Chhattisgarh urges Centre to roll back Hasdeo mining nod; activists want more

Letter written to Centre by the state government cites protests and disruption of law and order in the state as the only reason for withdrawing clearance

By Shuchita Jha
Published: Wednesday 02 November 2022
Villagers stage demonstration in Hariharpur, Chattisgarh. Photo: Alok Shukla
Villagers stage demonstration in Hariharpur, Chattisgarh. Photo: Alok Shukla Villagers stage demonstration in Hariharpur, Chattisgarh. Photo: Alok Shukla

The Chhattisgarh government has urged the Centre to cancel approval for diverting forest land in the Hasdeo Aranya region for opencast coal mining.

The state government wrote a letter to the Union Ministry of Environment, Forests and Climate Change (MoEFCC) to cancel the approval for non-forestry use of 841.58 hectares of forest land October 31, 2022. It cited the ongoing protests in the region against the clearance as the reason for the same. 

However, activists in Hasdeo are not happy with the state government’s move. They said the government is resorting to tactics to appease the people instead of taking concrete action. 

They have been holding demonstrations in the state against the three coal blocks that the state government gave final clearances in April this year.

It is good that the government has taken cognisance of the protests and public movement against the forest clearances, but this is not enough, said Alok Shukla, convener of the Chhattisgarh Bachao Andolan, a group involved in the movement.

“It is, in fact, just a way to mislead the people,” he added.

The letter written to MoEFCC by the state government cited protests and disruption of law and order in the state as the only reason for withdrawing clearance, said Umeshwar Singh Arno, sarpanch of the Gram Panchayat of Paturiyadand in Korba district.

The village is just 10 kilometres from where protests are taking place.

The letter was silent on how harmful the project will be to the livelihoods of the tribals, the biodiversity and the fake gram sabha consent issue, he added.

If protests were the reason, they should not have given the final clearance in April. We have been voicing our objections since March 2, Arno said.

We sat on a 75-day dharna or sit-in in December 2019 and carried out a 300 km march to Raipur in October 2021, asking the state government to take cognisance of the fake gram sabha consent, he said.

“Why did the state give the final clearance despite all this,” Arno asked.

Under section 2 of the Forest Conservation Act, the state has the right to withdraw clearance given to such projects, mining in this case, if it feels they may threaten the area’s biodiversity and livelihoods.

The Centre can order the diversion of the forest land with the state’s consent since forests fall under the concurrent list of the Constitution, Shukla added. But the state government is not obliged to give final consent.

“The state has the right to deny consent and not pass the forest clearances. But Chhattisgarh gave the final clearance in April,” said Shukla.

Even in such a case, the state can withdraw the stage II clearance and prevent the project from taking off. He added that it has full right to do so, keeping the welfare of the state, its natural resources and its people as a priority.

“But unfortunately, the state government is just writing letters, trying to wash their hands off the matter,” he added.

The Stage II clearance for the Parsa coal block will uproot the lives of around 700 families from Sahli, Tara, Hariharpur, Fatehpur, Ghatbarra and Janardhanpur villages in Chhattisgarh.

The letter did not mention anything about the development work at the already operational Parsa East Kente Basin-II or the Kente extention.

These blocks were also allotted to the Rajasthan Rajya Vidyut Utpadan Nigam Limited and is operated by the Adani Group.

“Does the state government really think that the MoEFCC will go against such big corporates and deny them the opportunity to mine coal,” asked Shukla. 

The state assembly had unanimously passed a resolution July 27, 2022, urging the Centre to cancel the allocation of coal blocks in Hasdeo Aranya forests — after putting three mining projects in the region on hold indefinitely earlier in the same month.

However, tree-felling in the areas continues despite protests from tribal communities and residents of the villages. The Hasdeo forest — covering Chhattisgarh’s Korba, Sarguja and Surajpur districts — spans an area of 170,000 hectares.

It is a noted migratory corridor and has a significant presence of elephants. It is also the catchment area of the Hasdeo river, the largest tributary of the Mahanadi.

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