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Saving Thar from the wrath of greedy corporations

Not a week went by last year when a case of infant mortality was not reported in the papers. Last year alone, 476 infants died due to malnutrition and outbreak of deadly diseases in Thar.

Death, drought and coal mining is all that you hear about Thar now, a region that was always celebrated and revered for its wilderness, religious harmony, cultural and natural beauty.

As corporations move in to exploit the last remaining desert wilderness enriched with its own unique culture and natural beauty, activists and local communities from Tharparkar raise their voice for the Thar we all know and love.

Protest art against the corporations destroying the culture and ecology of Thar (Areesha Khawaja)

Speaking at one of such discussions The Ghorano Water reservoir in Thar: Development at what cost? organized at Irtiqa Institute of Social Sciences panelist Sohail Sanghi, Dr Sono Khangharani and advocate Lila Ram briefed the participants about the concerns local communities and activists have about the construction of a new reservoir by a coal company, the illegal evictions of local communities and the proposed installation of a coal-fired power plant.

“Local community of Thar is especially concerned about the illegal construction of Ghorano reservoir, their forced evictions and the impact such mega-projects will have would be an ecological and social disaster that is waiting to unfold”, informed the panelists to the audience.

“What we’re witnessing in Thar is a gross act of human rights violation done by the corporations and government” said Sohail Sangi a journalist and local resident of Thar who is involved in the local movement against the illegal dam and coal mining on indigenous lands.

Panelists speak at Irtiqa on issues affecting the people of Thar (Muhammad Salman Khan)

Sangi informed participants that there protest has now moved into its consecutive 70th day in front of the Islamkot Press Club and 4 days in front of the Karachi press club and up till now the Sindh government Sindh Engro Coal Mining Company (SECMC) (the latter owning 51% stakes in SECMC, a company founded in 2009 as a joint venture between the Sindh government and Engro Cooperation).

The activists and local residents were concerned about the lack of open and fair environmental impact assessment to assess the environmental impact of this mega project. Even the public hearing which were being conducted were in absence of any representation from the local community often with police enforcement to keep the locals out.

“In Thar, the coal fields are discovered in an area of around 9000 sq km divided into 9 blocks from a total area 21000 sq km. Coal reserves in Thar are just found below 80 feet. The proposed mining of this coal will involve the ecologically destructive and harmful open pit mining method that would release polluted water used by the mining industry to be released into the reservoir, into the underground aquifers and even into the Ramsar protected Runn of Kutch wetlands”, said Professor Dr Sono Khangharani.

Protest art against corporations looting the natural and cultural wealth in the name of national interest (Areesha Khawaja)

Land Acquisition Act 1884 is being used by the government to acquire the dam on 1,500 acres of public land. There is no clear policy on the resettlement of the displaced people. We have been given assurances by SECMC’s chief executive officer Shamsuddin Ahmed Shaikh, but at times it’s these such corporate people who are threatening the local residents to end their protest otherwise state machinery even the military can be used against them if they threat the development of the region, added the panelists.

Advocate Lila Ram, another activist who’s spreading the campaign against the illegal reservoir said, “State machinery is being used to mine and uproot trees on public lands (Gowchar) which have been dedicated for grazing purposes. But what we see now is that corporations have been given free hand to authorize illegal eviction of thousands of local residents and their livestock. Devastating not the social fabric but also the ecological balance and wildlife, which is already affected by desertification and climate change.”

Khan,Salman. Saving Thar from the wrath of greedy corporations. The Nation, January 8, 2017.

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