Congress leader Rahul Gandhi on Monday, 23 May, said he had a 'problem' with the decisions related to mining that were being taken by the Congress-led Chhattisgarh government.
A student at Cambridge University quizzed Gandhi about the Congress party's stand on the protection of tribal rights while sanctioning forest clearances for the sake of mining, to which Gandhi said that he did not defend the decisions of the incumbent government.
The video of this conversation went viral on Wednesday.
In response to a student's question on the Congress backtracking on its previous promises and the Bhupesh Baghel-led government's actions, Gandhi said: "I am working on it. I have a problem with the decision, myself. So I don't defend." He added that he was aware of the protests in Hasdeo.
"I know that the protest is going on and I think in some ways the protest is justified," he added.
Congress Govt Granted Approval Amidst Tribal Protests
The Bhupesh Baghel-led Chhattisgarh government issued approval for the second phase of mining in Parsa East Kente Basan (PEKB) coal block on 25 March.
However, a press release by the government's public relations department on 26 March said that the approval was still under consideration.
A copy of the approval accessed by The Quint shows that it was, in fact, given on 25 March, stipulating nine conditions.
In the same tehsil where approval for the second phase of the PEKB mine was given, the Congress government in Chhattisgarh, within a fortnight, issued the final approval for mining in the Parsa coal block.
Chhattisgarh's Forest and Climate Change Department granted approval for 841.538 hectares of non-forestry use of land and coal mining in the Parsa mining project with 15 conditions.
Both mines are located in Chhattisgarh's Hasdeo Arand area, one of the largest unfragmented forest patches in central India.
Intervention Necessary, Say Activists
Activists say that an immediate intervention into the decisions by the Bhupesh Baghel government is a must to ensure protection of tribal rights as well as to address the environmental concerns.
"It is important to ask that despite Rahul Gandhi's commitment what is actually driving both the Rajasthan and Chhattisgarh Congress governments to work against the will and constitutional rights of adivasis in Hasdeo and the citizens of Chhattisgarh who are now vocal and urging CM to refrain from decisions of mining in Hasdeo," said Bipasha Paul, member of Chhattisgarh Bachao Aandolan (CBA), a pressure group working for tribal rights.
Welcoming the statements, the convener of the CBA, Alok Shukla, said that it was high time Gandhi took cognisance of the matter as per his promises.
"We can only say that it's a welcome stance. We have been urging the same. He should intervene in the process, ask his party leaders the right questions, and ensure that tribals of Hasdeo are not doomed by the government's actions by pushing for mining in the region," Shukla said.