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Chhattisgarh: Amid Protests, Tree Felling for Coal Mine Starts in Biodiversity-Rich Hasdeo Arand

At least 10 protesters detained; heavy police force deployed to facilitate tree cutting near Pendramar-Ghatbarra villages in Udaipur development block of Surguja district.
Chhattisgarh: Amid Protests, Tree Felling for Coal Mine Starts in Biodiversity-Rich Hasdeo Arand

Image Courtesy: Chhattisgarh Bachao Andolan

Ambikapur: The Chhattisgarh forest department on Tuesday started cutting trees for an upcoming coal mining project in the biodiversity-rich Hasdeo Arand region amid protest by locals and concerns raised by activists that mining in the area would result in forest destruction and trigger human-animal conflict.

Heavy police force was deployed to facilitate the tree cutting exercise near Pendramar-Ghatbarra villages in Udaipur development block of Surguja district and at least 10 people were detained for allegedly instigating locals to oppose the action, officials said.

The forest department started cutting trees in Pendramar-Ghatbarra forest in the morning for the second phase of the Parsa East Kente Basan (PEKB) coal mine, Surguja Collector Kundan Kumar told PTI.

Asked about the state government's assurance that no new mines will be opened in Hasdeo area, the collector said PEKB is an old mine and necessary clearances have already been granted to it.

Another district administration official said at least 10 villagers have been detained for allegedly obstructing official work and instigating locals against the tree felling exercise.

Activist Alok Shukla, convener of the Chhattisgarh Bachao Andolan NGO, which works for environmental causes and rights of tribals claimed that mining in the ecologically sensitive Hasdeo Arand region would result in the destruction of 1,70,000 hectare of forest and trigger human-elephant conflict.

The state government had granted permission for non-forestry use of 841.538 hectare of forest land for the Parsa mine (Surguja and Surajpur districts) and 1,136.328 hectares for PEKB phase-II mine (Surguja), allotted to Rajasthan Rajya Vidyut Utpadan Nigam Limited (RRVUNL).

The permission was granted after Rajasthan Chief Minister Ashok Gehlot met his Chhattisgarh counterpart Bhupesh Baghel here in March this year seeking to clear hurdles in the development of the coal blocks allotted to the former's state.

According to officials, the first phase of mining on 762 hectare of land in PEKB block, allotted to RVUNL in 2007, was started in 2013 and has been completed.

Locals under the banner of Hasdeo Arand Bachao Sangharsh Samiti have been protesting against allotment of these mines for the last several months.

The forest department in May this year launched a tree cutting exercise to pave the way for the start of the PEKB phase II coal mine, triggering strong opposition from local villagers who forced the authorities to halt their action.

Subsequently, the state government in June halted the proceedings over these three proposed coal mine projects.

Shukla, whose organisation has been at the forefront of protest against allotment of these coal mines, said it is very unfortunate that despite assuring no new mines will be opened in the Hasdeo Arand region, the Congress government started felling of trees and detained the protesters.

The Congress government in Chhattisgarh is favouring corporates, he claimed.

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