The Rowghat iron ore mines – one of India's biggest iron ore reserves – that lie in the southern parts of Chhattisgarh, between the Narayanpur and Kanker districts, have yet again stumbled upon tribal opposition.
Hundreds of tribals have been protesting against iron ore mining in the Rowghat hills, claiming that it is illegal and that the authorities have not taken consent from the gram sabhas of the affected villages.
The protest, which was launched on Saturday, 26 March, in Khodgaon village of Narayanpur district has intensified into tribal villagers putting up a barricade to prevent the transport of mined iron ore.
The Rowghat Mining Affected Villagers, via a press release issued on Wednesday, 30 March, said that the Bhilai Steel Plant (BSP) had received permission from the environment ministry to mine 3 lakh tonnes of iron ore per year in January 2022. They claimed that the BSP had also received permission to transport it through the roads, but that till date, the villages affected by the mining had not given their consent for the project, thereby making it 'illegal'.
Bhilai Steel Plant, an undertaking of the Public Sector Steel Authority of India Limited (SAIL) has been eyeing the iron ore under Rowghat mountains (estimated over 500 million tonnes) for its use since the 1980s.
However, speaking to The Quint, Samir Swarup, the chief general manager (Mines-Rowghat) of the BSP, claimed that they had all the necessary permissions and that the allegations raised by the villagers and their protest were baseless and wrong.
"I would only like to say that this is wrong. The protest is wrong and has no value. We have all the necessary permissions, including the consent of the gram sabhas."Samir Swarup, chief general manager, BSP
'Mining Affecting Our Lives,' Say Villagers
Speaking to The Quint, Sudduram Usendi, one of the protesters, said that the mining activity was affecting their livelihood and destroying their crops.
"The trees that are being cut to mine the iron ore used to be our livelihood. We didn't cut trees, but we plucked fruits like mahua and earned a livelihood. But now, since the trees are being felled, we don't know how to survive. The mining company hasn't given any jobs to us. Where will we go?"Sudduram Usendi, a villager
Another villager at the protest site said that all they wanted was decent schools, health, and fundamental rights. "We don't want to drink contaminated water, which is a result of the mining activity. That is why we are opposing it," the protester said.
In the press release, the villagers said that they had stopped a transportation attempt by the BSP's contractor, Dev Mining Company, and got the two trucks to empty out their loads in the middle of Khodgaon village.
"At that time, we tried to get an FIR registered against the illegal mining, but the police didn't file our case," the press note read.
"It is pertinent to note that as per clause A(xxii) of the Environment Clearance granted to the company, all trucks are permitted to run on these roads only during daytime, and any transportation during night is strictly prohibited," the release further said.
P Sundarraj, Inspector General of Bastar Range, however, claimed that there was no hindrance with regard to the ongoing mining project and that issues would be addressed by the authorities concerned.
"Based on this lease agreement, Bhilai Steel Plant, through its authorised operator, have started preliminary works related to mining. But villagers of Khodgaon have certain demands from Bhilai Steel Plant with regard to development works in their region, like schools/hospitals etc."P Sundarraj, Inspector General, Bastar Range
In the last couple of days, the villagers have put up a barricade near their village border to amplify their demands, he said. "Though there is no hindrance with regard to the ongoing mining project, the issue would be addressed by the intervention of concerned authorities, so that the genuine demands of the villagers get resolved," Sundarraj added.
The custodian of the Sarv Adivasi Samaj Chhattisgarh, Arvind Netam, meanwhile, alleged that not only Rowghat, but all the mining projects in Maoist-affected Bastar had either been launched with fake gram sabha consents or with coerced ones.
"I have been fighting against these for a very long time now. We, the people of Bastar, have been fooled by all the governments. The gram sabha consents have either been forged or coerced out of innocent tribals. Rowghat mining too falls in the same category. I also filed a public interest litigation against this mining project in the Supreme Court some five years ago."Arvind Netam
(With inputs from Bindesh Patra.)