On December 24, 2020, the Central Government invoked the Coal Bearing Areas (Acquisition & Development) Act, 1957 in order to acquire over 700 hectares of land in the tribal-dominated Korba district in Chhattisgarh. The area falls under the Hasdeo Aranya Forest.
The Madanpur South coal block at Hasdeo Aranya had been allocated to the Andhra Pradesh Mineral Development Corporation for commercial purposes, in 2016. Mining operations were handed over to the Aditya Birla Group to conduct operations as a Mine Developer and Operator (MDO).
The Gond community has been protesting the allocation since the notification was issued. The community, which is heavily dependent on forest resources, has said that their consent was not taken during the allocation process and that no consultations were held with the Gram Sabhas.
Notably, nearly 503 hectares of this allocated land comprises ‘protected forest’ area. Nevertheless, the Central Government has, through its December 24 notification, also notified these 650 hectares of forest area for prospective coal under the Coal Bearing Act of 1957.
However, opposition against the move is gaining momentum on the ground, with the sarpanches of ten gram sabhas issuing a letter to the Bhupesh Baghel government to stall the process.
Villagers have lodged their objections against the notification, writing to the Chief Minister and the Ministry of Coal. They have also been carrying out rallies to continue to build ongoing momentum against the Centre’s move. In Morga village, which falls under Korba district, hundreds of local tribals gathered in large numbers against the coal mining project and submitted a memorandum to the SDM this week.
Speaking to NewsClick, one of the sarpanches from Korba, who wished to remain anonymous, said: “Our region, our existence is defined by forests. Our communities are forest dwelling communities, we are dependent on Mahua, Sal, Tendu Patta and this is how we sustain ourselves. We are united in our fight to save our forest,” he said.
Activists claimed that the coal block was in the forest’s core area and alleged that the move to acquire Madanpur South was “arbitrary” in nature since the coal ministry had withdrawn Madanpur North as commercial coal block in the auction in September 2020.
Shakuntal Ekka, a resident of Khirati village in Korba, said: “When our area comes under the fifth schedule (of the Constitution), under which no project can be undertaken without the consent of the Gram Sabha, then why is the Modi Government trying to snatch water from us even after our continuous opposition in the Gram Sabha.”
The notification invoked the Coal Bearing Areas Act, according to which the Centre could issue a notice of intention to acquire the land if it was satisfied that coal was obtainable from a tract of land. However, locals fear that due to mining in the pristine region, two major rivers in the Hasdeo area –Hasdeo and Mand – will cease to exist because of mining in Madanpur South.
Speaking to NewsClick, Euanas Toko from the Hasdeo Aranya Sangharsh Samiti said: “The residents of Morga have been fighting against the allocation of mines; we are fighting because the mining activity in the region will destroy our rivers. We live amid the forests, and they will be completely ravaged by this. The mines will also destroy the elephant paths leading to conflicts with them. There are 1,200 gocchars (fields where cows graze) here, which means that the future of all of us is on the line.” A demand is also being made to recognise the rights of community forest resources pending in 21 villages of Hasdeo Aranya region to preserve the livelihood of forest dwelling communities and the environment.
Also Read: Is Centre Violating Peoples’ Rights for Acquiring Coal-Bearing Land in Chhattisgarh?