Villagers oppose opening up of Hasdeo Arand forest for coal mining in Chhattisgarh
The mine is owned by Rajasthan Rajya Vidyut Utpadan Nigam Limited (RRVUNL), which has handed over the mining operations to Rajasthan Collieries Limited, a subsidiary of Adani Enterprises
The grant of stage II or final forest clearance to Parsa opencast coal mine in Chhattisgarh’s Hasdeo Arand region has led to widespread protests by the affected villagers. Ten villagers along with farmer and environmental groups are in Delhi to register their opposition to opening up of 841.538 ha forest land which supports their livelihoods and to the opening up of Hasdeo Arand forests.
The groups met Congress leader, Rahul Gandhi on Thursday, and plans to approach the Forest Advisory Committee (FAC) against its decision to grant a final clearance to Parsa. The FAC in a letter dated October 21 granted the final approval for coal mining in 841.538 ha of forest land under the Forest (Conservation) Act, 1980. HT had reported on February 10, 2019 that the FAC had granted stage 1 or the preliminary forest clearance to the mine despite finding that a part of the forest included “very dense” forest cover.
The mine falls in one of the largest contiguous stretches of very dense forest in central India called Hasdeo Arand that spans 170,000 ha (hectares).
The FAC had granted stage 1 clearance based on certain conditions like: State government shall reconfirm the presence/absence of very dense forest in the northeastern part of the proposed forest land and exclude it; state government will comply with an Indian Council of Forestry Research and Education biodiversity study of the Hasdeo Arand region including the Parsa block; legal status of the forest land will remain unchanged and many others. FAC’s letter granting stage II forest clearance suggests that these conditions may have been fulfilled.
“The state government has forwarded the Draft Biodiversity Assessment Report which has been considered in the ministry as final report from the state government and the recommendations in the report have been considered to be accepted by the state government for their compliance. Therefore, in view of the compliance of Stage-I approval and submission of the Biodiversity Assessment Report, approval of the proposal has been considered by the ministry,” the October 21 final approval states.
But villagers likely to be displaced have a completely different view of the forest diversion in Hasdeo Arand. Villagers of Fatehpur, Hariharpur and Salhi have alleged that gram sabha consent was forged for stage 1 approval. “First thing is gram sabha did not approve the diversion of this forest. It was forged. Secondly, for us tribals, the entire Hadeo Arand forest is like our bank account. We depend completely on it for food and fodder. We will be devastated if we are thrown out of our forest,” said Ramlal Karyam, who is in Delhi to meet Congress leaders.
Sonki Singh of Fatehpur said, “The forest gives us mahua, tendu, all kinds of fruits and fodder. The forest is being handed over for mining by force and not by consent. Our deities live in Hasdeo Arand. All villagers for Hariharpur, Fatehpur and Salhi and the entire Hasdeo region will oppose this move.” She is also travelling with others from Parsa region.
“It’s a big lie that there are no dense forests here. Parsa region has very dense sal forests and presence of elephants, leopards, sloth bear, jackals, porcupines, sambhars and many other wildlife. First, they need to verify if a wildlife and biodiversity study was conducted at all. If yes, then how did they not find rich wildlife presence?” asked Muneshwar from Fatehpur.
“If we don’t hear from the environment ministry, we will have to move the Supreme Court or the National Green Tribunal. We met Congress leader Rahul Gandhi who has promised to intervene. We expect the Congress government in Chhattisgarh to cancel the final approval to the mine,” said Alok Shukla, convener of the Chhattisgarh Bachao Andolan.
The Samyukta Kisan Morcha (SKM), an umbrella body of the unions of farmers leading the agitation against the three new farm laws is also supporting Chhattisgarh villagers in the campaign against diversion of Hasdeo Arand forest. “We are farmers. They are indigenous farmers and their way of farming is unique. They depend on forests and protect forests like their own property. The government cannot take it away from them without following the due process. We have been told by villagers that gram sabha consent was forged. We will provide them whatever legal, political assistance needed in this case,” said Yudhvir Singh of SKM.
HT mailed Adani Enterprises on October 26 regarding protests by villagers but did not receive a response until Friday. The mine is owned by Rajasthan Rajya Vidyut Utpadan Nigam Limited (RRVUNL), which has handed over the mining operations to Rajasthan Collieries Limited, a subsidiary of Adani Enterprises.
A senior member of the FAC and forest ministry official said: “Yes stage II clearance has been granted. We were not aware of these issues. We will check.” Villagers had raised these concerns in a letter sent to the ministry’s forest conservation division on May 3, 2021.
“The call of the Hasdeo Arand Bachao Sangharsh Samiti is ‘Hasdeo Bachega to Desh Bachega’, signalling that protecting Hasdeo Arand symbolises much more than a localised struggle. It is a call to recognise the constitutional mandate of gram sabhas (village assemblies) and restoring faith in rule of law which has been seriously challenged in the case of land acquisition, forest and environmental approvals. Other than that, this is a call to foreground food security, nature-based jobs, biodiversity and water security in policy decisions, all of which are threatened in the case of Hasdeo,” said Kanchi Kohli, legal researcher, Centre for Policy Research.