Anti-mining protests against the Chhattisgarh government and the Adani group are gaining momentum. The tribals affected by the coal mining projects across 20 villages are currently on an indefinite protest from October 14 to safeguard the Hasdeo Aranya forests spanning over an area of 1, 700 sq kilometres in the state. Tribals allege that the coal mining proposals by the corporate giant Adani were given clearances by flouting environmental norms and sidelining land acquisition processes.
The protesting tribals have heavily criticised the negligence of norms by the state government. In a letter stating their demands, submitted to the Chief Minister on October 21, they wrote, “The auction/allotment of coal blocks is to be done by the Union government, but the state government is mandated to determine the procedures and lays down rules for forest and environment clearance and land acquisition. The state machinery is also responsible and empowered to raise any objections in this matter. It is also imperative to ensure implementation of PESA [Panchayats (Extension to Scheduled Areas) Act] 1996 and FRA (Forest Rights Act) 2006 before initiating processes for land acquisition and forest clearances, and record the (lack of) consent from Gram Sabhas. We urge the state government to consider these demands.” However, the state government has remained unresponsive over the letter.
Speaking to NewsClick, Alok from the Hasdeo Aranya Bachao Sangharsh Samiti said, “The state government is showing complete disinterest and indifference towards us. They have remained unresponsive towards our demands, however, solidarity for our movement is pouring in from across quarters and we are now intensifying our protest.”
The tribals are demanding the immediate scrapping of the land acquisition process undertaken in the villages of Salhi, Hariharpur and Fathepur in the Parsa coal block within Surguja and Surajpur districts which fall under the Schedule V region. It is mandatory to secure written consent letters from gram sabhas for land acquisition for any project – as per the rules of the PESA, 1996. In the 3 villages of the proposed coal block, the acquisition process was carried out without securing the consent of concerned gram sabhas, which is a clear violation of PESA, 1996 and Section 41(3) of the Right to Fair Compensation and Transparency in Land Acquisition, Rehabilitation and Resettlement Act, 2013. Hence, the land acquisition process should be readily cancelled.
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The villagers are also demanding the cancellation of the Stage-I Forest Clearance given to Parsa Coal block as per the provisions of Section 4(5) of the FRA 2006. This is because any diversion of forest land is to be preceded by announcing the settlement of all claims as the FRA mandates, and with the written consent letter of the concerned gram sabhas. In the project affected villages of Salhi, Hariharpur, Fatehpur and Ghatbarra, the settlement of individual and community resource rights is still pending. There has also been no consent taken from the gram sabhas as per constitutional provisions. Hence, the Stage-1 clearance should be cancelled.
The Communist Party of India (Marxist) [CPI(M)] has also released a statement extending solidarity to the ongoing protests. The statement said that the mining activity, if undertaken in the Parsa block, will not only threaten the livelihood in 20 villages but also adversely affect the ecology of the region, changing its topography completely. State secretary of CPI(M) Sanjay Parate alleged that the current Congress government in the state is following the footsteps of the erstwhile BJP government in serving the corporate lobby. He added, “While the allocation of coal blocks is controlled by the central government, however, the state government did not fulfil its responsibility of safeguarding the rights and the livelihood of the tribals under the 5th schedule of the Constitution, the Forest Rights Act (2006), and not taking into consideration the environmental clearance processes. Instead of cracking down on the illegal documentation, the government is trying to crush the peaceful agitation of the tribals.”
The 20 gram sabhas of Hasdeo Aranya passed a unanimous resolution in 2015 to oppose all future auction/allotment of coal blocks and mining, and submitted those to the then Chief Minister and the Prime Minister. In violation of the rights of gram sabhas recognised under Schedule V of the Constitution and PESA rules, the allotments of 5 coal blocks were made. Hence, the protesting groups are now demanding that the environment, forest clearance and land acquisition process in Paturia, Girmudi and Madanpur South coal blocks should be taken into account.
The MoEFCC had declared the entire region as a ‘no-go area’ for mining in the year 2009. On June 23, 2011, the then Union Minister for MoEFCC, Jairam Ramesh, granted forest clearances to 3 coal blocks—Tara, Parsa East and Kante Basan, but promised that no further clearance would be given to any other coal mining projects in this region. Even this forest clearance was later set aside by the National Green Tribunal following Section 2 of the Forest (Conservation) Act 1980 for diversion of 1,898.328 hectares of forest land at Parsa East and Kante-Basan captive coal blocks in favour of Rajasthan Rajya Vidyut Utpadan Nigam Ltd, being managed by the Adani group.
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