More than 350 tribals from 30 villages in Sarguja and Korba districts of Chhattisgarh have started a 300-km foot march to capital Raipur in protest against the coal mining projects in the Hasdeo Aranya region.
The farmers who started their march from Fatehpur in Ambikapur of Sarguja district on October 3, expect to meet Chief Minister Bhupesh Baghel and Governor Anusuiya Uike on their arrival.
The tribals have been alleging that the land acquisition for the Hasdeo Aranya projects was conducted illegally and without their consent and consultation. They say mining activities in the forest will ruin the region’s ecosystem, and affect their livelihood.
Their major demands are to cancel all the coal mining projects in the region, reverse the “illegal” land acquisitions and cancel the forest clearance granted to Parsa coal mine “on the basis of a forged gram sabha motion and register FIRs against (responsible) authorities”.
The Hasdeo Aranya, part of a forest corridor that stretches through Central India for over 1,500 km, is a catchment area for Hasdeo and the Minimata Bango dam which provide water and irrigate agricultural land in Janjgir-Champa, Korba and Bilaspur area. The area is also an important habitat for wildlife, mostly elephants.
It is estimated that a huge reserve of 5.18 billion tonnes of coal lie beneath the forested ground.
The Centre in 2020 invoked the Coal Bearing Areas (Acquisition and Development) Act, 1957 to acquire around 700 ha of land in the Korba district of Chhattisgarh. It has reportedly identified 348.126 ha of land in Ghatbaraa village in Udaipur tehsil of Surguja district too.
The villagers have alleged that while the Ministry of Environment, Forest and Climate Change in 2010 had restricted mining activities in the entire stretch of the forest, dubbing it as a “no-go area”, it has now caved in to the pressure of industrialists to allow mining in the lush forests.
The Hasdeo Aranya Bachao Sangharsh Samiti, a forum of tribals from the two districts, has said that the government has already allocated seven coal mines in the region to state government companies.
“We have constitutional rights to protect our water, forest, land, livelihoods and culture which are granted to us via the Schedule V. These rights are granted to us through the Panchayat Extension in Scheduled Areas (PESA) 1996 and under Article 5 of the Scheduled Tribes and Other Traditional Forest Dwellers (Recognition of Forest Rights) Act (FRA) 2006 states that we are capable of this responsibility. Despite this, the corporate prostrating Modi government has illegally allotted seven coal mines in our region to state government companies,” the organization said in a press release.
“The state governments have in turn appointed Adani to develop and mine these blocks as Mine Developer and Operator (MDO). Along with that, the state governments have put the betterment of their citizens on hold as they have agreed to buy coal from Adani at prices that are higher than the market rate. This is yet another coal scam in the country,” the release said.
Notably, of the two operational mines, the Adani Group is mining the PEKB in the capacity of MDO with Rajasthan Rajya Vidyut Utpadan Nigam Limited, while the Chotia block is mined by Bharat Aluminium Company Limited of the Vedanta Group.
The association has also alleged that the government has obtained forest clearance for the Parsa coal block by forging gram sabha resolutions by “pressuring authorities”. Land has also been acquired in the three blocks of Kete Extension, Madanpur South and Gidhmudi Paturiya without the consent of gram sabhas, the tribals have alleged.
“Governments — both at the Centre and in the state — have been going against people. For environment clearance in Parsa, forged documents and wrong information has been submitted to the ministry,” Umeshwar Singh Armo, a member of the Samiti told Indian Express.
Issuing a notification under Section 7 of the Coal Bearing Areas (Acquisition and Development) Act, 1957, in December last year, the Centre gave tribals in the two districts a 30-day period to submit their objections, if any, over rights on the land. The Union Coal Ministry had reportedly received over 470 objection letters.
Informing about the same on February 8, Union Coal Minister Pralhad Joshi had said that the Coal Bearing Areas legislation had no “provision regarding any consent from Gram Sabha”.
“Valid compensation under regulations of The Right to Fair Compensation and Transparency in Land Acquisition, Rehabilitation and Resettlement Act, 2013 and Chhattisgarh Ideal Resettlement policy 2007 will be paid,” he had assured.
The villagers, however, have refused any compensation for their land, asserting that “money and our homelands are not equitable”.