NCHR calls for review of entire Thar coal project
Sharing the findings of its two-day visit to Tharparkar to monitor human rights situation, the National Commission for Human Rights (NCHR) on Friday asked the Sindh and federal governments to review the entire Thar coal project after looking it through the prism of social benefits for the community.
NCHR Chairman Justice (retd.) Ali Nawaz Chowhan, addressed a press conference along with NCHR member Anis Haroon, urban planner Arif Hasan and trade union leader Karamat Ali, at the commission’s office to explain the findings of a visit he had undertaken to the Ghorano area in the desert region on December 15 as a follow-up on the commission’s monitoring of human rights situation in Tharparkar. A day earlier on December 14, the commission had held a seminar on the status of minorities in the region in Mithi.
Chowhan said the commission in its visit observed that the situation on the ground in Thar was not in accordance with the claims and promises of development being made by some of the stakeholders, especially the Sindh Engro Coal Mining Company (SECMC).
“Local residents are riddled with discontent,” the NCHR chairman said, adding that the Thari people were not willing to embrace a massive change that was being imposed upon them without their consultation. The local residents also feared ecological degradation in the area compromising their livelihoods and triggering major social changes, Chowhan said.
The NCHR chairman also discussed the concerns of local residents of Ghorano village, which is one of the various villages that have been affected by the construction of reservoirs built to dispose of salty water being taken out of the mining sites in the area. He claimed that the SECMC and the government acquired the land under the urgency clause of the Land Acquisition Act of 1894, without the approval of land owners in a forcible and deceitful way.
The commission also expressed concern over the rise in the number of security check posts in the area, where law enforcement agencies personnel often stop local residents and interrogate them.
Hasan explained that of the total area of Tharparkar, which is 19,000 square kilometres, around 9,000 square kilometres have been marked for the coal projects. “The project has been causing an ecological disaster. Thar is not entirely a desert but it would become a complete desert soon,” the urban planner lamented.
The NCHR also observed emergence of some factors in the region that were causing extremism and intolerance. “Various outfits have been active in Thar region posing as charity organisations, which are converting local Hindu community,” Chowhan said, urging the government to take strong measures to place checks on the factors that were threatening the peace and communal coexistence in the region.
The commission also expressed concern in its report over drought in the region and deaths due to malnutrition. It noted that inaccessibility to food, underdevelopment, inefficient system for declaration of drought, gaps in government relief efforts, and poor infrastructure of healthcare and water supply are prime reasons behind the crisis in Tharparkar.
The NCHR demanded that the Sindh government pay attention to the desert region and take well-planned structural measures to address the fundamental causes that have triggered a large-scale devastation in Thar.