Villagers oppose opening up of Hasdeo Arand forest for coal mining in Chhattisgarh

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Villagers oppose opening up of Hasdeo Arand forest for coal mining in Chhattisgarh

The grant of stage II or final forest clearance to Parsa opencast coal mine in Chhattisgarh’s Hasdeo Arand region has led to widespread protests by the affected villagers. Ten villagers along with farmer and environmental groups are in Delhi to register their opposition to opening up of 841.538 ha forest land which supports their livelihoods and to the opening up of Hasdeo Arand forests. The groups met Congress leader, Rahul Gandhi on Thursday, and plans to approach the Forest Advisory Committee (FAC) against its decision to grant a final clearance to Parsa. The FAC in a letter dated October 21 granted the final approval for coal mining in 841.538 ha of forest land under the Forest (Conservation) Act, 1980. HT had reported on February 10, 2019 that the FAC had granted stage 1 or the preliminary forest clearance to the mine despite finding that a part of the forest included “very dense” forest cover.

The mine falls in one of the largest contiguous stretches of very dense forest in central India called Hasdeo Arand that spans 170,000 ha (hectares). The FAC had granted stage 1 clearance based on certain conditions like: State government shall reconfirm the presence/absence of very dense forest in the northeastern part of the proposed forest land and exclude it; state government will comply with an Indian Council of Forestry Research and Education biodiversity study of the Hasdeo Arand region including the Parsa block; legal status of the forest land will remain unchanged and many others. FAC’s letter granting stage II forest clearance suggests that these conditions may have been fulfilled. “The state government has forwarded the Draft Biodiversity Assessment Report which has been considered in the ministry as final report from the state government and the recommendations in the report have been considered to be accepted by the state government for their compliance. Therefore, in view of the compliance of Stage-I approval and submission of the Biodiversity Assessment Report, approval of the proposal has been considered by the ministry,” the October 21 final approval states.

But villagers likely to be displaced have a completely different view of the forest diversion in Hasdeo Arand. Villagers of Fatehpur, Hariharpur and Salhi have alleged that gram sabha consent was forged for stage 1 approval. “First thing is gram sabha did not approve the diversion of this forest. It was forged. Secondly, for us tribals, the entire Hadeo Arand forest is like our bank account. We depend completely on it for food and fodder. We will be devastated if we are thrown out of our forest,” said Ramlal Karyam, who is in Delhi to meet Congress leaders.