Tucked inside industrial Odisha’s Sambalpur region in Munda Pada, Gond and Munda tribes are fighting a lone battle to protect the green lungs of the state -- The Talabira forests.
Their green cover is on the verge of being wiped out, owing to the expansion of the Adani Group’s mining activity in the region. More than 40,000 trees were cut in Talabira forest on December 9 and 10 for establishing an open-pit coal mine. Since, mining activity has picked up pace in the region despite the ongoing resistance movement by the tribal communities.
Forest Rights Flouted, Tribal Claims Rejected:
“The total area being covered is approximately 4,000 acres of land out of which 54% of the land is forest land, close to about 2,500 acres,” said Ananta from the protest site. Speaking to NewsClick, a local said, “Mining activity has commenced and our trees have been cleared. Imagine just how much land we will end up losing?”
The coal mining project, will take approximately seven completely forest -dependent villages in its ambit, affecting over 10,000 tribals with the most adversely affected being Sambalpur and Jharsuguda. “The resistance for us is relentless because we were kept in the dark about our land. We were given no answers on the land claims that we had filed. The pattern remains same across villages. In Patrapali, we have been seeking individual forest rights since 2012 which have still not been granted. The Gram Sabha process flouted Community Rights while the government is projecting this as a “legal” acquisition of land taking place. However, to us, the Gram Sabha clearance is nothing more than “forgery”,” Anant said.
On December 11, local authorities reportedly moved the tree felling to Patrapali village, 3 kilometers away from Talabira – threatening to destroy forests that villagers have protected for the past four decades.
In March 2019, the Ministry of Environment, Forests and Climate Change provided a clearance to divert 1,038 hectares of forest land for open-cast coal mining projects called Talabira II and III coal blocks. The proposed project belongs to Neyveli Lignite Corporation (NLC) India and is located in the Jharsuguda and Sambalpur districts of Odisha. Interestingly, NLC had signed a mine development and operator contract with the Adani Group in 2018.
The area has been actively protected by villagers for between 40 and 50 years. In order to do so, village communities have formed traditional village forest committees which have been protecting the forests for decades, either by community members patrolling or by watchmen paid through voluntary contributions by villagers.
The destruction of forests in the region is also a grave violation of the Forest Rights Act (FRA) 2006. According to the National Alliance of People’s Movement (NAPM), one of the villages, Patrapali, has already submitted Community Forest Rights claims, which are still pending. In addition to this, villagers have said that district officials acquired a fake Gram Sabha consent for carrying out mining.
According to a MoEF&CC circular on July 30, 2009, Gram Sabha consent has to be acquired before forest diversion. In fact, village communities have passed strong Gram Sabha resolutions rejecting the proposed diversion of forests for the coal-mine. Thus, the Stage II clearance of the project is illegal and contravenes not only the FRA but also the Scheduled Caste and Scheduled Tribes (Prevention of Atrocities) Act (PoA), 1989, as a majority of the population is SC/ST. Activists on the ground say that forest officials failed to spread awareness about the rights given to the villagers and the Gram Sabha under the FRA, leading to a dilution of the rights of the tribal community.
Locals are not convinced about the “re-plantation” promises being made by the corporate giant and are taking on the apathetic approach of the government by continuing their resistance.
Read Also: Talabira Odisha: Over 40,000 Trees Removed to Pave Way for Adani’s Mine