New Delhi- Mining activities in Hasdeo Aranya forest have recently raised many concerns. Villagers allege that their consent was not obtained, and the deployment of police force to suppress protestors cannot be overlooked. In light of these issues, a press conference was organized at the Press Club of India on December 2nd by 'Chhattisgarh Bachao Andolan' (CBA), a joint forum comprising various people's movements in Chhattisgarh.
The event addressed the extensive tree felling in Hasdeo-Aranya forests, accompanied by substantial police protection, and the suppression of Adivasi protestors during December in the Sarguja district of Chhattisgarh. Additionally, a significant police presence has been reported in the Sijimali region of Odisha since December, allegedly with the intention of forcibly obtaining consent from villagers for Vedanta's bauxite mining project. Mountains in Odisha's Kalahandi and Rayagada districts have been allocated to various corporations, including Vedanta and Adani, for bauxite mining.
Alok Shukla, active in a decade-long movement, emphasized the adverse impact of corporate activities on Hasdeo forests, Adivasi culture, and the ecosystem. He raised concerns about the allocation of coal blocks to corporations like Adani through what he sees as the manipulation of village gram sabhas, questioning the fairness of decision-making. Shukla contends that the depletion of Hasdeo forests is motivated more by corporate profits than a genuine need for coal, potentially harming the Adivasi community and the environment.
Umeshawar Singh Armo, a prominent figure in the movement and a member of the Hasdeo Aranya Bachao Sangharsh Samiti, brought attention to the harsh treatment of Adivasis who are protesting against the Hasdeo forests takeover. In a concerning development, seven individuals actively involved in the movement now face charges in FIRs with the suspicion that these cases are fabricated. Armo emphasized the critical importance of saving the Hasdeo forests, stating that failure to do so would make people distrust the governments.
Prashant Bhushan, a Supreme Court Advocate, emphasized the systematic disregard for regulations in mining, environmental protection, Adivasi rights, and other constitutional guarantees. He pointed out that these violations overwhelmingly favor a single entity, the Adani corporate house. Bhushan also highlighted the prolonged legal battles in the Supreme Court, where cases have lingered for years without providing meaningful relief to the affected individuals.
Sudiep Shrivastava, an Advocate from the Chhattisgarh High Court, discussed the targeted deforestation of the Hasdeo forests for the exclusive benefit of Adani. He stated that despite the declaration of Hasdeo forests as a no-go zone since 2014, this directive has been consistently overlooked.
Odisha activist Prafulla Samantray highlighted the 2013 Supreme Court judgment on Adivasi consent for mining projects. He stressed the current violation of the Samta judgment and changes in laws favoring corporations. Samantray emphasized the ongoing fight for people's rights against corporate interests, citing instances from Hasdeo to Odisha. He specifically mentioned recent protests in Sijimali, noting gram sabhas' manipulation for Vedanta's bauxite mining, leading to charges under the Unlawful Activities (Prevention) Act (UAPA) against protestors.
Paranjoy Guha Thakurta, a veteran journalist, discussed the growing economic dominance of Adani across various sectors, from food products like cooking oil to mining operations. He highlighted Adani's transformation from a small diamond merchant in Bombay's Zaveri Bazar a decade ago to a powerhouse in the economy, coinciding with the rise of the BJP to power. Thakurta pointed out the substantial economic influence that Adani's corporation has gained in this period.
Nandini Sundar, a Professor at the University of Delhi, emphasized that the challenges faced by the Adivasi community in regions like Chhattisgarh and Odisha are not isolated concerns but fundamental issues tied to climate change, affecting everyone. She discussed various protests in Bastar, including the Silger movement that took place two and a half years ago. This movement has consistently raised its voice against the violations of PESA (Panchayats Extension to Scheduled Areas) and other constitutional guarantees for the Adivasi community. Sundar highlighted the escalating militarization in Bastar, emphasizing that it primarily serves to protect mining operations rather than ensuring the well-being of the Adivasi community.