Baghel govt puts mining work on hold

The Chhattisgarh government on Thursday said it has stopped all mining work on ground in Hasdeo Aranya forests. The oral decision, passed top-down, which comes days after state minister and local MLA T S Singh Deo visited the forests and joined forces with protesters against the projects, will affect proceedings of three mines in the region: Parsa East Kente Basan (PEKB), Parsa, and Kente extension.

On Thursday, Sarguja collector Sanjeev Jha told the media that “all departmental or official processes” for the mines were put on hold indefinitely.

Sources in the government said this was the result of Chief Minister Bhupesh Baghel’s statement after Singh Deo’s visit to the area last Saturday. Baghel had said, “If T S Singh Deo doesn’t want trees to be cut, not even a branch would be harmed.”

A government official said, “Since Singh Deo is a representative from the area, his voice is believed to be the people’s voice. Due to his opposition, as per directions from CM, we have decided to put all work on hold.”

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The decision to hold, according to district authorities, is being marked on all public hearings in the area related to mining. The hearings for Kente extension and Parsa have been postponed for now. The hearing about compensation for the second phase of PEKB mines, initially slated for May 28 and subsequently moved to June 4 and then June 8, was also canceled officially.

But the village sarpanch and others with power to convene the gram sabha learnt about the cancellation only on June 9. While district authorities issued the letter on June 7, cancelling the gram sabha scheduled the next day, it reached the village heads on June 9 — by then the gram sabha had been convened and it recorded its verdict.

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On Wednesday, the gram sabha of Ghatbarra unanimously decided to not sell their land for mining. The register also recorded that government officials were missing from the public hearing.

Government officers expressed surprise at the decision to put all activities on hold. “Either an order is passed or it is cancelled — things in the government system cannot be on hold indefinitely,” a senior officer said.

Hasdeo Aranya, a biodiversity-rich forest, is also a rich source of coal. Two contiguous coal blocks owned by the Rajasthan government are to be mined by Adani Enterprises in the forest. While mining in the first phase of PEKB is done, forest clearance has been granted for its second phase. Procedures for clearances for Parsa and Kente extension are going on.

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