The Chhattisgarh Bachao Andolan, an alliance of grassroots organisations in the state, is knocking on the doors of Delhi’s power corridors to save the ecologically sensitive forests of Hasdeo-Arand in Chhattisgarh from damage by coal mining.
The Coal Ordinance, October 2014, allowed the NDA government to e-auction coal blocks to private companies. With the upcoming auction of 19 blocks in Surguja and Raigarh districts, 20 gram sabhas from the region passed a resolution, to not allow mines to operate without environmental clearances, consent of the gram sabhas and rehabilitation plans with livelihood.
They fear that while the government will profit, private companies will coerce villagers for consent for environmentally dangerous blocks. When the ministries of environment and forests and of coal had declared the forests no-go zone for mining in 2010, this powerful mining lobby had pressured them to overturn it.
Adivasis Jai Nandan Kolte amd Mangal Sai from Surguja and Kanhai Patel from Raigarh, with CBA workers Alok Shukla and Priyanshu Gupta, have been struggling for appointments with the MOEF, the ministry of coal. minister of tribal affairs and the PMO.
So far, only Prakash Javadekar, union minister for environment and forests, has met them. “He heard us patiently,” says Shukla, CBA convenor, “but focussed on rehabilitation than preventing environmental damage.” According to them, Javadekar was more interested in mitigating the damage, seeing it a necessary fallout of development. He assured them of rehabilitation in affected areas the CBA brought to his attention. The Andolan is cautiously treating this as good news. However, they felt that he wasn’t open to the idea that these villages did not want coal mining at all.
“We also met Jairam Ramesh who assured us of the Congress’s opposition to the Ordinance and KC Tyagi of the JDU, who promised to write a letter to the president,” says Gupta.
Kolte and Sai describe the pitiful state their villages, Ghatbarra and Hariharpur, are in, where a corporate behemoth operates two blocks. “A forest can’t be replaced,” says Kolte. “An adivasi dependent on it his entire life cannot earn his living another way.” He approximates that 50 per cent of adivasi families here are now without livelihood. “Forests and fields are vanishing, there is no agriculture. After the compensation money runs out, the displaced adivasis have no livelihood,” elaborates Shukla.
Compensation is only for title deed holders, which most adivasis are not. Mining started in 2012 in the Surguja region, yet, say Kolte and Shukla, no rehabilitation has happened. Sai lost two acres and, though he has been monetarily compensated, he has not been rehabilitated. His neighbouring village of Kete had to protest en masse in August 2014, stopping mine operations for 4 days, just to get title deeds required for compensation.
Featured image: Chhattisgarh Bachao Aandolan activists including Priyanshu Gupta (left) in Delhi on Monday. Credit: Manit, DNA