Since October 2021, when the Chhattisgarh government gave its final approval to the Parsa coal mine with a capacity of five million tons per annum, mining has been unofficially halted as the villagers of Hariharpur, Salhi and Fatehpur in Hasdeo say they never agreed with the expropriation of 841 hectares (ha) of forest land for it — an essential step in the process before forest land mining permits can be granted.
The open-pit mining project falls within Surajpur and Surguja districts. Activists have claimed that about 700 people will be displaced and about 841 ha of dense forest destroyed as a result of the Parsa mining project. According to the forest department’s 2009 census, about 92,000 trees were expected to be felled, but now, in 2022, the number of trees is likely to be much higher, she added.
HT has seen letters from the gram sabhas to former Chhattisgarh Governor Anusiya Uikey and the Government of Chhattisgarh requesting to investigate how the Forest Advisory Board of the Union Ministry of Environment granted a final forest clearance to the mine on October 21, 2021 , based on what they’re calling a farzi (fake) Gram Sabha.
Another mine in Hasdeo Arand, the Parsa East Kete Basan (PEKB), is also under the scanner, as a case is pending in the Supreme Court, which has challenged mining in the region over its impact on the fragile ecology and biodiversity of the region. the forests .
Hasdeo Arand is one of the largest contiguous tracts of very dense forest in central India, covering 170,000 hectares and containing 23 coal blocks. In 2009, the Ministry of the Environment categorized Hasdeo Arand as a “No-Go” zone for mining because of its rich forest cover, but reopened it to mining because the policy had not yet been finalized.
The filing in SC on PEKB references a 2014 National Green Tribunal ruling that sought details of the meaning of the block’s preservation and; whether it is a migration route for animals; its endemic flora and fauna, among others. The Chhattisgarh government commissioned an inquiry five years after the NGT order was passed. The expenses for the study were borne by Rajasthan Rajya Vidyut Utpadan Nigam Limited (RRVUNL), which owns the mine and has a direct conflict of interest, the application filed by lawyer Sudiep Shrivastava said.
The Chhattisgarh government commissioned the Indian Council of Forestry Research and Education (IFRE) to conduct the study, which in turn engaged the Wildlife Institute of India. The ICFRE report recommended that no mining be allowed in the region, except in the ongoing portion of the PEKB mine in Hasdeo. The WII also underlined that no other area in Hasdeo Arand should be demolished for mining, that the PEKB coal blocks provide a habitat for rare, threatened and endangered fauna, and that the habitat connection between the Hasdeo Arand area and the Achanakmar Tiger Reserve, Boramdeo and The Kanha Tiger Reserve is strong and can support the sporadic distribution of tigers. Consistent with WII’s report, the filing requested that SC prohibit all mining in the Hasdeo Arand forest area. The application will be heard on July 18.
HT reported on March 5, 2021 that forest clearance for phase 1 of the PEKB coal block, which involves the diversion of 762 ha, has been granted for 15 years in March 2012 for an annual capacity of 10 million tonnes per annum (MTPA). But in less than nine years, the mine had almost exhausted its reserves. The mine sought an additional 269,845 hectares of forest land during Phase 1 of their project, which was granted by the Ministry of the Union.
Why is mining in Hasdeo Arand a contentious issue?
Both mines are owned by RRVUNL, while the coal mine developer cum operator (MDO) business has been awarded to Adani Enterprises. The Washington Post reported on June 5 that there may be a common thread in the administration’s crackdown on an independent public policy think tank, law firm and environmental group. On September 7, the Indian Revenue Service simultaneously raided three seemingly unrelated non-profit organizations, each of which was found to be in the way of a particularly controversial project: a coal mine in a lush forest in Central India called Hasdeo Arand , the report said.
However, concerns about mining in Parsa began in 2021. HT reported on October 30, 2021 that the granting of Phase II or final forest clearing to the Parsa opencast coal mine had led to widespread protests from the affected villagers. Villagers of Fatehpur, Hariharpur and Salhi had claimed that Gram Sabha permission was falsified for Phase 1 approval and that the forest clearing grant by the center was premature.
“The first is that the gram sabha did not approve of the diversion of this forest. It was counterfeit. Second, for us tribes, the entire Hasdeo Arand forest is like our bank account. We depend entirely on it for food and feed. We will be devastated if we are thrown out of our forest,” said Ramlal Karyam, who was in Delhi at the time to meet with congress leaders.
