A large number of tribals and forest-dwellers on Wednesday reached Raipur by covering a distance of 300km on foot as part of a protest to demand immediate cancellation of coal mining projects in the Hasdeo Aranya region of north Chhattisgarh and to protect forests.
To protect the Hasdeo Aranya area and protest against the alleged violation of the rights of ''Gram Sabha'', hundreds of villagers reached Raipur by covering 300km in 10 days, said Alok Shukla, a member of the Hasdeo Bachao Sangharsh Samiti which is spearheading the agitation against coal mining projects.
A state minister has extended support to the protesters.
For the last one decade, people from Gond, Oraon, Pando and Kanwar communities have been struggling to protect the Hasdeo Aranya region, said Mr Shukla, adding local gram sabhas (village-level bodies whose nod is needed for projects) have also objected to coal mining in the area.
Mr Shukla said to highlight alleged irregularities in allocation and sanction process of mining projects in the area, tribal people and villagers have written "thousand of letters" and also attempted to meet officials concerned but to no avail.
Tribals are making every effort to safeguard their water-forest-land (''jal-jungle-zameen''), livelihood as well as culture, but mining projects are being carried forward amid protest, he said.
Terming the role of local administration as unfortunate, Mr Shukla alleged they are trying to "crush" the protest and start mining projects illegally.
In such a situation, to protect their constitutional rights and safeguard the Hasdeo Aranya region, adivasis started their march on October 2 from Surguja district's Fatepur, he said.
On October 14, protesting villagers will assemble at ''Dharnasthal'' in Raipur and staged a demonstration.
The agitating villagers have sought time to meet the Chhattisgarh Chief Minister and the Governor and the latter has agreed to meet a delegation, Mr Shukla said.
Health Minister and Ambikapur MLA TS Singh Deo met the protesting tribals in the state capital and expressed support for their demands.
"There is no law in the country that allows the government to take land from villagers if they do not want to give it," said the Congress leader.
He said if through the Coal Bearing Act or any other law, "you want to pass unethical benefits to the people engaged in coal mining, then it is wrong".
"It should not be encouraged. Global warming and pollution on a global scale are reaching such levels that you will not be able to come back from that level," Mr Singh Deo said.
Extending support to the demands of the villagers, the minister said whenever talks are held at the government level, he will back their stand.
Known as the ''Lungs of Chhattisgarh'', the Hasdeo Aranya forests are one of the largest intact dense forest areas in Central India covering an area of 170,000 hectares.
These forests are rich in biodiversity (they have over 450 species of flora & fauna) and home to some critically endangered wildlife species.
They have a significant elephant presence throughout the year, and are an important part of a large migratory corridor.
The region was declared an entirely "No-Go area" in 2010 based on a study. Even after multiple policy revisions to the No-Go criteria, the maximum portion of Hasdeo Aranya is still not allowed for mining.
Multiple government and independent scientific reports have documented the ecological importance of the region and the urgent need to conserve it.