Ten gram sabhas object to mining in Chhattisgarh's biodiversity rich forest
- Among the major concerns of the gram sabhas with the proposed acquisition of the forest land is that it is being done without their consent and even before the land is diverted under the provisions of the forest conservation act
Ten gram sabhas from Chhattisgarh’s Korba district, mainly consisting of people from the Gond tribe, have raised objections to Centre’s intention to acquire 712.072 hectares (ha) of land for mining in Madanpur South coal block. A large part of the land to be acquired is in the biodiversity rich Hasdeo Arand region.
According to the coal ministry notification published on December 24, of the 712.072 ha identified for the acquisition, 489.274 ha is protected forest land and 159.327 ha comprise revenue and other forest land. Sarpanches of the ten gram sabhas and other members wrote to Coal Controller's Organization under the coal ministry on January 16, stating that there was no consultation with gram sabhas and their consent was not taken for the mining project.
“As a constitutionally recognised Fifth Schedule Area, no mining activity can be undertaken here without consultation and consent of gram sabhas. The Panchayat Extension to Scheduled Areas (PESA) Act, 1996 in Section 4 (i) clearly states that the “the Gram Sabha or the Panchayats at the appropriate level shall be consulted before making the acquisition of land in the Scheduled Areas for development projects”. In the present case, no such consultation has been carried out prior to issuance of this notice,” the letter seen by HT states.
The gram sabha members had also written to Chhattisgarh chief minister, Bhupesh Baghel, on January 10, raising similar objections.
Among the major concerns of the gram sabhas with the proposed acquisition of the forest land is that it is being done without their consent and even before the land is diverted under the provisions of the forest conservation act.
The environment ministry’s Parivesh website shows that the application for diversion of 648.61 ha land is still pending with the state forest department. The timeline of the project on Parivesh website shows Chhattisgarh government has raised a query to the environment ministry on forest diversion related matters on December 21, 2020.
“We will oppose forest diversion here. The forest was being considered to be declared to be an elephant reserve by the state government which we had consented to. These are very dense forests and tribal communities are completely dependent on collecting forest produce like mahua, tendu, chironji (edible seed) and many other fruits and herbs. The forest has rich biodiversity and the Hasdeo river irrigates our fields. There are perennial water bodies also. No gram sabha will consent to destroying the forest,” said Devsay Dhurve, sarpanch, Madanpur, one of the signatories of the letter sent to Coal Controller’s Organisation.
“There is a prescribed procedure for addressing these, which will be followed. This is a statutory process and all processes are to be followed,” said a senior coal ministry official on the concerns raised by gram sabhas.
Environmental activists and legal researchers have also raised several concerns over the intention to acquire large biodiversity rich forest land, located in the Hasdeo Arand region-- one of the largest contiguous stretches of very dense forests in central India, spanning 170,000 ha, which has 22 coal blocks underneath.
“The general practice for using forest land for coal mining is to follow a procedure under the Forest Conservation Act, 1980, where prior permission for diversion is sought from the central government, but it is the state government’s prerogative to issue a final notice that gives legal effect to the diversion of land or felling of trees. In the present case, the central government has issued a notice for acquiring the same land for which forest diversion proceedings are pending. There is little precedence for such a practice which gives the impression that the central government is finding a way around the forest diversion process that now includes seeking consent under the forest rights in addition to mandatory consultation in a constitutionally protected 5th Schedule area like Korba,” said Kanchi Kohli, legal researcher, Centre for Policy Research.