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SKM Extends Support to Citizens' March to Save Hasdeo Forests in Chhattisgarh

Activists associated with Chhatisgarh Bachao Andolan allege resumption of tree cutting and mining seems to favour particular business house close to BJP and PM Modi.
SKM Extends

New Delhi: The Samyukta Kisan Morcha (SKM), Chhatisgarh, has extended its support to the proposed citizens' protest march in Hasdeo Arand on January 7 against large-scale cutting of trees for mining of coal. Hasdeo Arand forests are considered bio-diversity rich, with the catchment area of Hasdeo River providing crucial help for drinking water in underdeveloped areas.
The Chhatisgarh government resumed cutting trees after the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) came into power with a thumping majority. However, CM Deo Sai defended the move and maintained that it was an extension of decisions taken by the previous Congress government.

Sanjay Parate, Secretary of All India Kisan Sabha (AIKS), Chhatisgarh, said, “Not a single tree can be cut in Hasdeo without the consent of both the Central and state Governments. Hence, the newly elected BJP government cannot escape by blaming the previous Congress government. The BJP government should follow the resolution passed unanimously in the Assembly, in which it has been resolved to keep Hasdeo mining-free. For this, the allocation of all the coal mines of the Hasdeo area should be cancelled.”

Meanwhile, addressing a press conference on the issue at the Press Club of India in the national capital, activists associated with Chhatisgarh Bachao Andolan said the resumption of tree-cutting and mining seems to favour a particular business house close to BJP and Prime Minister Narendra Modi.

Sudeep Shrivastav, advocate at Chhatisgarh High Court, challenged the decision regarding clearing forests in Hasdeo Arand in 2012 and said that it was a classic case where one could find all evidence when governments choose to favour iits favourite businessman. “After the NGT (National Green Tribunal) ordered a study about the environmental impact in 602 coal blocks, it was found that the entire Hasdeo Arand coalfield was a go area only because it was a compact forest block outside the national sanctuaries,” Shrivastav said.

He added, “In 2014, NGT accepted my submissions and quashed the forest clearance. Simultaneously, it also ordered a study by the Wildlife Institute of India and the Indian Council for Forestry Research and Education. Since the original tender was awarded to a Public Sector Undertaking, a stay order from the Supreme Court was obtained on the pretence that the supply was necessary to keep the power stations running in Rajasthan. Meanwhile, the Central government changed in 2014, and the BJP came to power. Despite the NGT order, no study could take place for five years. Finally, the study could begin in 2019, and the reports could come out in 2021.”

Shrivastav further said that coal was often argued to be essential to produce energy, and we are told that " if you care so much about adivasi lives, you should stop using electricity." He said "Let me put some facts to show how invalid this argument is. This country has coal deposits of 3.5 million tonnes, and we need 1,000 million tonnes per year for our energy needs. If we adjust it to the requirement of an economy progressing at 10% GDP growth, it would come at 2,500 million tonnes. Even if you start extracting coal today, you could mine 1.25 million tonnes till 2070, when you promised to achieve net zero emission in COP and G20."

Only 15% of coal deposits in the country are concentrated in areas like Hasdeo Arand. Out of 900 coal blocks, only 150 blocks are no-go. He further saids: “Now, we have a 4.2 Lakh megawatt cap, and 52% of energy comes from coal-based sources. 48% of energy comes from wind, solar and Hydroelectric plants. However, coal-based plants produce 75% of electricity for consumption. It clearly means that our solar and wind energy plants are under-utilised. You have already promised 500 Gigawatt installation capacity for solar and wind energy but not revealing how much you will actually utilise.”

 “It is sheer coincidence that an excellent PSU named Neyveli Lignite Corporation, which has expertise in mining, awarded this private company contract for mine development and operation. The sole policy in allocation and operations in the coal sector by the Union government seems to favour only one private company. Hasdeo holds only 2% of the country’s deposits. There are 200 other blocks in Chhattisgarh. Yet the insistence on extracting coal from Hasdeo remains because of the low costs of mining. The number of trees to be cut down in Hasdeo will be much larger because the government of India does not count trees if their thickness is less than a foot,” he added.

Prashant Bhushan, Senior Advocate, Supreme Court, told mediapersons that it was a "clear case of violation of environmental norms" by the Union government that no non-forest activity would be allowed if the crowning area is more than 50%. "What’s more surprising is the haste that there are large-scale deployments of paramilitary forces, and more than 15,000 trees have been cut in a matter of three days," he added.

Academic and activist, Nandini Sundar, said that the ruling  BJP would base its entire electoral campaign on Ram Temple in Ayodhya. “Does it really care about the religious faiths of adivasis, who have considered mountains their gods for thousands of years? It is sheer hypocrisy that you place the religious beliefs of Hindus above adivasis,” she added.

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