Chhattisgarh march against Hasdeo mines reaches Raipur, gets Singhdeo support
RAIPUR: Ten days after they began their 300-kilometre march from Madanpur village in north Chhattisgarh, more than 200 tribals and villagers from the Hasdeo Aranya area in Korba reached state capital Raipur on Wednesday to demand cancellation of coal mining projects in the ecologically sensitive region, and land acquisition orders that do not have the legitimate gram sabha’s consent.
The protesters are scheduled to meet governor Anusuya Uike on Thursday and have sought an appointment with chief minister Bhupesh Baghel as well. There was no word till late Wednesday evening if the chief minister’s office has scheduled a meeting with the protesters. Chief minister Baghel has said he is open for talks.
On Wednesday evening, they, however, met health minister TS Singh Deo who extended his support.
“Coal mining is deadly in the wake of environmental conditions and it is the need of the hour to switch to renewable energy… Hasdeo was a no-go zone in the UPA era and its status should be reinstated,” Deo said.
“We are demanding immediate cancellation of all coal mining projects in Hasdeo Aranya region and all land acquisition proceedings carried under Coal Bearing-Areas Act 1957 without taking prior consent from the gram sabhas be immediately withdrawn,” said Chhattisgarh Bachao Andolan convenor Alok Shukla, who also was part of the march.
Shukla said that the villagers also want environment and forest clearance granted to Parsa coal block to be cancelled and a case is registered against company officials for allegedly forging the gram sabha’s consent.
The villagers also demanded the implementation of “free prior informed consent” from gram sabhas before land acquisition and allocation of any mining or other projects in the Hasdeo area, and restoration of the community forest rights title of Ghatbarra village in Surguja district which was cancelled in 2016.
“We are here to meet the chief minister and will put our demands in front of him. We don’t want to lose our forests and the Constitution has given us the right to protect them... We will not leave the capital until our demands are met… Till now chief minister has not given us time but we hope we will meet him tomorrow or the day after,” said Muneshwar Porte, a resident of Fatehpur village.
Chief minister Bhupesh Baghel said: “Those who want to talk… we are doing it with them. But so far, they have not offered to meet us. You (media persons) are asking this. Doors are open for everyone who wants to meet. Talks only can resolve the problems”, the chief minister said.
Hasdeo Arand is one of the largest contiguous stretches of very dense forest in central India spanning 170,000 hectares. It also has 23 coal blocks.
In 2009, the Union environment ministry proposed to categorize Hasdeo Arand to be a “No-Go” zone for mining because of its rich forest cover but opened it again to mining because the policy hadn’t been finalized.
Elephants have a significant presence in forests of this region throughout the year and is an important part of a large migratory corridor. The Hasdeo Aranya forest is also the catchment of Hasdeo River, Mahanadi’s largest tributary, which is critical for perennial river flow. It is also the watershed of Hasdeo Bango reservoir and thus critical for irrigation of 3 lakh hectare double-cropped land in the “rice-bowl” state of Chhattisgarh.
Multiple Government and independent scientific reports have documented the ecological importance of the region and underlined the urgent need to conserve it.
According to a statement by Chhattisgarh Bachao Andolan, around 20 village bodies have been regularly passing resolutions under Panchayat Extension to Scheduled Areas (PESA) Act 1996 and Forest Right Act 2006 (FRA), since 2014 articulating their opposition to any mining in the region.
These laws, PESA Act 1996 and FRA 2006, not only ensure that the gram sabha’s consent is necessary for any forest diversion but also places the onus of resource conservation on them.
“Given the strong resistance from gram sabhas, the government is now circumventing the need for “gram sabha consent” before the start of mining. The government has argued that consent is not required under Coal Bearing Areas Act and has thus issued notifications for the acquisition of land for Madanpur South, Gidhmudi Paturiya, Kete Extension and Parsa even before any clearance or consultations. For the Parsa coal block, the forest clearance has been issued based on some forged consent/letter based on wide collusion of district administration with the company,” the non-profit alleged in the statement.
The Chhattisgarh forest ministry on Wednesday said the forest department notified 1,995 sq km area as Lemru Elephant Reserve which includes 15 coal blocks of Hasdeo Arrand Area.
“Moreover, the Biodiversity Assessment Study report for the whole Hasdeo Arrand region has been sent to the state government for consideration which if accepted, would completely prohibit mining in 14 coal blocks of the Hasdeo Arrand Area,” the department said in a written response to HT on the demand of Hasdeo residents for cancellation of mining projects said.
On the demand for cancellation of environmental and forest clearances of Parsa coal block, the forest department clarified that stage I forest clearance of the coal block has been granted by the central government but the stage II clearance is still under consideration which shall be decided once the Biodiversity Assessment Study report is finalised.
The biodiversity study for the Hasdeo Arand coalfield, conducted by the Indian Council of Forestry Research and Education in consultation with the Wildlife Institute of India to assess the floral and faunal biodiversity of coalfield has proposed to recommend against clearing 14 of the 23 coal blocks to conserve the relatively dense moist-dry deciduous sal dominated forest tracts that provide home forest for elephants.