Thousands of tribals continued with their agitation on the fifth day against the acquisition of the 10MTPA capacity Bailadila Iron-ore on a hill in Chhattisgarh’s Dantewada district by Adani Enterprises Ltd as a Mine Developer-Cum-Operator (MDO). The tribals worship the hill, belonging to NMDC, as a deity.
On Monday, the protestors, under the banner of Sanyukt Panchayat Jan Sangharsh Samiti, gheraoed public sector National Mineral Development Corporation’s (NMDC) check-post in Kirandul, paralysing work at Bailadila three days in a row.
Undeterred by the scorching heat, wielding bows and arrows, the protesters from about 200 villages in Dantewada, Sukma and Bijapur districts, sang songs of resistance, while pledging to continue their agitation with more intensity, as per reports.
Nearly 10,000 tribals have reached Kirandul-Bailadila and and are sitting on an indefinite dharna Friday onward. They are demanding a complete shutdown of Adani’s operations and are asserting that if mining commences here, the thick jungle cover in Hasdeo Arand area will be completely destroyed.
The area has enormous religious significance for the tribals. The hill is revered as the shrine of Pitod devi, wife of nature god, Nandraj, which is why the tribals cannot allow mining activity in mineral-rich Deposit 13, as the site houses their deity. Mining activities on the hill will also affect water resources, like rivers, leaving them dry thereby affecting the lives of the tribals.
The NMDC formed a joint venture with Chhattisgarh Mineral Development Corporation (CMDC) in 2008. The new entity NCL (NMDC-CMDC) 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 a huge reserve of 326 million tonnes of high-grade steel-making raw material. 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.
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Speaking to Newsclick, Sanjay Parate, state secretary of the Communist Party of India (Marxist), said: “The Congress government allowed mining activities to Adani and the Forest Minister allowed felling of over 25,000 trees in Nandaraj Parvat. The acquisition of the tribal land by the Adani group is a textbook example of corporate nexus with political parties,” adding that this “sheds light on the greater problem of the dilution of the Forests Rights Act and the rights of the tribals.”
Parate said the “BJP and the Congress are no different when it comes to the issues of the tribals, as what started with BJP’s style of corporate favoritism has now translated to Congress kneeling before the Adani group.”
Reportedly, the Adani group has been allocated five other mines in the region. Parate said: “14 coal blocks having deposit of 5,305 mt has been allocated to corporate houses after the state government’s aproval. From these mines, the state government is losing Rs 12.5 lakh crore while the Centre is losing Rs 60 lakh crore,” he claimed, alleging that the Congress government, “which has barely assumed power a 100 days ago, is indulging in massive financial irregularities.”
Meanwhile, NMDC and Adani Enterprises issued statements saying they believed in “growth with goodness” and that the mining operations were commencing after taking all clearances, including consent of the respective gram sabhas.
Refuting this, Parate said, “The resistance is a reminder of the power of people’s struggles for the rights of their own livelihoods, forests and their lands, and against the corporate greed. We are gearing up to make the movement as big as the Niyamgiri resistance struggle in Odisha.”
In 2013, tribals had protested against mining in Niyamgiri hills in Odisha saying the hill was their local deity. Niyamgiri hills are home to more than 15,000 Kondh tribes (Dongria and Kutia) living in 160 villages spread across Rayagada and Kalahandi districts of the state. The tribes consider the hills as sacred and worship the hill, calling it ‘Niyam Raja’.
In a big win for the Dongria Kondhs, In 2016, three-judge bench of the Supreme Court on May 6 rejected Odisha government-owned miner, Odisha Mining Corporation (OMC)’s petition for conducting gram sabhas for the second time for mining in the Niyamgiri hills, putting an end over the speculation that mining may be resumed in the sacred hills.
However, new environmental policy under the Modi government has flared up the anxieties of tribals. The new government has already announced some major policy decisions that are waiting for approval. These changes, some of which were proposed in the last 100 days, are related to amendments in the Indian Forest Act, 1927, overhaul of the Environment Impact Assessment notification 2006 and the new National Forest Policy.
The Narendra Modi 2.0 government is now gearing up to bring changes to the Indian Forests Act (1927). After having failed to defend the Forest Rights Act (FRA) in the Supreme Court, the Ministry of Forests, Environment and Climate Change (MoEFC) has now introduced a draconian draft amendment to the colonial era, Indian Forests Act.
The draft law proposes to restore higher management powers and also to provide veto powers to the forest bureaucracy. This essentially means denial of rights to tribals and traditional forest dwellers. It is important to note that in February this year, the claims of nearly 11,27,446 tribal and other forest-dwelling households were rejected on various grounds by the Supreme Court after the respective ministries failed to defend the FRA and did not even turn up for the court hearings.