Raipur - Hasdeo-Aranya forest’s incessant mining has been a matter of contention. It is an environmental issue but has been made into a political stage, using party blame-game. Congress recently announced that it will form a fact-finding committee when it was during their tenure in Chhattisgarh that the executive decisions regarding mining were passed.
The Mooknayak spoke to Thavar Chand Damor, who is a member of Rajasthan’s Legislative Assembly and belongs to the Bharat Adivasi Party. The MLA claimed both the national parties are responsible for the degradation of tribal lives. He said, “Congress and BJP have ruled the Adivasi-rich states alternately, and nothing has come out of it. They have been snatching the rights of the tribals and pushing them over the edge. The main question is no matter who comes to power, why is it always Adivasis who face the brunt of the atrocities? And whenever that happens, why do the big names and organizations remain quiet? The answer to this is simple - Adivasis live in and near mineral-rich forests, and the capitalistic governments are greedy regarding the resources. Compared to the cost of the minerals, the cost of the lives of tribals is negligible, for both the parties.”
At the end of the day, governments will fall prey to the capitalistic ambitions. During a press conference at the Press Club of India on ‘Stop Corporate Takeover of Natural Resources’ organized by Chhattisgarh Bachao Andolan, journalist Paranjoy Guha Thakurta revealed, “I once enquired with Rahul Gandhi that you are shouting Adani-Adani whereas your chief ministers [Ashok Gehlot, former CM of Rajasthan, and Bhupesh Baghel, former CM of Chhattisgarh] have shared the stage with the business tycoon. To this, he responded by asking me that if someone comes to me and says they will invest 50,000-60,000 crores and build employment opportunities in my state, would I say no?”
In Chhattisgarh, the opposition Congress has taken a significant step by forming an eight-member fact-finding team to investigate incidents of tree-felling in the Hasdeo forest areas, which are linked to mining activities. The Chhattisgarh Pradesh Congress Committee (CPCC) president, Deepak Baij, has entrusted the coordination of the committee to senior tribal leader and former minister Premsai Singh. The team comprises other prominent members, including former Deputy Chief Minister TS Singhdeo, former minister Amarjeet Bhagat, Dr. Pritam Ram, Bhanu Pratap Singh, Gulab Kamro, Safi Ahmad, Rakesh Gupta, and Bhagwati Rajwade.
Chhattisgarh Pradesh Congress Committee President Deepak Baij has been reported by the Times of India saying that the Ghatabarra Coal Project in the Hasdeo Aranya area, situated within the Udaypur development block of Surguja district, has witnessed the cutting down of trees on about 93 hectares of land by the district administration and forest department. To address this issue, the Congress has formed a committee, and its members are urged to promptly visit the affected areas. They are expected to engage with local villagers, government officials, thoroughly investigate the situation, and subsequently submit a detailed report to the Pradesh Congress Committee (PCC).
Highlighting the background, the Congress state president mentioned that the Chhattisgarh government, under Congress rule, passed a resolution on July 27, 2022, in the state assembly to revoke the coal block allocation in the Hasdeo, Tamor Pingla, and Korba's elephant reserve areas. However, criticism was directed at the Coal Minister of the Modi government, who asserted that forest laws wouldn't apply where the Coal Bearing Act is applicable. This statement raised concerns about the Modi government's intentions to continue coal mining despite objections.
In retaliation, the BJP accused the PCC Chief of playing politics regarding the Hasdeo forest's tree cutting. The BJP contended that the Congress government, previously engaged in coal mining and tree removal in the Hasdeo forest, is now hypocritically raising objections. Devalal Thakur, the BJP state spokesperson, alleged that the PCC chief is deceiving the tribal community and the people of Chhattisgarh by partaking in misleading politics concerning the forest-cutting matter.
Since October 2021, the Parsa coal mine approval by the Chhattisgarh government has faced an unofficial halt in mining activities. Residents of Hasdeo, including villages like Hariharpur, Salhi, and Fatehpur, assert that they never gave consent for the diversion of 841 hectares of forest land, a crucial step for obtaining mining permissions in forested regions. On March 26, 2022, the Chhattisgarh government granted approval for clearing 1130 hectares of forest land for the second phase of the Parsa East and Kente Basan (PEKB) coal mine. Situated in the Hasdeo Aranya forest region in northern Chhattisgarh, PEKB is within the largest contiguous forest area in central India. Owned by the Rajasthan government, the PEKB coal mine has been operational for 15 years, with a company in the Adani Group acting as the contracted Mine Developer and Operator (MDO), managing the development, mining, and coal sales to a power company owned by the Rajasthan government.
In 2015, Rahul Gandhi, the former Congress president, visited Hasdeo Aranya to express support for the local communities opposing mining. He pledged, along with the Congress party, to safeguard the constitutional rights of Adivasis and prevent injustice in the name of development. Gandhi argued against the continuation of mining if it led to the destruction of vast forest areas and the lives of the Adivasis. Regrettably, once in power, Chief Ministers Bhupesh Baghel (former CM of Chhattisgarh) and Ashok Gehlot (former CM of Rajasthan), both from the Congress party, have been involved in the destruction of Hasdeo forests, seemingly for the benefit of the Adani Group.