According to a resident, the police attempted to chop trees in the village on December 11, but were thwarted by locals
An attempt was made to cut trees in Patrapalli, a village in Odisha's Jharsuguda district, on December 11, 2019, two days after 40,000 trees were cut in Talabira, three kilometres away, to make way for a coal mine.
“The police tried to enter the village and cut trees yesterday, but we managed to keep them out. However, we don’t know how long we can keep them out,” Dilip Kumar Sahu, a resident of Patrapalli, told Down To Earth (DTE).
The coal mine project is being steered by Neyveli Lignite Corporation (NLC) India Ltd. The proposed mine will be spread over Jharsuguda and Sambalpur districts of Odisha.
The police have already thrown a cordon around Patrapalli. The trees earmarked for felling in the village are in the area claimed under the Forest Rights Act, 2006 (FRA) as Community Forest Right (CFR) by the Patrapalli Gram Sabha in 2012. The area marked for the project also has FRA Individual Forest Right (IFR) claim holders belonging to the Gond, Kohl and Munda tribes.
Ironically, the older settlement of Patrapalli was displaced by the Hirakud dam built over the Mahanadi river and around 240 families moved to the present site in 1956.
“The displaced families were promised 10 decimal land each, but we have not been given that. Our CFR claim under FRA is also pending. We are scared; we don’t want to be displaced again,” Sahu said.
While the claim has been filed under FRA, it is still pending. In fact, the village residents had also written to the State Level Monitoring Committee, an FRA-mandated body for grievances, and the Union Ministry of Tribal Affairs in 2014, without any luck.
Under the provisions of FRA, people cannot be displaced unless their rights recognition process is complete.
“No member of a forest dwelling Scheduled Tribe or other traditional forest dweller group shall be evicted or removed from forest land under his occupation till the recognition and verification procedure is complete,” Section 4(5) of FRA says.
“We have approached the collector, the District-Level Monitoring Committee, but without any relief. Whenever the collector seems interested in the CFR claims, he gets transferred,” Sahu said.
“This is not tree felling; this is a slaughter of the ecosystem. Now the felling machines are moving towards dense forests and many trees will be cut,” Sajjad Badshah, a local journalist who is at the site, said. “Jharsuguda is already a critically polluted area and this mine will further deteriorate its condition,” he added.
On March 28 this year, the Union Ministry of Environment, Forest and Climate Change (MoEF&CC) gave Stage II clearance to divert 1,038.187 hectares of forest land for an opencast coal mining project. According to the site inspection report of the Chief Conservator of Forest, Sambalpur, it involves the felling of 1,30,721 trees.
NLC had signed a mine development and operator contract with the Adani Group in 2018.
Moreover, the Talabira village residents also claimed that the district officials acquired a fake Gram Sabha consent for carrying out mining. According to a July 30, 2009, MoEF&CC circular, Gram Sabha consent has to be acquired before forest land diversion.
“Although CFR titles are pending in the area, and some IFR titles have been given, the forest has been diverted for mining. This is a violation under FRA. Also, the Gram Sabha resolution was forged to get consent from the community for mining which is an offence under the Scheduled Caste and Scheduled Tribe (Prevention of Atrocities) Amendment Act, 2015,” said Tushar Dash of Community Forest Rights — Learning and Advocacy, an advocacy group of experts and activists working for creating awareness about FRA.
“This is one of the oldest community-protected forests in India. They have been protecting this since the last 50 years or so. Moreover, this area is both critically polluted and is vulnerable to climate change. To clear the forest for coal mining will make this region further vulnerable to climate change,” he added.
DTE sought comment from the district collector and additional district magistrate of Jharsuguda. Their comments are awaited.
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