Chhattisgarh’s Hasdeo Arand residents plan protest in Delhi against mining clearance
Residents of Chhattisgarh’s Hasdeo Arand are planning a protest in Delhi against permission granted for stage II mining clearance in the Parsa coal block. They are expected to arrive in the national capital in a few days to also meet environment and forest ministry officials and lodge their protest against the clearance. A press meet is also scheduled in Delhi under the banner of Hasdeo Arand Bachao Sangharsh Samiti.
Alok Shukla, convener of NGO Chhattisgarh Bachaao Andolan, said they will move the National Green Tribunal against the clearance and also stage a protest in Delhi.
Activists say around 700 people will be displaced and about 840 acres of dense forest will be destroyed due to the mining project. “...both Central and state governments, to serve the corporate interest, are stepping back in terms of safeguarding this (previously) No-Go area...,” said Bipasa Paul, an activist working in the region.
Activists and the residents have alleged the clearance was given on the basis of fake consent documents from the local village council, making it illegal. On October 21, the ministry said the clearance was based on the state government’s recommendation. It cited new facts brought to its notice and added it will be at liberty to impose additional conditions.
The clearance came even as around 250 Hasdeo Arand residents undertook a 300-km long foot march from Korba to Raipur demanding cancellation of all mining projects in the region. The marchers met governor Anusiya Uike and chief minister Bhupesh Baghel, who assured them that their rights will be protected and the documents will be probed.
Paul called it unfortunate that even after the march, the state government has not ordered an independent probe into the documents. “...no correspondence (has been) done in this matter with (Union environment and forest ministry)... which granted stage-II forest clearance.”
Hasdeo Arand is one of the largest contiguous stretches of dense forest in central India spanning 170,000 hectares. It has 23 coal blocks. In 2009, the Union environment ministry categorised the region as a No-Go zone for mining because of its rich forest cover. It was opened again to mining because the policy was not finalised.
There is also a significant elephant presence in the area and it is also an important part of a large migratory corridor. Hasdeo Arand forests are 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 critical for irrigation of 3 lakh hectares double-cropped land in the rice-bowl state of Chhattisgarh.
On October 23, Uike wrote to Chhattisgarh’s chief secretary over the issue and directed an inquiry into the documents within 15 days.
State minister Ravindra Chaubey cited allegations of irregularities and added there are provisions under which the state government will review the matter.
Chhattisgarh forest department has said the Centre asked the Indian Council of Forestry Research and Education (ICFRE) to conduct a biodiversity assessment and based on its report stage-II clearance was given.
Shukla said it was after stage-I clearance of the project that concerned villagers complained about the fake documents to Baghel but nothing was done. “The state government should have objected to the ICFRE report...but the report was accepted and government, under the pressure of corporates, hurriedly sent it to the environment ministry.”