Chhattisgarh: Cong district unit joins tribals against mining project

The Chhattisgarh Congress’s Surguja district unit has joined local residents against its own party’s government over the felling of trees in the Hasdeo Aranya forest for mining projects.

An extension of Parsa East Kente Basan (PEKB) coal block and an adjacent coal block in Parsa are to be mined for the Rajasthan government by Adani Enterprises Ltd.

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The state forest department started felling trees in the pristine forest on Tuesday. Although the exercise had to stop due to massive protests by tribal people — they have been holding a vigil in the area for weeks now — nearly 100 trees were cut.

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The tribal residents of Hasdeo Aranya have been protesting against the mining projects for months. In October last year, more than 300 people marched from their villages to Raipur, demanding action.

Despite the protests, both the Central and state governments have cleared the way for the mines allocated in the region.

On Wednesday, members of the district Congress unit in Sarguja joined the tribal people and promised to not let the forest be destroyed.

Congress leader and Chhattisgarh Aushadhiya Padap Board chairperson Balkrishna Pathak, who had joined the protest, said: “Rahul Gandhi’s words are like a Lakshman Rekha for us. We shall not let any tree get cut from the forest against the wishes of the tribals.”

Gandhi has said he supports the protests in Hasdeo and is working on a solution within his party.

The Zila Panchayat of Sarguja district had also written to the collector and other officials against the felling of trees.

Umeshwar Singh Armo, member of the Hasdeo Bachao Sangharsh Samiti, a body of tribal residents fighting for forests, said: “We have been complaining that the gram sabha report that they’ve been showing is fake. There are other irregularities too that the government has been covering up in a hurry to facilitate Adani,” he alleged.

Chhattisgarh’s Congress government had been against the mining project until earlier this year when Rajasthan Chief Minister Ashok Gehlot met his Chhattisgarh counterpart Bhupesh Baghel regarding a coal shortage in his state.

The Chhattisgarh government allowed the diversion of forest land for non-forest activities in March this year, paving the way for felling of trees.

In January, the Ministry of Environment and Forest (MoEF) granted permission to the MDO, Adani Enterprises to start mining in the second phase of the PEKB coal block and even increased production capacity to 18 million tonnes per annum in January

The second phase of mining will impact 1,136 hectares of the forest.

Of the three coal blocks allocated to the Rajasthan government’s power generating company, only PEKB phase I was functional. The other coal block for which phase I clearance has been granted is adjacent Parsa, which has the capacity of 5 MTPA.

A report from Wildlife Institute of India, submitted to both Central and state governments, advised against opening any new coal mines in the forest. It had stated that any destruction in the forest would lead to a man-animal conflict that the state would not be able to control.

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