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Tribals, Tribunals And Tribulations: The Destruction Of Forests In Chhattisgarh


The Tribals


It is not something sudden but a possibility of being a manifestation of reactions. Climate change is real; the earth is warming up. There's no door, no bell; that nature will ring or knock before hitting humans retreating into their so-called home earth. What could remain porous should preserve the shoots of the tall tree standing and holding themselves in the throngs of forest web of roots.


Hasdeo Aranya is a vast stretch of contagious forests located at the borders of Korba, Sarguja, and Surajpur districts in Chhattisgarh, India. A few years ago, the forest region was recognized for its significant biodiversity and rich forest canopy cover as a 'no go' mining zone by the Environment Ministry 2009. It has taken years of activism from the local tribals reiterating that their lush forests support and sustain not only them but hundreds of different wild animals also living along in the hideous greenery. Before this recognition from the Government of India, it was just a 'forest thicket with no wildlife' as it was initially aforementioned as a reason for starting coal operations in the region. After the forest region was considered an important elephant corridor, central governments' illicit paper games to steal the land and forests from tribals started to unfold.



The hasdeo forest area spans 1,70,000 hectares and is a tribal belt comprising a large population of Adivasis, living there for generations. This region comes under the fifth schedule of the Indian constitution complying with the law under which tribals maintain their rights to protect water, forest, and land. Panchayat Extension to Scheduled Areas (PESA) Act, 1996, guarantees self-governance through gram sabhas (village assemblies) for people living in scheduled areas to ensure livelihoods and the culture of indigenous people. In 2007 when the state government approved the first phase of the Parsa east coal block, it was for open cast mining of 762 hectares of land allotted to the Rajasthan government. The second phase under Parsa Block was decided to be mined in 2028, however it began in 2021. FAC (Forest Advisory Committee) had advised thrice, (in 2009, 2010, and 2011) against granting clearance to mining projects in the area on the grounds of rich ecosystem ecology.

The forest region comprises a catchment area that serves water to the hasdeo river (the largest tributary of Mahanadi) and the Minimata Bongo dam. The river flowing through fields of Janjgir-Champa, Korba, and Bilaspur quenches the thirst of germinating plants and humans living around. Conglomerates had deceived tribals with larger-than-life dreams of getting more and more amenities from the corporate structure and had been lured to handing over their land at higher prices. The rehabilitation done for the tribals who had given their land to the 'company' was not as per promises, and the jobs offered to locals were menial. The locals soon realised that exchanges as such are traps and could never be able to replicate their sovereign touch of natural living in forest lands.

The Tribunals

20 Gram sabhas in 2015 of Hasdeo Aranya forest region had coalesced together passing resolutions to the federal government reinstating their strong opposition against any coal blocks allocated or auctioned in the vicinity of forest areas. They have been resisting and insisting through various means telling what they would lose or leave behind to accept this developmental mine; the government had not given any heed to the demands raised by the tribals living for generations in the same place.

Tribals often confronted the politicians that the forest is and always will be theirs, and to decide what to do with it is their choice, not of some quasi-governmental body. The land acquisition process for the second stage of mining in the Parsa coal block is requisite to go through the consent of gram sabhas, where the locals have the right to practice and decide on their future and development options.

The corporate prostrating central government of India under Prime Minister Narendra Modi had allegedly found itself involved in modifying the laws to suit their conglomerate friends, like Adani, who works majorly with state governments as MDO (Mine developer-cum-operator). In December last year, 25 conservationists wrote to the state government of Chhattisgarh lucidly raising their concerns stating, "we believe this to be an ill-considered decision, one that will have devastating long-term consequences for the natural heritage of Chhattisgarh and the lives and livelihoods of millions."



A recent report by the Wildlife Institute of India (WII) has recorded 82 different species of birds and several endangered species of butterflies and reptiles. At least 45 elephants in number had died in three years in the affairs of human-elephant conflict. Eight hundred tribal people would get homeless if the trees fell; their courtyard forest would soon get shambled in rubles.

Their living and livelihoods would shatter, as platters would break hitting the floor as the tribals are mainly dependent for their needs on forest-based resources. Around 60-70% of their income comes from the foliage. The tribal-based villagers know their rights very well, and it wasn't because they were fighting for them, but because their rights are the way of life they choose to live with, and it has always been what keeps them alive. Forest does everything for them, and they are ready to do whatever's required to secure the dignity of trees, which have always been sacred to them.

The Tribulations


The tribal protestors had come to the capital city of Raipur, approximately 300 kilometres from the Hasdeo Arand forest region. The journey of activists took ten days to reach Raipur on foot. The march's motive was to tell the Chief Minister and Governor of the state that the consents, which had been taken and shown as the approval from Gram Sabhas, shouldn't get considered legal. Acquired lands must get deemed as illegal acquisitions. What they demanded was an inquiry against the perpetrators to be ensured. A week later, in the same month of October last year, just after they got back from the capital city done with their march; the other part of the Parsa coal block in the Hasdeo-Aranya forest got approved by the Union Ministry of Environment, Forest and Climate Change (MoEFCC) to initiate the mining again.

Now diverting at least 1136.28 hectares of land, the Rajasthan Government would hew around 2,42,670 trees in the jungles of Parsa and Kente villages. When conducting a biodiversity impact study in Hasdeo Arand coalfield, 14 out of the 23 coal fields should not be allowed for mining purposes to preserve the forest habitat and wildlife, as recommended by the Indian council of forestry and education in consultation with the Wildlife Institute of India. Coal could always be maintained there buried inside the lands, but once the culture is condensed, there’s no coming back and no revival of knowledge that these tribals hold to live peacefully commingling with nature and its creatures. It is immoral to do whatever to make a sect of people's lives better in the name of development. When modernism came to close doors, it had successfully lured people to adopt, but it was not necessarily or particularly moved.

The forests are dying, the language diminishing, depriving culture, and whatnot? The animals, the rivers, and the soils will leave their essence behind, not the existence of one of their kind. Earth would no longer be a similar place. You would realise it on the day when you buy a new house and want to decorate it with the gardens and paper flowers as no more the real one will live to become the lovers' bower.

Come forward to join the fight. Come forward to save the place that needs you to keep it alive. Come forward for the birds that will never be able to fly forever in the skies without being sat at the peduncle of the tree. Chhattisgarh needs you; the people who live here need your support. So, come forward to save Hasdeo Aranya. We all are one, and one shall we be in raising the demands that secure our future:

• Cancel all the coal mining projects in the Hasdeo Aranya.

• Immediately cancel all the land acquisitions done without the consent of the gram sabha under the Coal Bearing Areas Act 1957.

• Implement the provision of mandatory consent required from the gram sabha before any land acquisition processes in Schedule V areas.

• Immediately cancel the forest clearance granted to Parsa coal mine based on a forged gram sabha motion and register FIRs (First Information Reports or police complaints) against the authorities to orchestrate this.

• Reinstate Ghatbarra with their Community Forest Right and recognize the community forest resources and individual forest rights in every village.

• Comply with PESA 1996.

References:

8. All picture’s credit goes to Ruhani Kaur.


About the Author:- My name is Paras Verma, and I live in Chhattisgarh. I have completed my graduation from Amity University Chhattisgarh. I got interested in liberal arts education while going through the journey of college. I recently pursued my internship in content writing at Internshala and am now looking for more opportunities to write and engage with clients working as a freelancer in this field. My field of writing interests is Behavioral science, politics, and History.

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