In January 2019, the Forest Advisory Committee of the ministry of environment, forests and climate change awarded Stage-I clearance, or in principle approval, for mining at the Parsa coal block, located in northern Chhattisgarh’s Hasdeo Arand forests. Over 2000 acres of forest land will be stripped for the open-cast mining operations, which involves digging the coal out after removing the soil and forest cover above it.
The Parsa mine is one of 30 mapped mines in Chhattisgarh’s Hasdeo Arand region, one of the largest intact forest areas in central India. It is home to forest-dwelling Adivasi communities, such as the Gonds, who are deeply dependent on forest produce, and agriculture. The region is also highly biodiverse and ecologically fragile with dense sal forests, rare plants, perennial water sources, and wildlife species. But the vast coal reserves in the region threaten its rich ecosystem—the Hasdeo Arand Coalfield, as mapped by the ministry of coal, has more than a billion metric tonnes of proven coal reserves, spread over an area of 1,878 square kilometres. Of this area, 1,502 square kilometres comprise forest land.
The Parsa coal block is one of three mines in the Hasdeo forests that have been awarded to the Rajasthan Rajya Vidyut Utpadan Nigam Limited, a power corporation of the Rajasthan government. RRVUNL has, in turn, appointed Adani Enterprises Limited as the Mine Developer and Operator for these mines. As The Caravan earlier reported, the concept of an MDO is not recognised in any law governing the Indian coal industry, and does not appear in the Coal Mines Act. Agreements between PSUs and MDOs are not subject to any oversight from the centre or coal ministry. This lack of transparency is in contravention of the Supreme Court’s 2014 judgment on the allocation of coal blocks.
Since March 2013, the AEL has been mining another coal block awarded to the RRVUNL, the Parsa East and Kanta Basan, or PEKB mine, also located in the Hasdeo region. Mining operations at PEKB have continued despite a 2014 ruling by the National Green Tribunal asking the MoEFCC to re-evaluate its green clearance for the mine. An investigation by The Caravan reported that the agreements between RRVUNL and AEL are opaque, and highly profitable to the latter.
The PEKB mine operations and the government’s plans to open up more coal mines in the Hasdeo forests have sparked grassroots protests in Chhattisgarh over the past five years. One organisation leading the protests is the Hasdeo Arand Bachaao Sangharsh Samiti, or HABSS, a group spanning 40 villages across the Hasdeo region, which have been, or will be, adversely impacted by coal mining. On 24 February, 150 gram sabhas came together in Hasdeo’s Morga village to protest the FAC clearance, according to a press release from the HABSS. In an interview with Chitrangada Choudhury, an independent journalist, Jainandan Singh Porte, a member of the HABSS, spoke about their protest and the impact of mining on the villages. Porte is a resident of Ghatbarra village, which borders the current PEKB mine. “Today, villagers believe that if we fight, we can protect the forests from mining,” he said. “We are much more aware about the laws, and our power as gram sabhas.”
Chitrangada Choudhury: How does the HABSS view the Forest Advisory Committee’s decision to grant in principle forest clearance for mining in the Hasdeo forests?
Jainandan Singh Porte: Let the environment ministry do what it wants. We believe that if our movement is strong here in Hasdeo, then we will be able to stop our forests from being destroyed for mining. If our gram sabhas collectively oppose mining, what the ministry does will be inconsequential.