The boycott of statewide zilla parishad elections on February 7 by the residents of the tribal-dominated Korchi tehsil in Gadchiroli district of Maharashtra has succeeded in shaking the administration out of its slumber. It has responded to the long-standing demands of the residents and given a written undertaking saying no clearance has been given to any mining project in the tehsil, and any unauthorised work will be dealt with sternly.
Following this, the poll boycott was withdrawn, and the tehsil voted on March 11.
The residents had boycotted the polls protesting the proposed iron mining in the Naxalite-affected region. Residents, majority of them farmers, contended that the mining will affect their livelihood and the environment.
“People were apprehensive about iron-ore projects in the area, but we informed them that no clearances had been given to iron-ore mines in the tehsil,” says Durwesh Sonwane, sub-divisional officer (SDO) who also held a meeting with the residents on February 18. “There was also a lot of agitation about unauthorised work being carried out by some unknown people in the forests in the vicinity of Zendepar gram panchayat in connection with the project. We assured people that any unauthorised work will be dealt with sternly,” he adds.
Sonwane, however, refused to comment on whether a written communication to this effect has been given, showing that administration, which had earlier insisted that the poll debacle was caused by a Naxal-related murder in Bhamragad in the same district, is still red-in-the-face over past events.
On the other hand, people’s organisations operating in the area confirmed that an official letter was issued by SDO on February 18 to the effect. “Since the botched and inconclusive public hearing on Ajanta Minerals’ setting up 68 hectare mining project in the area in September last year, there was a lot of tension because the project would have impacted 58 villages in the tehsil,” says Nizamshah Katenge of the non-profit Amhi Amchya Arogyasathi (AAA). The February 18 letter came after several failed meetings between villagers and the authorities, during which the residents repeated demand for written information instead of verbal assurances, he adds.
Katenge informs that during the meeting, in which gram sabhas of affected villages Zendepar, Sohle and Nandli were present in full strength along with representatives from 18 other gram sabhas, a 26-member committee of residents and officials under the chairmanship of the tehsildar has been constituted. The committee will monitor any unauthorised mining-related work.
“However, in a written communication to the administration we have made it clear that the boycott is being withdrawn strictly on condition that no mining will be allowed in the tehsil. If a mining project is given clearance here, we will agitate again,” he adds.
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