Around 350 people from tribal communities of 30 villages in Chhattisgarh’s Sarguja and Korba districts have been walking for the last nine days to reach state capital Raipur. The march — of more than 300 km — is to register their protest against coal mining projects, and what they allege is “illegal” land acquisition.
“If we don’t walk now, our children will have nowhere to live,” Shakuntala Ekka, one of the protestors marching to Raipur from Madanpur said.
The march from Fatehpur, in Ambikapur of Sarguja district, started on October 3. It is expected to end October 13, when the protesters reach Raipur and seek meetings with Governor Anusuiya Uike and Chief Minister Bhupesh Baghel with their demands.
The villagers have been protesting against the ongoing and proposed coal mining projects in Hasdeo Aranya region, which they say threaten the forest ecosystems — the state’s “lungs”. The region is rich in biodiversity and is catchment area for Hasdeo and Mand rivers, which irrigate the northern and central plains of the state.
According to Hasdeo Aranya Bachao Sangharsh Samiti, a joint platform of protesters from the two districts, despite their protests, six coal blocks have been allocated in the region, of which two have become operational for mining: Parsa East and Kete Basan (PEKB) block, and Chotia-I and -II block.
Another block — Parsa — has received forest and environment clearance, even as villagers alleged that land acquisition process began without gram sabha consent. The protesters said land acquisition has also begun without consent of grama sabhas in three other blocks: Kete Extension, Madanpur South, and Gidhmudi Paturiya.
“Governments — both at the Centre and in the state — have been going against people. For environment clearance in Parsa, forged documents and wrong information has been submitted to the ministry,” Umeshwar Singh Armo, a leading member of the Samiti, alleged.
On December 24, 2020, the Centre had issued a notification under Section 7 of Coal Bearing Areas (Acquisition and Development) Act, 1957, giving thousands of villagers in the region a 30-day period to submit objections, if any, over rights on any parcel of land. On February 8, Union Coal Minister Pralhad Joshi said the ministry received more than 470 objection letters, including those from the state government. Joshi said that under the 1957 law, there is no “provision regarding any consent from Gram Sabha”.
“Valid compensation under regulations of The Right to Fair Compensation and Transparency in Land Acquisition, Rehabilitation and Resettlement Act, 2013 and Chhattisgarh Ideal Resettlement policy 2007 will be paid,” he had said.
Protesting villagers, however, said compensation is not enough. “Money and our homelands are not equitable; any amount eventually ends but our homes have been here for years,” Armo said.
Of the two operational mines, PEKB is being mined by the Adani Group as Mine Developer and Operator (MDO) with Rajasthan Rajya Vidyut Utpadan Nigam Limited (RRVUNL); and Chotia block is mined by Bharat Aluminium Company Limited (BALCO) of the Vedanta Group. Parsa and Kete Extension blocks were allocated to RRVUNL with Adani Group as the MDO, and Gidhmuri Paturiya block to Chhattisgarh State Power Generation Company Limited, with Adani Group as MDO.
Madanpur South block has been allocated to Andhra Pradesh Mineral Development Corporation, with Aditya Birla Group as MDO.