MAPUTO — Civil society groups in Mozambique are crying foul over the actions of an Indian coal-mining company in the remote, northeastern province of Tete. They accuse Jindal Steel of conducting open-pit mining without first resettling communities who are now breathing in black dust from the pits.
According to the Mozambique-based lobby group Justica Ambiental, or Environmental Justice, at least 500 families are living less than a kilometer from where Indian company Jindal began open pit coal mining early this year.
The organization’s communications officer, Ruben Manna said the health risks are obvious. "It is a permanent cloud of coal. They use dynamite on that mine to make it easier to extract coal, so every now and then when they blow explosives there is literally a cloud of coal flying through their community. There are at least 100 children in that community. It is not pretty," he said. "There are schools inside there."
Justica Ambiental accuses the company of going ahead with its operations without conducting an environmental impact study.
The head of Jindal Steel in Mozambique, Manoj Gupta, dismisses these claims, insisting an environmental study was carried out. "It was done a long time back, before we started operations, and issued by the government of Mozambique. Somebody is just trying telling stories which are absolutely false," he said.
As to why 500 families have been living for months so close to an open pit mine, Gupta blames delays by the authorities in getting a resettlement plan approved. "People should ask this question to the government of Mozambique. Because we have submitted the plan and on six August the government has approved the resettlement plan and it is going on now," he stated.
Tired of waiting for the land they had been promised, and unable to plant seeds to grow food, the community launched two days of violent protests against Jindal in late July, assaulting four of its employees, said Justica Ambiental.
Jindal Steel insists it enjoys good relations with the community, blaming the conflict on outsiders.
"I do not say that anybody from the community has created these problems. People from outside have created this problem. So we have made a police case and the police are doing an investigation," explained Gupta.
Just weeks after the protests erupted, Mozambique’s President Armando Guebuza came to inaugurate the mine. He did not mention the problems there.
Mozambique’s government needs to do more to protect communities said Manna.
"The government is conniving with this and that is for sure. At the end of the day Jindal, like Vale, like Rio Tinto, before that Riversadale. They are just companies. Their motive is profit," said Manna. "As a Mozambican I will hold my government accountable. They are the ones we will ask why is this happening and why are you not doing anything about it?"
Jindal is not the first foreign company cited for human-rights abuses in Mozambique’s Tete province, where major resettlements by Brazil’s Vale and Australia’s Rio Tinto have already taken place to make way for coal.
Rights group Human Rights Watch said earlier this year that not enough is being done to safeguard communities amid the scramble for coal.