As India Faces Energy Shortage, Tribal Protests Pose Threat to Fresh Coal Allocations in Chhattisgarh

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Hasdeo Arand Coalfield, Chattishgarh:  20 villages in Chhattisgarh have come together against government's plans to allow coal mining in dense forest areas of Chattishgarh, The Central Government has taken the ordinance route after the Supreme court cancelled allocations of 204 coal block by the UPA Government citing irregularities.

Representatives of these 20 tribal gram sabhas in Hasdeo Arand coal field area have passed a formal resolution under the forest rights act against coal mining in their traditional forest land and are now planning their future course of action.

This land conflict may affect mining in 16 coal blocks which are up for auction or allocation as per the coal ordinance. As these villages are tribal dominant and has been declared 5th Schedule area which gives the natives the right to allow or prohibit mining on their land.

The Government needs the permission from the tribals to go ahead with mining. But tribals from 20 villagers are against mining and a 7-member delegation from these villages even met the Union Environment Minister Prakash Javdekar in January.

Jainandan Singh Korte, a tribal, who was a part of the delegations says, "When we met the Environment Minister, he told me that I am speaking like an activist and asked me to call my son. I told him that by the time he grows up and coal mining starts, we all will be dead and what will he discuss with you? Is development at the cost of destruction? He said for development we will allocate coal mines, I replied then be prepared for a legal battle."

The tribals say that due compensation has not been paid for the land previously acquired by the government for mining in the district. Ram Pravesh, a tribal who gave up 2 acres of his ancestral land told NDTV that he was paid Rs 1 lakh as compensation, while the land rate at that time was Rs 6 - 7 lakh per acre.

"In my village, land has been acquired for coal mining. Half of the villagers have not got the compensation yet. I lost 2 acres of land but got compensation for only 25 decimal. The Gram Sabha called by the collector was not fair. He promised us jobs, houses but it's been 6 years and in Kete village promises have not been fulfilled," said the villager who works as a daily wage laborer in the city to earn his livelihood. 

But the Chhattisgarh Government says that they did not received any complaints from the villagers and that coal is urgently needed as India is facing a coal deficit.

"We have not received any such report from the villagers but have got to know about it through media reports and already there are two coal blocks operating in that area. Once the mining starts in the area, there will be lot of developmental work and people will be happy. We are also concerned about increasing coal production as country needs coal," says Subodh Singh, Secretary Coal and Mining, Chhattishgarh.

But activists operating in the area allege that in urgency of energy, both the state and central governments are ignoring the damage to the eco-system.

"In India there is a need for energy security but we will also have to consider environmental and livelihood security. For energy security, it was not necessary to allocate all 204 coal block. The coal blocks should have been prioritized as many are in dense forest area like Hasdeo Arand," says Alok Shukla, Convenor, Chattishgarh Bachao Andolan.

The villagers are now planning a Maha Gram Sabha in which thousands of villagers will gather and will also invite political party representatives and local Members of Parliament and MLAs to garner more support for their cause.

According to a state government report, Chhattisgarh contributed 22 per cent to the total coal production in 2013-14 and has 44483 million tonne of coal deposits.


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