Tharis suffer as coal rush causes water, land insecurity

Thar dwellers are facing hardship because of the adverse impacts of mega coal projects in the region, dealing with enforced shifts in land use, livelihood, and socio-ecological patterns, a study showed on Wednesday.

The research study was conducted by Rural Development Policy Institute (RDPI) and launched by Alliance for Climate Justice and Clean Energy (ACJCE), a civil society group endeavoring for a transition in Pakistan’s energy sector.

The research titled “Coal Rush: The Impacts of Coal Power Generation on Tharis’ Land Rights” was unveiled in a webinar attended by experts and activists.

Dr Ahsan Kamal, lead author of the research, Lecturer, Quaid-e-Azam University, discussed the key findings of the study and shared an analysis of the land and coal-related issues caused by the coal power projects.

He pointed out that Tharis were not invited to debates on Thar coal, despite numerous protests.

“Research shows Thar land use is dynamic and environmentally friendly, and local culture and economy depend on historic access to private, public, and common land for grazing and cropping,” Kamal added.

Dr Kamal said coal projects were increasing land and water insecurity, which would have long-term impacts for current and future generations.

“We cannot sacrifice our people for profit. Thari voices must be central to all conversations on Pakistan’s energy future,” he stressed.

Discussing the legal and policy gaps in land acquisition for coal power projects in Thar, Zain Moulvi from Alternative Law Collective, said Thar’s experience with coal projects had unveiled the flawed and draconian colonial-era land acquisition laws and procedures in Pakistan.

“Legal and regulatory reforms are long overdue and comprehensive rehabilitation and resettlement policy at federal and provincial levels is an urgent need of the hour,” he said.

“Thari people’s historical traditions of land use, particularly their system of collective rights in grazing land, disclose a uniquely intimate, sustainable, and mutually respectful relationship between human communities, animals, land, and natural resources.”

“These customs serve both as a reminder of how misguided our present developmental practices have been and a source of guidance for imagining a more ecologically responsible future,” Moulvi added.

Sharing experiences of communities regarding land acquisition and displacement, Abdul Aziz Qadri from Thar Samaji Tehreek, Islamkot, raised concerns over Thar coal companies causing devastating impacts on the locals by making anti-people land policies. As per law, the locals should get survey lands (privately owned land), but the coal companies were not abiding by it, he said. “They don’t pay if any mistake or complication is found in the ‘survey land’ and they are grabbing lands based on the Land Acquisition Act 1894,” Qadri added.

Muhammad Aslam from Pakistan Fisherfolk Forum (PFF) discussed broader issues of land dispossession and details of irregularities in Thar lands.

Aslam revealed that after completing all the formalities, the survey lands were fully legal by all means based on government documents.

“However even in survey lands, they create irregularities by changing survey numbers, changing the actual names, and replacing/displacing survey numbers.”

Aslam added that various tactics such as non-payment, prolonged office visits, police action, and deductions in compensations, were used to force the locals to abandon their lands so that the companies could occupy them.

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