Tribal villagers march 300 kms to save their forests; environment ministry approves coal mining in Chhattisgarh’s Hasdeo forest

About 350 protesting tribal villagers marched for ten days to reach Chhattisgarh’s capital Raipur and met Governor Anusuiya Uikey and the state chief minister Bhupesh Baghel who assured them of a probe into the ‘forged’ approval of gram sabhas for coal mining in the forest areas. However, now the Union environment ministry has approved coal mining in the Parsa block of the Hasdeo-Aranya.

Pratyaksh Srivastava
| Updated: October 23rd, 2021

Protesting villagers being assured by the Chhattisgarh governor Anusuiya Uikey on October 14. Photo by arrangement

Almost a week after the Chhattisgarh Governor Anusuiya Uikey assured the protesting tribals of an investigation into the allegedly forged consent of the gram sabhas (village councils), the Union Ministry of Environment, Forest and Climate Change today granted the formal approval for coal mining in the Parsa block of the Hasdeo-Aranya forest area.

“The state government has furnished compliance report in respect of the conditions stipulated in the in-principle approval and has requested the Central Government to grant final approval,” the letter issued by the Union ministry on October 21 stated while granting the approval for the mining in the Parsa block of the forest area. 

“The State Government has forwarded the Draft Biodiversity Assessment Report which has been considered in the Ministry as final report from the State government and the recommendations in the report has been considered to be accepted by the State Government for their compliance. Therefore, in view of the compliance of Stage-I approval and submission of the Biodiversity Assessment Report, approval of the proposal has been considered by the Ministry,” it added.

Explained: Why are hundreds of tribal villagers marching 300-km to meet the Chhattisgarh Governor

A column of estimated 350 protesting tribal villagers, which consisted of men, women and elderly members from the two districts of Sarguja and Korba, had reached the state capital Raipur on October 13 after walking for 10 days and covering a distance of 300 kilometres.

The next day, on October 14, the protestors were allowed to meet the Governor and the state chief minister Bhupesh Baghel who assured them that their grievances would be addressed.

Also Read: Mine Games: Five contentious coal blocks in Chhattisgarh dropped from the auction list, but three objectionable mines added

CM Bhupesh Baghel with the protestors. Photo by arrangement

“We are standing with the aadiwasi of the state. The area of Lemru Elephant Reserve which covers all the coal blocks in the region will not be reduced than 1995 sq km as was decided by the government in 2018,” a state government statement had reportedly mentioned. 

However, the recent approval for coal mining in the Parsa block has come as a shock to the villagers.

Also Read: Coal Allocation: The full story

“The tribal villagers walked 600 kilometres to and from Raipur. They have now reached their homes after being assured of a probe by the Governor in the consent for mining by the gram sabha. But now, the forest clearance has been granted for mining. Is it a joke?” Alok Shukla, convenor of Chhattisgarh Bachao Andolan, an organisation working for the rights of tribals in the state, told Gaon Connection.

Recent approval for coal mining in the Parsa block has come as a shock to the villagers. Photo: Alok Shukla/Twitter

Shukla also stated that the approval would mean that two villages in the Parsa block will be completely displaced and another three will witness partial displacement. 

Also Read: Adivasis in the Central Indian Plateau most deprived; livelihoods tracking initiative can offer useful insights

“Also, at least 100,000 trees will have to be cut down across 841 hectares of forest area… the coal mining in the Hasdeo area is being operationalised based on the findings of the ICFRE (Indian Council of Forestry Research and Education) report,” the Chhattisgarh Bachao Andolan mentioned in a statement issued today

“The report has itself concluded that the mining will cause irreversible damage to the ecosystem which will be hard to compensate for. The human-animal conflict will also intensify as a result of the mining, mentions the report,” it added.

Shukla alleged that both the BJP government at the Centre and the Congress government in the state were working in the interest of the Adani group which is the Mines Developer and Operator for Parsa block.

Villagers marching towards Raipur. Photo: Alok Shukla/Twitter

“The state government should have informed the centre that they are yet to probe the approval by the gram sabhas,” Shukla told Gaon Connection.

“We had people from all age groups in our footmarch. The poor villagers believed that by walking all the way to Raipur, their concerns would be addressed. But all that proved to be futile.,” Shukla said.

Meanwhile, Sudiep Shrivastava, the advocate representing the tribal villagers in the case pertaining to the allegedly forged approval by the village councils to allow mining, told Gaon Connection that the assurance of a probe into the matter is ‘vicious’ if the mining clearance process is not being suspended.

“The meeting between the Governor, CM and the villagers are on the record. They had promised the tribals that the probe will be conducted but all that is futile if the mining operations are being allowed in the area,” Shrivastava said. 

Also Read: Tribal villagers in Odisha’s Sukinda eat chromite dust; govt builds stadiums and playgrounds with musical fountains using mining funds

Chhattisgarh Bachao Andolan has stated in its statement that ‘fake’ village councils were allegedly conducted in 2017-2018 in Hariharpur village, Salhi village and Fatehpur village to grant consent to the mining project in the forest areas.