several blocks.
Adani and the IT notice
Read the IT department’s allegations against CPR in light of the above, and the picture takes a different turn.
CPR first entered into an agreement with JASVS in May 2015, which has since then been extended from time to time. The two organisations have jointly published six reports on compliance with environmental law, five of which specifically focus on Chhattisgarh.
The IT department’s notice says that the JASVS is “involved in identifying litigation issues, mobilisation of people and funds for the Hasdeo movement, therefore funding of JASVS by CPR is not in pursuance of its approved objectives”.
CPR rejects the charge. “We are in complete compliance with the law and are routinely scrutinised and audited by government authorities, including the Comptroller and Auditor General of India. There is no question of having undertaken any activity that is beyond our objects of association and compliance mandated with law,” CPR stated in a public statement.
“I have been working in Chhattisgarh for marginalised communities for over two decades. I often coordinate among affected people and lawyers for Hasdeo and other movements. But I am also a researcher. The JASVS agreement with CPR is reflective of my research work. The output is in the public domain in the form of research publications. CPR has absolutely no role to play in the Hasdeo movement,” says Alok Shukla.
The Wire has sent a questionnaire to the Adani Group and CPR for their responses. The responses are awaited.
Ashutosh Bhardwaj is an independent journalist and author of the award-winning The Death Script.