Ceaseless coal mining turns future black for Gonds in Chhattisgarh

A view of the PEKB coal mine. Photo: Vaishnavi Suresh

The Parsa coal block, one of 30 in Chhattisgarh’s Hasdeo Arand region, is a step closer from getting environmental clearance. This will be the third mine to open, after Chotia and Parsa East and Kete Basan (PEKB), in what was once a ‘No Go’ area for coal mining in the state. Opening another mine in the core forest area could have deleterious consequences for the people living in it, the forest and the river Hasdeo.

The Hasdeo Arand region, spread across 1,70,000 hectares, is one of the largest intact dense forest area in Central India. Spanning across northern Korba and Sarguja districts in Chhattisgarh, the ecologically-sensitive area lies along the Gondwana belt.

  • About Gond Adivasi community:
    • Gond people have lived in parts of Maharashtra, Madhya Pradesh, Chhattisgarh, Jharkhand, Odisha, Telangana and Andhra Pradesh for centuries. Previously known to be hunter-gatherers, a significant number of Gond people have now turned to farming.
    • In Hasdeo, a majority of the village population comprise adivasi communities, with Gonds being in large numbers. Their livelihood includes farming, gathering forest produce, collection and sale of non-timber forest produce, and agricultural labour.
    • The villages affected by Parsa East Kete Besan and Parsa coal mines fall under the 5th schedule of the Indian Constitution

Coal sourced from PEKB, currently one of two operational mines, has been linked to the Rajasthan Rajya Vidyut Utpadan Nigam (RRVUNL) since 2011 for thermal power projects in Rajasthan. RRVUNL gave the contract for mine developer and operator to Adani Enterprises. Parsa, the latest to get clearance, is contiguous to PEKB and Tara coal blocks. All three lie in the Hasdeo Arand coalfields. But the forest is a lot more than just fossil fuel reserves.

Elders from villages in Sarguja and Korba reminisce of their younger days as the glory days of the forest. Much has changed, they say. Bhagirati Sinh*, 62, who has lived in Khirti village for over 40 years, says, “We make chutney from the amla (gooseberry) we get from the forest. Earlier, in season, a tree bore fruit in abundance. We would use it for everything — it was as good as salt! And we’d sell it too. We also sold tendu (East Indian ebony), mahua and char (chironji, an almond-flavoured seed). But they’ve all reduced in quantity. Now, three of us pluck 400 tendu leaves with difficulty. Whereas before, one person used to pluck 400 by themselves.”

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