Gram sabhas of Hasdeo Arand area write to PM to stop coal block auction

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Raipur: Gram sabhas in Hasdeo Arand in Surguja region of Chhattisgarh have written to Prime Minister Narendra Modi, asking him to stop the auction of five coal blocks in the region for commercial mining on June 18.

Nine sanpanchs and a janpad member of Podi Uproda Panchayat in Korba district wrote the letter to the prime minister on Tuesday and urged that current auctions be put on hold. They also said no coal blocks in Hasdeo Arand region should be put up for auction or allotment.

A total of 16 coal blocks in Chhattisgarh are set to be auctioned on June 18. They include five each in Hasdeo Arand and Mand Raigarh, two each in Bisrampur and Tatapani-Ramkhola and one each in Korba and Panchbahani.

“Total 20 gram sabhas of the region have been regularly passing resolutions against mining and auction/allotment of coal blocks in the region since the last five years. Even when the first phase of auctions was happening in 2015, these gram sabhas had written to the PM,” the letter stated.

It said these villages lie within the Schedule 5 region, where under the provisions of Panchayats (Extension to Scheduled Areas) or PESA Act and Forest Rights Act (FRA), the consent of gram sabhas is needed before mining can start. The gram sabhas remain opposed to mining and have resolved not to give their consent.

According to the letter, the proposed mining sites are in extremely densely forested areas that are bio-diversity rich and the habitat of elephants and other endangered species. They are known as the “lungs of Chhattisgarh” and local communities have been protecting them for centuries.

“These regions were also part of No-Go area in 2010, and most parts continue to be under ‘inviolate’ as per the latest documents of the current state government. Such regions need to be conserved at any cost,” the letter said.

People expressed surprise and disappointment that despite continued opposition from the gram sabhas, six coal blocks in Hasdeo Arand have been included in the list for auction.

The letter expressed disappointment that on the one hand, the prime minister talks about “aatmnirbharta” (self-reliance), and on the other hand, these auctions are an attack on the livelihood and culture of adivasis and forest-dwelling communities.

“In the region, the gram sabhas have already built a model of ‘aatma-nirbhar’ local self-governance under the provisions of PESA and FRA. And disregarding the gram sabha resolutions and local opinions seems contrary to the spirit of ‘aatmanirbharta’ that the PM has spoken about,” the letter said.

A copy of the letter was also sent to the Union ministers for coal, environment, forests, climate change and tribal affairs and the chief minister of Chhattisgarh.

“When the PM talks about ‘aatmnirbharta’, the government should also recognise the ‘aatmanirbhar’ model of local self-governance under PESA, FRA and Schedule 5 provisions. How can it ignore gram sabha resolutions and continued opposition from the local community against mining and auction or allotment? This is not only an attack on local communities but blatant disregard for environmental concerns. Mining in inviolate and ecologically important Hasdeo will be disastrous,” said Alok Shukla, convener of the Chhattisgarh Bachao Andolan, which works for tribal rights in Surguja region.

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