When Trees Fall In The Chhattisgarh Forest, 20 Villages Make A Sound

The Hindustan Times reported that the people of Chhattisgarh have been protesting against the land acquisition and coal block allotment carried out by the government in the Hasdev Arand region in violation of the Panchyats Extension to Scheduled Area (PESA) Act, which mandates the government to take the Gram Sabha’s permission to acquire tribal land.Coming together under Hasdev Aranya Bachao Sangharsh Samiti (HABSS), people from twenty villages have written to Chief Minister Bhupesh Baghel in protest against these government actions.

Image Courtesy: Hindustan Times

In their letter, the protestors demanded that no mining project be allowed to proceed in the region, that land acquisition in the villages of Salhi, Hariharpur and Fathepur in the Parsa coal block be stopped, and that the forest clearance given to the project by Union Ministry Of Environment, Forest And Climate Change be cancelled.The protestors also demanded that the government must cancel the developer-cum-operator agreement as to the Paturia and Gidhmuri coal blockbetween the Chhattisgarh Power Generation Company (the contractor to which these areas have been allotted) and theAdani group.

The Forest

The Hasdeo Arand Coal field is spread over North Korba, south Surguja and Surajpur districts. At 170,000 hectares,Hasdeo Arand is one of the largest contiguous stretches of dense forest in central India.It is one of the largest contiguous forest areas in Central India outside of the protected area system. The catchment area of the Hasdeo Bango barrage irrigates 4 lakh hectares of prime agricultural land. The forest is extremely rich in bio-diversity reporting the presence of several endangered species. It is also part of a large elephant corridor stretching from supporting the migration of wild elephants from Gumla district in Jharkhand to Korba district of Chhattisgarh.

The Conflict

In 2010, the Ministry of Environment, Forest and Climate Change had declared the region a ‘no-go area’ for mining, meaning that the coalfield areas would never be opened to miners.A 2014 HABSS Report quotes the Forest Advisory Committee (FAC)which was setup in relation to Tara, Parsa, Parsa East &Kete Basan (PEKB) coal-fields in the Hasdeo Arandregion.On inspecting the forest land in Hasdeo-Arand coalfields, in a December 2009 statement, the FAC noted,“the major part of forest area is unsuitable for coal mining due to its high ecological and forest value and no fresh approvals should be granted to the blocks except the two ongoing mines.”

However, in June 2011, the Ministry granted forest clearance toTara and PEKB –three blocks within the area.The Hindu reported that the Environmental Minister of the time,Jairam Ramesh, had said this approval was contingent on the Chhattisgarh government not coming up with fresh applications for opening up the main Hasdeo Arand area, and on full compliance with the Forest Rights Act, which means that any dwellers in the area must have their forest land rights settled, and accept the mining projects.Jai nandan Singh Porte, a local tribal activist, said in 2017 that residents of the villages destroyed by the PEKB mine they have still not been rehabilitated properly in five years.

In 2015,twenty Gram Sabhas of Hasdeo Arand had passed a unanimous resolution to oppose all future auction/allotment of coal blocks and mining, and submitted it to the then chief minister and prime minister.They had raised concerns regarding the loss of their forest-based livelihoods, displacement, pending forest right claims and damage to local water bodies as a result of mining operations.

On March 21, 2019, the Union’s environment ministry gave environmental clearance for open cast coal mining in Parsa in Chhattisgarh’s dense HasdeoArand forests. This project required removing all the vegetation and soil from the area before they can begin digging for coal.

What’s At Stake

The Wire reported thatsince the diversion of forest lands for the various coal mines in the area, according to submitted proposals, would amount to 7,730.774 hectares, it would be nearly impossible to remediate the resultant loss from all the tree felling in the area.

Since the mining work started on the approved coal blocks, it has affected the migratory route of theelephants in the area and has resulted in an increase in the number of human-elephant conflicts in the region, to the detriment of the residents of Hasdeo Arand. Interestingly enough, the area had earlier been proposed for an elephant reserve, which would have prevented its use as a mining site, but the proposal never actually been notified by the state government. If these proposals are granted, the conflict will only increase.

Quartz reported that during the mine’s 34-year life span, around 3,70,000 trees will be felled. The damage caused to the region’s bio diversity as well as Hasdeo Arand’s tribal population will be irreparable.



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