Chhattisgarh mining projects violating forest act: Activists
Mining projects in Chhattisgarh’s Hasdeo Arand forests are bypassing gram sabha consent for forest diversion in blatant violation of the Forest Conservation Act, 1980 and the Forest Rights Act, 2006, some sarpanches and environmental activists have alleged. The latest among several such attempts is a notice sent to four gram panchayats seeking their “no-objection certificate” (NOC) for forest diversion of about 2012.88 hectares (ha).
The Forest Conservation Act, 1980 and the Forest Rights Act, 2006 make gram sabha, or an assembly of all village adults, consent mandatory for diversion of forests under their jurisdiction.
The forest conservation rules specify that the district collector completes the process of recognising forest rights of people who live in the project area.
The collector is also mandated to obtain the consent of each gram sabha having jurisdiction over the entire or a part of the forest land indicated in the proposal for the diversion and compensatory afforestation or other ameliorative measures.
Gram panchayat comprises the elected members of a gram sabha.
The notice issued for Girdhmudi-Pathuriya coal block in Hasdeo Arand on December 7, 2019, accessed by HT, bypasses the gram sabha and seeks “anapatti praman patra”, or an NOC, from the village body.
“If the panchayat wants, they can conduct a gram sabha. No decision has been taken yet and we haven’t received any NOC from the panchayat,” said DR Dhruv, tehsildar of Pondi ,who had issued the letter, over phone.
“I have objected to the process. Hasdeo Arand holds the key for tribal villagers for water, food and worship. No wonder, villagers’ consent is crucial,” said Devsaye Dhruve, newly elected sarpanch of Madanpur village that stands to lose about 215 ha of forest land.
There have been similar cases in the past as well, activists alleged. The revenue officer of Udaipur in Chhattisgarh’s Korba had asked for an NOC for diversion of 614.219 ha for Parsa coal block on March 5, 2017, from two gram panchayats. The coal block is also located in Hasdeo Arand forests. Complaints were filed with the collector because locals demanded a gram sabha be held, said Bipasha Paul, a programme officer of Janabhivyakti, a non-profit that opposes coal mining in Hasdeo Arand.
“The notice issued to panchayats is an order to give an NOC when the notice should specify a gram sabha to be held and ask if there is consent given to the project. We have seen similar cases in Bastar as well. Forest rights — both individual and community resource rights -- haven’t been recognised in the Hasdeo-Arand forest region, which is an important biodiversity reserve. At least three sarpanches have objected to the process,” said Alok Shukla, convenor, Chhattisgarh Bachao Andolan that is fighting for tribal forest rights.
Hasdeo Arand is one of the largest contiguous stretches of dense forest in central India spanning 1,70,000 ha and has 30 coal blocks underneath. In 2009, the environment ministry had categorised Hasdeo Arand to be a “No-Go” area for mining because of its rich forest cover but opened it again as the policy was not finalised.