Despite continuing protests and a recent 330km foot march by affected villagers of Hasdeo Arand region against coal mining projects, the Central government accorded stage-II forest clearance to Parsa coal block in the forest area on Thursday.
The Chhattisgarh Bachao Andolan (CBA), which has been spearheading the protest movement of Hasdeo villagers, has strongly opposed the move and demanded immediate revocation of the clearance. The organisation has said the stage-I forest clearance itself was based on fake gram sabha consent documents and this makes the stage-II clearance illegal.
The CBA, while calling the grant of forest clearance a step under pressure from the corporates, has demanded a probe into the fake gram sabha consent documents and action against those responsible. The Parsa coal block has been allocated to the government entity, Rajasthan Rajya Vidyut Utpadan Nigam Limited (RRVUNL), and the mining is to be undertaken by the Adani Group as the mining development cum operator (MDO).
In a press statement, the CBA said the Parsa Open Cast Coal Mining Project will lead to complete displacement of two villages, partial displacement of three villages and felling of at least one lakh trees in 841 hectare area in the eco-sensitive Hasdeo Arand forests in north Chhattisgarh.
The organisation said villages have been protesting the stage-I forest clearance to Parsa block, allegedly given on the basis of fake gram sabha documents since 2018 and had staged 73-day sit-in in Fatehpur of Sarguja district in 2019.
Only recently, between October 4 and 13, hundreds of villagers of Hasdeo Arand region marched 300km to state capital Raipur to protest the coal mining projects in the forests and met Governor Anusuiya Uike and Chief Minister Bhupesh Baghel to demand cancellation of the projects. However, the stage-II forest clearance to one of the projects at Parsa was issued by the Union ministry of environment and forests (MoEF) within a week of these protests.
The organisation said according to the Forest Rights Act, 2006, before the forest clearance to any project, completion of forest rights claims process and written consent of the gram sabhas (village councils) concerned is imperative. However, the forest rights claims of the villagers related to Parsa open cast mine are still pending and the gram sabha consents dated January 24, 2018 for Hariharpur, January 27, 2018 for village Salhi and August 26, 2017 for village Fatehpur were fake, the CBA has alleged. The demand for probe into these fake consents has been made repeatedly, but no action has been taken by the state government, the organisation said.
The Hasdeo Arand forests were declared an entirely ‘No-Go area’ in 2010 based on a joint study of the ministry of coal and ministry of environment and forests. Such ‘No-Go’ areas are less than 10 per cent of India’s coal-bearing areas deemed as “out of bounds” for mining.
Even after multiple policy revisions, the maximum portion of Hasdeo Arand are still deemed “inviolate”. Yet, new mines are being opened in violation of the policy, Alok Shukla of CBA has said.
The forests also form a part of the Lemru elephant reserve project for conserving elephants and reducing human-elephant conflict, but successive state governments have failed to notify the reserve and the project boundaries have now been modified to exclude all coal-bearing areas.
Forest Clearance for Parsa East and Kete Basan (PEKB) project was cancelled by NGT in 2014 and currently the mining is operational through a stay order as case is pending in the Supreme Court.
Last year, five coal blocks in the area were withdrawn from auctions by the Union government based on state government intervention. Yet, pre-mining activities continue in four other adjacent coal blocks, among them the Parsa coal block.
c. The Week