After a year-long tribal resistance, a show cause notice has been issued to NCL mining corporation which has leased out its iron ore mine in Chhattisgarh's Dantewada region to Adani Enterprises for mining operations. The notice asked why the allotment should not be cancelled if mining activity had not begun even after two years. The Wire’s report mentions that the State Government issued the notice after an inquiry found that the consent of the Gram Sabha, needed for any mining activity, had been forged. According to the report, the forest department is also reconsidering the forest clearance granted to the mine and another show cause notice is expected in that matter.
Chhattisgarh Chief Minister Bhupesh Baghel had ordered an inquiry into the iron ore grant in June 2019, after close to 2,000 villagers protested against mining activity in the region. The report of the probe was supposed to have been released within a month. However, it was not released for eight months – it was finally out on March 5.
NCL (NMDC-CMDC) was formed as a joint venture between NMDC and Chhattisgarh Mineral Development Corporation (CMDC) in 2008. The new entity had got environment clearance in 2015 to mine 10 million tonnes (mt) of iron ore from the mine spread over the lease area of 413.74 hectares. Deposit-13 has an estimated reserve of 326 million tonnes of high-grade steel-making ore. NCL floated a global tender, inviting proposals from private players to develop and operate the mine. Of the 10 companies that participated in the bid, Adani Enterprises was selected as the successful bidder and appointed as the mining contractor in December 2018.
While the Adani Group claimed that it did not interfere in the Gram Sabha proceedings which took place in 2014, locals on the ground suggest that the clearances were forged to pave way for the group.
The Wire quoted an official on behalf of Adani Enterprises who said: “The Gram Sabha consent was taken in 2014, much before Adani Enterprises became the MDO. Who did what then has nothing to do with us because we were not even in the picture then.”
Speaking to NewsClick, Sanjay Parate of the Communist Party of India (Marxist) (CPI(M)) said: “Questions need to be raised over the pattern of this allocation, on how public ownership was shifted to a private one. It becomes clear that the lease was to be given to the Adanis and there were ways which were being figured out to do so. This pattern is seen across the state and therefore the larger picture needs to be understood.”
He also asked that while the Adanis say they have nothing to do with the process, who profits from the alleged forgery of the Gram Sabha. It is the Adanis who are beneficiaries, he said.
“It has become evident that the entire Gram Sabha process was forged. When one looks at the names of those who had consented to the mining activity in the region, it includes names those who are dead. This is a clear violation of the PESA Act (Panchayats (Extension to Scheduled Areas) Act, 1996) and the Fifth Schedule of the Constitution,” he added.
Alok, a local from the Hasdeo Aranya resistance movement, said: “The report and the move of the State Government needs to be viewed as a direct result of prolonged tribal resistance in the state. The tribals halted the mining process for over 15 days; the state government then announced a probe into the consent of the Gram Sabhas. If the Gram Sabha’s consent is found to be fake, then it should cancel all mining activity. This is an example for other projects such as the Parsa coal block in Hasdeo Aranya forests where probes must be ordered,” he added.
Activists are now demanding an FIR against state officials who were complicit in the process.
The Adivasis in the state are demanding a probe into all such Gram Sabhas where mining consent was suspected of being faked, and locals’ lands grabbed.
Nearly 10,000 tribals had protested against the venture and were on an indefinite dharna, demanding a complete shutdown of Adani’s operations. They had asserted that if mining commenced, the thick jungle cover in Hasdeo Aranya will be completely destroyed. The area has enormous religious significance for the tribals as the hill is revered as the shrine of Pitod Devi, wife of nature god, Nandraj. Mining activities on the hill will also affect water resources like rivers, leaving them dry, thereby affecting tribal lives.
The State Government issued the notice days after the Income Tax Department raided the homes and offices of several politicians. While the Congress and the BJP are politicising mining clearances in the state, the tribals are asserting that their identity and livelihood is on the line.
*The story has been updated to clarify that Adani Group is not “owner” but lease holder selected after bidding and that the State government is going to issue notice on the alleged forgery issue, as per media reports. We deeply regret error on our part.