The districts of Surguja and Surajpur in northern Chhattisgarh, India, are rich in bio-diversity. They are home and migratory corridor for several species of wildlife, including elephants.
The catchment area of the Hasdeo Bango barrage irrigates four lakh hectares of prime agricultural land. The region is also home to Adivasis and other traditional forest dwellers, and sustains and supports their livelihoods and cultural exchange.
Due to the essential features of this rich area, the Ministry of Environment, Forest and Climate Change declared the entire region as a ‘no-go area’ for mining in the year 2009.
In 23 June 2011, the then Union Minister for the Ministry of Environment and Forests (MoEF) Shri Jairam Ramesh granted forest clearances to three coal blocks – in Tara, Parsa East and Kante Basan – but promised that no further clearance would be given to any other coal mining projects in this region.
Even this forest clearance was later set aside by the National Green Tribunal following Section two of the Forest (Conservation) Act 1980 for diversion of 1898.328 hectares of forest land at Parsa East and Kante-Basan captive coal blocks, in favour of Rajasthan Rajya Vidyut Utpadan Nigam Ltd.
On 30 June 2011, Jairam Ramesh wrote to the Prime Minister’s Office (PMO) regarding proposed clearances to the Morga II coal block allotment and strongly objected to any further mining activity in the proposed region.
The Union government in 2014 neglected the earlier position and started giving clearances to mining projects, thereby paving the way for the destruction of one of most important forest regions of the state.
The auction/allotment of coal blocks is to be done by the Union government, but the state government is mandated to determine the procedures and lays down rules for forest and environment clearance and land acquisition.
The assessment and analysis for the loss of forest life, water sources, flora and fauna, environment changes and impact of these projects on the culture and livelihoods is to be done by the state government.
The state machinery is also responsible and empowered to raise any objections in this matter. It is also imperative to ensure implementation for PESA, 1996 and FRA, 2006 before initiating processes for land acquisition and giving forest clearances. and record the (lack of) consent from Gram Sabhas.
The experiences of the last fifteen years have shown us that these processes are not only ignored, but also violated at the behest of corporate groups. The ill-impacts of these decisions has put the interests of the state at stake and today we are facing cathartic consequences.
Hasdeo Aranya Bachao Sangharsh Samiti hopes that the state government led by Shri Bhupesh Baghel will address the constant terror created by the industrial lobby and address the needs of the communities living in the state who are solely dependent on natural resources for their livelihoods, culture and dignity.
We also hope that the state government would work further to conserve the environment and address the problems faced by the communities in the Hasdeo region.
We urge the state government to consider the following demands, submitted to the Chief Minister on 21 October, 2019:
Scrap the land acquisition process undertaken in the villages of Salhi, Hariharpur and Fathepur in the Parsa coal block: Surguja and Surajpur districts fall as under the Schedule V region. It is mandatory to secure written consent letters from Gram Sabhas for land acquisition for any project – as per the rules of the PESA, 1996. In the three villages of the proposed coal block, the acquisition process was carried out without securing the consent of concerned gram sabhas, which is a clear violation of PESA, 1996 and Section 41(3) of the Right to Fair Compensation and Transparency in Land Acquisition, Rehabilitation and Resettlement Act, 2013. Hence, the land acquisition process should be readily cancelled.
Cancel the Stage-I Forest Clearance given to Parsa Coal block: As per the provisions of Section 4(5) of the Forest Rights Act, 2006 and the letter dated 30th July, 2009 from the Union Ministry of Environment, Forest and Climate Change, any diversion of forest land is to precede with announcing the settlement of all claims as the FRA mandates, and with the written consent letter of the concerned Gram Sabhas. In the affected villages of Salhi, Hariharpur, Fatehpur and Ghatbarra, the settlement of individual and community resource rights is still pending. There has also been no consent taken from the gram sabhas as per constitutional provisions. Hence, the Stage-1 clearance should be cancelled.
Cancel the environment and forest clearance and land acquisition process in the Paturia, Gidhmuri and Madanpur South coal blocks: The 20 gram sabhas of Hasdeo Aranya passed a unanimous resolution in 2015 to oppose all future auction/allotment of coal blocks and mining, and submitted those to the then Chief Minister and the Prime Minister. In violation of the rights of Gram Sabhas recognized under Schedule V of the constitution and PESA rules, the allotments of 5 coal blocks were made. Hence, we demand that the environment, forest clearance and land acquisition process in Paturia, Girmudi and Madanpur South coal blocks.
In addition, the MDO (Mines Developer cum Operator) agreement between Adani group and Chhattisgarh Power Generation Company (which was allotted the Paturia and Gidhmuri coal block) should be cancelled.
This article is based on a press release from Let India Breathe.