It is mandatory for the district collector to complete the process of recognizing and acquiring forest rights in accordance with the provisions of the Scheduled Tribes and Other Traditional Forest Dwellers (Recognition of Forest Rights) Act, 2006 for the entire forest area indicated in the proposal; Obtain the consent of any Gram Sabha having jurisdiction over all or part of the forest area designated in the proposal under forest conservation rules.
Thereafter, the villagers raised the issue of Gram Sabha’s allegedly falsified consent with the Chhattisgarh government and the former governor, Anusiya Uikey. According to a letter dated February 22, 2022, addressed to the then governor, Uikey, villagers said that it had been three months since they had filed a complaint with the Chhattisgarh government to investigate the falsified consent, but that no investigation was ordered. They feared being driven from their villages even before the complaint was investigated, as the Union Ministry had already given final approval to the project.
In 2021, villagers also gathered about their complaint to Uikey. In a letter dated 25 October 2021, Uikey had written to Chhattisgarh’s chief secretary, Amitabh Jain, recommending an investigation into allegations of counterfeit gram sabha by villagers, especially as the issue concerned the Panchayat (Extension to Scheduled Areas) Act (or PESA ), 1996. “There has been no investigation yet. On the ground, there is no mining in the Parsa block. It is an unofficial mining residence. Villagers are waiting for their concerns to be addressed,” said Bipasha Paul, environmentalist and member of Chhattisgarh Bachao Andolan.
HT sent inquiries to Adani Enterprises on June 12 seeking an answer as to whether mining at the Parsa block in Chhattisgarh was continuing and whether work was being postponed pending the SC hearing. Adani Enterprises responded that the RRVUNL was better placed to provide details. JP Maurya, Mining Minister, Chhattisgarh also did not answer HT’s calls. The Parivesh website of the Union Ministry of the Environment states that the proposal has been approved. The estimated cost of the project is €1960 crore.
According to locals, mining continues in part of the PEKB block: “The SC hearing is scheduled for July 18. We’ve been looking for a direction that no further area of Hasdeo Arand is being put up for mining. This is what WII recommended. The union’s environment ministry ignored the findings,” said Sudiep Shrivastava, an environmental lawyer from Bilaspur who is the defendant in the case.
Rajasthan’s power problems
The unannounced mining stay has sparked concerns in Rajasthan, where 50% of power generation for the state relies on coal from mines in Chhattisgarh and the rest comes largely from mines in Coal India, according to officials who would not be named. become.
“It is interesting that despite being a large solar energy generator, most of the generation is used in other states, while Rajasthan remains dependent on thermal energy. Efforts are being made to address the concerns of local communities in Parsa,” said an official.
“Smooth operation of the PEKB coal mine is the paramount requirement for Rajasthan. About 4340 MW of power plants depend on coal from the company’s own coal mine. Sustainable power generation from these power plants is of crucial importance to the state of Rajasthan,” said RK Sharma, Chairman and Managing Director of RRUVNL.
HT reported on June 25 that Chhattisgarh had asked the central government to stop auctioning nine of its 23 coalfields in pristine forests around the Hasdeo Arand and Mand River basin, as mining in these areas would harm local ecosystems. The auction of the nine coal blocks will impact the lives of people in 24 villages and would destroy the local ecology, the state government said in a June 23 letter to the Union coal secretary.
“The Chhattisgarh meeting on July 26, 2022 had decided to cancel all coal blocks in the Hasdeo area. The coal ministry was notified of the resolution on September 19, 2022,” Jai Prakash Maurya, special secretary of mining of the Chhattisgarh government, said in the letter. “I have been instructed to express the objection of the state government to the proposed auction of nine block blocks in the area.”
On March 29, the center announced the seventh round of its coal mine auction, which has 101 mines, including the Tara block in Chhattisgarh’s Hasdeo Arand forests and the Mahan coal block in Madhya Pradesh. Tara has a forest cover of 81%, of which very dense forest cover (VDF) covers about 15.96 square kilometers (1,596 ha) of the block; Mahan has a forest cover of 97% with very dense forests occupying 3.72 square kilometers (372 ha) of the block.
The article has been edited to correct Bipasha Paul’s workplace. An earlier version stated that she was working with Jan Abhivyakti. She now works with Chhattisgarh Bachao Andolan.