Adivasis in the forests of Chhattisgarh's Hasdeo Aranya area are continuing their decade-long protest against coal mining even as Chief Minister Bhupesh Baghel gave final clearances for Parsa opencast mining early this month on 6 April.
On Tuesday, 26 April, the villagers who woke up to the sound of tree felling and machines axing the forest held another protest, forcing the deforestation drive to be stopped by the authorities.
On 6 April, the Parsa coal mines in Chhattisgarh's Hasdeo Aranya forests was given the final permit of non-forestry use of land, despite a decade-long protest by the Adivasis. The protesters have alleged falsified gram sabha permissions, pressure politics, and unmet promises by both the state government and mining companies.
The Parsa opencast coal mine has been allotted to Rajasthan's Vidyut Nigam Limited (RVUNL).
A Timeline of Mining Approvals
The Ministry of Environment, Forest and Climate Change granted environment clearance (EC) for Parsa coal mine to operate at the capacity of 5 million tonne per annum (MTPA) in July 2019.
Following this, the stage-I forest clearance was granted for the Parsa coal mine in February 2020. Then, in October 2021, the stage-II clearances were issued for the project.
On 6 April, the final approval by the Bhupesh Baghel-led Chhattisgarh government for the Parsa project was issued along with directions to the principal chief conservator of forests (PCCF) Chhattisgarh and the nodal officer for Forest Conservation Act (FCA) to ensure all conditions mentioned are implemented.
Conditions in Final Approval for Parsa
The Parsa coal block's final approval came with various conditions and stipulations:
RVUNL has been asked to upload the digital map files on e-green watch portal regarding the area diverted, the area under compensatory afforestation, conservation works with regards to soil and moisture along with the wildlife management plans for the area.
The legal status of the diverted forestland shall remain unchanged and the afforestation shall be done in three years.
The net present value of the diverted forest should be submitted as per Supreme Court order/guidelines and RVUNL should comply with all recommendations given by the Indian Council of Forestry Research and Education (ICFRE) on biodiversity conservation.
Large-Scale Displacement and Deforestation
Muneshwar Porte, a resident of Fatehpur village in Surguja district, whose family will now be displaced due to this project, says they have witnessed the fate of Adivasis who were displaced by coal mine projects and do not want to meet the same end.
"We have been fighting against the frauds that the Adivasi people have faced in the name of development and progress in the coal mining projects. We saw villages getting vanished and destroyed in the last coal mining project of Kente Basan (Parsa East Kente Basan Coal mines) and we didn't want to suffer the same fate but we have been pushed to suffer like others who suffered a decade back."Muneshwar Porte
Activists fighting against the coal mining projects in one of the largest un-fragmented forest patches of central India claim that around 700 people will be displaced and around 840 hectares of dense forest land will be destroyed under the Parsa coal mine project.
As per a forest department survey of 2009, around 95,000 trees were expected to be razed down in the process. However, activists now claim that the total number of trees has increased to around 2 lakh.
"Chhattisgarh state government gave final approval for Parsa under Section 2 of Forest Conservation Act, 1980. However, this clearance is based on a forged gram sabha consent," said Bipasha Paul, a member of Chhattisgarh Bachao Aandolan (CBA), an NGO working for the Adivasi rights in coal mining affected Chhattisgarh.
"The affected villages have been continuously protesting against the flawed forest clearance process and land acquisition which is done without gram sabha consent. Most importantly, despite the governor's order to investigate the fake gram sabha incident, the clearance has been granted. According to the local administration and collector the investigation has been done, however, the gram sabha and people have not been consulted on this. Thus, it is just a one-sided report to aid the mining commencement."Bipasha Paul
'Betrayal by the Congress Government'
Sudiep Shrivastava, an environmental lawyer based in Chhattisgarh's Bilaspur, called it a betrayal by the Congress government.
"The biodiversity report conducted jointly by the WII [Wildlife Institute of India] and ICFRE [Indian Council of Forestry Research and Education] has clearly stated that mining further into the Hasdeo forest is not recommended. It categorically denied mining, but no one is really reading the report or its concerns. It will have great impact in the upcoming elections and even greater on the human lives and environment," Shrivastava said.
Talking to The Quint, Alok Shukla, convener of CBA, stated that this was being done by the same Congress government which had come to power on its promise to safeguard tribal interests and oppose exploitation. Everything changes after people get the mandate, he said.
"There have been instances of fake gram sabha consent and illegal land acquisition, which was probed and confirmed by the collector of Surguja. But the Congress government has ignored all this and given permission for people's lives to be destroyed."Alok Shukla
Ramlal Kariyam, a villager, said that though they have been protesting against the mining to ensure protection of Adivasis and their rights, the same government which once had stood with them is now destroying them.
"We have been blindsided by all politicians and we will continue to fight. We will not allow destruction of our lives. They can give as many clearances as they want, we won't budge."Ramlal Kariyam
Biodiversity Report Warns of Adversarial Impact of Coal Mining in the Area
In 2021, a biodiversity report conducted by the ICFRE with the WII, had said:
"Keeping in view the unique, priceless, and rich biodiversity and socio-cultural values, the area around Hasdeo Aranya Coalfield should be declared as no-go area."
Out of the total 24 coal blocks in the Hasdeo region, 14 were recommended to not be opened for mining considering the conservation of forest tracts in the report.
"They (government) think they can destroy Adivasis and continue getting their votes? We have come a long way now. We know that we were used and are being used and we won't let this happen. Bhupesh government will also understand this in the upcoming elections."A protester