A unique yatra which began on October 4, 2021, in which more than 250 Adivasi residents from 30 villages of the Hasdeo Aranya region of Surguja marched under the banner of the Hasdeo Bachao Padyatra, has ended its 10-day march in Raipur. The villagers began their march from Madanpur village, covering the more than 300 km distance to the State capital.
Local Adivasi communities and Gram Sabhas have been protesting since 2014 against the Central and State government’s approval of coal mining projects which will decimate the Hasdeo Aranya forest region of north Chhattisgarh. The region occupies some of India’s pristine and largest contiguous tracts of forest land. These are full of perennial water sources, rich biodiversity, and sustain the livelihoods of Gond Adivasi communities in surrounding villages.
In 2010, the government declared that Hasdeo Aranya should be treated as a ‘No-Go’ zone for coal mining, but this decision was later reversed. Yet, mining corporations have been attracted by the massive coal reserves in the Hasdeo Arand Coalfield, which is estimated to have over a billion metric tonnes of coal spread over 1,878 sq km, of which 1,502 sq km is forest land).
The villages and forests of Hasdeo Aranya have been divided into 18 coal-mining blocks that will be distributed to companies. So far, four coal blocks have been allotted to state-owned companies, which have contracted Adani Enterprises Limited (AEL) as Mine Developer and Operator (MDO).
The women who were protesting said that the Adani group is snatching their homes, forest land where they are living for eight generations, where will their children go, we will protest in Raipur, the government should stop Adani company and should return their homes and their place.
India’s civil rights network, National Alliance of People’s Movements (NAPM), which extended its supportr to the yatra, said, “Even though most of Hasdeo Aranya region is a Schedule V area, crucial laws for protecting the rights of Adivasi communities – including the Panchayats (Extension to Scheduled Areas) Act, 1996 and Forest Rights Act, 2006 are not being implemented here.”
According to NAPM, “Community forest rights claims filed by villagers remain pending. Environmental and forest clearances have proceeded despite strong opposition from Gram Sabhas. In some cases, such as the Parsa Coal Block, the forest clearance was awarded based on fake Gram Sabha proceedings.”
It regrets, “The government has attempted to acquire land for mining under the outdated and draconian Coal Bearing Areas (Acquisition & Development) Act, 1957 to bypass established processes for public consultation and consent from Gram Sabhas”, calling upon the State and Central government authorities to concede to the Adivasis’ “legitimate demands.”
The main demands are of the Hasdeo Bachao Padyatra include cancellation of all land acquisitions made under the Coal Bearing Areas (Acquisition & Development) Act in the area without the consent of the Gram Sabha; cancellation of all coal mining projects in the area; and implementation of the provision for compulsory Gram Sabha consent as per Panchayats (Extension to Scheduled Areas) (PESA) Act, 1996 before proceeding with land acquisition under any law in Fifth Schedule areas.
It also has also demanded immediate cancellation of the forest clearance obtained by making a fake proposal for Parsa coal block and register an FIR against the officer and company who made the fake Gram Sabha proposal; and recognition of community and individual forest rights in all villages and restore Ghatbarra village’s revoked community forest rights.