Chhattisgarh mining protests continue on Day 5

Since June 7, tribals in Bastar’s Bailadila have been protesting the NMDC’s allotment of mines on the Nandraj hill to the Adani Group

By Raju Sajwan, Purushottam Thakur
Last Updated: Wednesday 12 June 2019
Photo: Purshottam Singh Thakur
Photo: Purshottam Singh Thakur Photo: Purshottam Singh Thakur

A protest by tribals in Chhattisgarh’s Bailadila against a mining lease being given to the Adani Group continued on June 12, in spite of the government having stayed all project activities.

The protestors said they would continue their demonstrations in front of the National Mineral Development Corporation (NMDC) till the government cancelled the lease.

Tribals from distant villages like Gangalur, Matur, Pittapal, Hurepal and Munder (which are over 50 kilometres away), have been on protest since June 7, opposing the NMDC’s allotment of Mine number 13 to the Adani Group.

“Until we save the Nandraj hill, we will not go from here,” Jogi Mandvi, a 60-year-old tribal woman, who has come all the way from Piranar village in Bijapur district’s Irolei gram panchayat, told Down To Earth (DTE).

A widow, Mandvi said the water in her village looked red, possibly because of mining.

“We are farmers who produce maize for money. We also collect wood, mahua, leaves and other resources from the forest. But if there are no mountains and jungles left, how will earn our livelihood?” asked another woman who did not wish to be identified.

Tribal leader and social activist Soni Sori also joined the protests.

“I am also a tribal and these are my tribal sisters. These hills and this land is ours and we will fight for it," she told DTE.

"When the Nandraj hill is talked about, our faith is talked about. The destruction of our water, forests and land in the name of mining, the felling of trees and cutting of rocks can potentially destroy our tribal ways of living. This is why we only want our water, forest and land and nothing else. I knew that everyone would come forward one day for this," she added.

A popular tune among the protesting tribals is the song of the youth leader of the Kashipur protests, Bhagwan Majhi. The song, Gaon chhorab nahi, Jangal chhorab nahi states how the protestors will not leave their villages, will not abandon their forests, will not forget their origins and will never stop fighting.

The protests have slowly gained momentum, with even political parties coming forward to support them. On the second day of the protest, former chief minister of Chhattisgarh Ajit Jogi, arrived at the spot and supported the protestors.

He visited the sacred Nandraj hill to pray. “Just as the Ram temple is a sacred place of worship for the Hindus, similarly the Nandraj hill is a symbol of faith for the tribals and we will not allow it to get excavated,” Jogi said.

In 2015, the forest department had given clearances for 315.813 hectares of Bailadila depository number 13 for the purpose of iron ore mining.  In these areas, the NMDC and state government were supposed to do mining jointly.

For this, a joint venture, NCL, was created between the two entities. However, the lease was later transferred to the privately-owned Adani Group for 25 years.

Bailadila depository number 13 has potential iron ore reserves equaling 25 crore tonnes.

After the protests broke out, Chhattisgarh Chief Minister Bhupesh Baghel met with tribal leaders. Subsequently, Baghel ordered that all mining works in Deposit No. 13 be stopped.

The government also assured that it would look into the complaints the gram sabha had raised in 2014. It also ordered an investigation in the allegation related to the felling of trees in the area. 

(Translated by Harshita Alok Sharma) 

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