On 2 October, the birthday of Mahatma Gandhi, hundreds of indigenous tribal people turned out to defend India’s Hasdeo forests from an onslaught of coal mines, despite the efforts of supporters of Adani and the coal industry to disrupt proceedings. Adani has already helped destroy part of the Hasdeo forest with one mine. More are scheduled in the wake of an auction of dozens of coal deposits across the country by the national government. On Monday 4 October, citizens resisting the demolition of their environment and way of life will commence a 300-km-long march from the threatened villages to the state capital, Raipur.
The Hasdeo forests are at centre stage of India’s conflict between coal mining and the rights of indigenous (Adivasi) people. Eighteen coal blocks occur in a landscape that is home to a diverse array of mammals (including elephants), fish, reptiles and birds. The Adivasi have tended these forests, including sacred groves of trees, for hundreds of years.
In a call to action the Committee for the Struggle to Save the Hasdeo Forest said ‘we are bound to resist and conduct a satyagrah to safeguard our water, forest, land, livelihoods and culture’. Satyagrah means ‘insistence of truth’, a term coined by Gandhi during India’s struggle for freedom.
‘On 4 October, we will bow to Gandhiji and start our march from Fattehpur village to Raipur, the capital of the state of Chhattisgarh.’
‘We appeal to all citizens who love the Constitution and Democracy, all who are committed to safeguard the waters, forests, land and environment to join us in this gathering and the march.’
The group accused the state and national governments of ‘joining hands with mining companies’ such as Adani.
One of the Adani Group’s main enterprises in India is the business of developing and operating coal mines. Adani’s objective is to reach a production level of 200 million tonnes of coal per annum across its mines in India, Indonesia and Australia. In the Hasdeo area, the company has established itself as the operator of choice by the mine owners.
One such mine – the Parsa East and Kanta Basin (PEKB) mine – has been operated by Adani Enterprises Ltd since 2019. The project has had a sorry history. Originally, approval to clear the forest for the mine was refused by the relevant government authority, a decision then overruled by the minister. The forest was then stripped. Mining is well advanced.
The massive excavation has left a sacred grove pathetically isolated by trenches and pits. Mining operations have also agitated elephants, leading to an increase in dangerous encounters – some fatal – between the large, wild animals and the Adivasi people. Villagers complain that parts of their environment have been contaminated by coal dust.
Nevertheless, the Government has approved a new mine, the Parsa mine, in the Hasdeo forests. The coal project is being developed by the Adani Group, which says the mine will eventually produce five million metric tonnes of coal per annum.
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In June 2019, the Bob Brown Foundation mounted a protest outside the Indian High Commission in Canberra, Australia, to show solidarity with the Gond people’s resistance to Adani’s proposed Parsa mine.
‘This travesty parallels Adani’s planned mine in Queensland where Black-throated Finch woodlands will be bulldozed to make way for a coal pit bigger than Sydney Harbour’, said Bob Brown. ‘The Adivasi people of the Indian state of Chhattisgarh oppose the destruction, just as Wangan and Jagalingou people oppose Adani’s invasion in Queensland.
The demands of the Hasdeo Aranya Bachao Sangharsh Samit (Committee for the Struggle to Save the Hasdeo Forest) to the state and national governments are to:
- Cancel all the coal-mining projects in the Hadeo Aranya.
- Immediately cancel all the land acquisitions carried out without the consent of the gram sabha (local representatives) under the Coal Bearing Areas Act 1957.
- Implement the provision of mandatory consent required from the gram sabha before any land-acquisition processes in tribal areas.
- Immediately cancel the approvals granted to Parsa coal mine.
- Reinstate Ghatbarra with their Community Forest Right and recognise the community forest resources and individual forest rights in every village.
- Comply with Panchayat Extension in Scheduled Areas (PESA) 1996.