January 12, 2024

Cos Leos

Noticias Latinoamericanas y Actualidad Mundial Manténgase informado y lea las últimas noticias de The Cosleos.com, la fuente definitiva para el periodismo independiente de todos los rincones del mundo.

Decode Politics: A change of govt, and return of Hasdeo Aranya tribal protests in Chhattisgarh | Political Pulse News

5 min read

The possible cutting down of swathes of the dense, biodiversity-rich Hasdeo Aranya forest in Chhattisgarh’s tribal-dominated Surguja district has resurfaced as a political flashpoint ahead of the Lok Sabha elections.

On Sunday, state Congress chief Deepak Baij joined the protests being held by tribals against the cutting of trees. Taking on Chief Minister Vishnu Deo Sai, he taunted that the BJP was using Sai’s tribal identity to camouflage its “intent” of helping Adani Enterprises, which owns the Parsa East and Kente Basan (PEKB) coal fields spread over 1,898 hectares of forest land. As part of Phase 1 of the exercise, mining in 762 hectares is completed. Mining in PEKB Phase 2 is underway in the remaining 1,136 hectares.

Baij challenged Sai to urge Prime Minister Narendra Modi to stop the clearing of the forest, which local tribals consider sacred.

What is the conflict about?

The PEKB coal block is owned by Rajasthan Rajya Vidyut Utpadan Nigam Limited and run by Adani Enterprises, which is the official Mine Developer and Operator in this venture.

coal block

The current flashpoint has arisen as activists want the Parsa coal block cancelled. They also want an assurance that the 1,995 sq km Lemru Reserve Forest, notification for which was passed in 2021, will not be touched. Already, 40 coal blocks (31 inside and 9 adjoining the reserve) have been cancelled by the Union Coal Ministry, on the request of the previous Congress state government.

Festive offer

The activists spearheading the protests point out that Hasdeo Aranya is the “lung of the state”, and its destruction would cause irreparable damage to the environment, tribal life and wildlife, especially worsening the human-elephant conflict. The Lemru Elephant Corridor falls within the area to be mined.

The coal blocks were sanctioned in 2012 when the BJP was in power. Clearing of the forest for the mines began immediately. However, due to protests led by the Hasdeo Aranya Bachao Sangharsh Samiti formed by tribals, this was capped after 1.5 lakh trees had been cut the same year. When in power, the BJP kept silent on the protests over the tree-felling, but while in Opposition, it supported last year’s protest against trees felled for PEKB Phase 2.

The mining had renewed after Rajasthan CM Ashok Gehlot visited his Chhattisgarh counterpart in March 2022 to urge that the coal was needed for the state’s power plants and that Rajasthan would face a power crisis otherwise. Both states were ruled by the Congress at the time.

In the recent elections, the BJP replaced the Congress in both the states, and tree-felling resumed in December 2023. It has picked up pace since.

Who is behind the recent protests?

On Sunday, the Chhattisgarh Bachao Andolan organised a huge protest to stop the tree-felling, starting with the Parsa coal block. While up to 2.5 lakh trees are officially to be felled in this area, the tribals fear the number could go up to 3-4 lakh. Their second demand is that the Coal Ministry keep 40 coal blocks in and around the Lemru Elephant Corridor out of mining; both the previous Congress government and the current BJP government have promised to ensure this.

The organisations which took part in Sunday’s protest included Hasdeo Bachao Sangharsh Samiti, Chhattisgarh Kranti Sena, Johar Chhattisgarh Party, Yuva Sena of the Sarva Adivasi Samaj, Adivasi Yuva Chhatra Sangathan, CPI(M) and the Aam Aadmi Party. The Sanyukta Kisan Morcha that spearheaded the 2020 protests over the farm laws in Punjab and Delhi also announced its support.

One of the protesters, Sunita Borte, belonging to Hariharpur village, claimed to have been at the agitation site for “over 642 days”. Jainandan Singh Porte, the sarpanch of Ghatbharra, one of the affected villages, said, “For five years, we have been fighting against the mining, and will fight till we die.”

What is the Congress claiming?

The Congress position has evolved over time. Though the meeting of Gehlot and Baghel had led to resuming of coal mining as part of the project in March 2022, five months later, in July, under its government, the Vidhan Sabha passed a resolution, which got full support of the BJP MLAs, to cancel the coal blocks in Hasdeo Aranya. On October 31, 2022, the Baghel government wrote to the Centre to cancel the forest clearance to the Parsa Open coal block. On May 1, 2023, the state filed an affidavit in the Supreme Court to stop all coal mining in Hasdeo Aranya.

The Congress government had cited “the area’s biodiversity richness and hydrological importance” for this demand. It had also said that ongoing mining in Parsa “still contains coal deposits of 350 million tons that are yet to be mined. This deposit is sufficient to meet the entire coal demand for the linked power plants of 4,340 MW for nearly 20 years.”
On Sunday, Congress state chief Baij, who is a Lok Sabha MP from Bastar, along with four party MLAs, was present at the protest. Accusing the BJP government of “looting Chhattisgarh’s water, forests and land for Adani”, Baij said: “The start of the forest clearance in Hasdeo as soon as this government was formed is a proof of this.”

Baij urged tribals in the state’s north and south to unite. “Bastar’s iron and Surguja’s coal are being taken away. I had earlier said that the BJP will use a tribal face to exploit our natural resources. Ek taraf Vishnu Deo aur ek taraf Hasdeo (On one side, there is Vishnu Deo; on the other, Hasdeo). You need to decide whom to save. We are with you to save Hasdeo… We will take this (protest) from the streets to the Vidhan Sabha.”
CM Sai has said his government has not given any new permission for tree-cutting in Hasdeo, and that all the clearances were given by the previous Congress government.

Former BJP MLA Saurabh Singh said: “The Congress is a two-faced party that gives permission for felling trees when in power, and creates a ruckus when in the Opposition.” Singh cited the permission given by the Congress government in 2022.
What is the dispute involving the gram sabhas?

As per Alok Shukla, a member of the Chhattisgarh Bachao Andolan, “Clearance was given to the Parsa coal block by orchestrating three sham gram sabha resolutions in 2018 during BJP rule, at Salhi, Hariharpur and Fatehpur.” Demanding a probe, Shukla claims that the previous Congress government had ignored a letter in this regard by the then governor on October 23, 2021.

In her letter to the Chhattisgarh government, then Governor Anusuya Uikey wrote that over a thousand villagers had walked all the way from Korba to meet her at the Governor’s House to complain that fake gram sabhas had been held so as to clear land acquisition for the Parsa coal mine. Pointing out that the Panchayat Extension to Scheduled Areas Act applied to Hasdeo, and hence gram sabha nod was necessary to acquire land, Uikey had asked the government to conduct an inquiry.

While addressing the crowd at Sunday’s protest, Baij had acknowledged Congress failings. He said, “The gram sabhas were held when our government was not in power. But we did not conduct a probe into the fake gram sabhas. I admit it was our mistake. But I am a tribal too and i understand your pain. Bastar and Surguja must unite to fight together to save its iron ore and coal respectively. Its not only about Surguja, its about pride of Chhattisgarh.”

Copyright © All rights reserved. | Newsphere by AF themes.