MahaSammelan of Gram Sabhas and Padyatra (March to Raipur)

To Save Hasdeo river, forest and environment; and their life, livelihood and cultural identity

MahaSammelan of Gram Sabhas and Padyatra (March to Raipur)

2nd October, Gandhi Jayanti: Mahasammelan of Gram Sabhas at Fatehpur village, 11 AM

4th October: 10-day March to Raipur from Fatehpur village

About Hasdeo Aranya

Known as the “Lungs of Chhattisgarh”, the Hasdeo Aranya forests are one of the largest intact dense forest areas in Central India covering area of 170,000 hectare. These forests are home to rich biodiversity (over 450 species of flora & fauna) including critically endangered species like elephant, leopard, sloth bear, etc. They have a significant elephant presence throughout the year, and are an important part of a large migratory corridor. Hasdeo Aranya forests are the catchment of Hasdeo river (Mahanadi’s largest tributary) which is critical for perennial river flow. It is also the watershed of Hasdeo Bango reservoir and thus critical for irrigation of ~3 lakh hectares double-cropped land in the “rice-bowl” state of Chhattisgarh. This region was declared entirely No-Go area in 2010 based on joint study of MoC and MoEF (less than 10% of India’s coal-bearing areas deemed as “out of bounds” for mining). Even after multiple policy revisions to the No-Go criteria, maximum portion of Hasdeo Aranya is still deemed “inviolate” where no mining is permissible. Multiple Government and independent scientific reports have documented the ecological importance of the region and the urgent need to conserve it. The region was also proposed to be declared as an elephant reserve (Lemru). Yet, new coal mines are being opened which is likely to have a disastrous impact.

The region, is also classified as a Schedule 5 area, being home to several thousands of adivasis & forest dwellers who have been struggling to protect and conserve their forests, local ecology and wildlife. They have been democratically exercising their legal and constitutional rights. Twenty gram sabhas have regularly been passing resolutions under PESA Act 1996 and FRA 2006 since 2014 articulating their opposition to any mining in the region. These laws (PESA Act 1996 and FRA 2005 Section 5) not only ensures that gram sabha consent is necessary for any forest diversion (also validated by the Niyamgiri judgment of the Supreme Court), but also places the onus of resource conservation on the local gram sabhas.  The communities of Hasdeo Aranya have also written thousands of letters, petitions, and representations to all administrative bodies, ministries and political leaders. These adivasis have held large-scale protests, dharnas, and sammelans and also sat on a 75-day strike in 2019 at Fatehpur village.

The Current Issue

Since 2015, 7 coal blocks have been allotted in the region despite widespread local resistance and the Government’s own commitments to protect ecologically important areas. Even as the coal blocks were allotted to state PSUs, these companies have gone on to sign Mine Developer cum Operator (MDO) contracts with large corporate houses, making them de facto owner of mines. The mining companies are now going ahead with land acquisition for mining operations despite opposition from gram sabhas, multiple complaints to CM, MoTA and other authorities, legal cases challenging EC/FC on grounds of multiple irregularities, and daily on-ground resistance. Given the rampant resistance from gram sabhas, the Government is now circumventing the need for “gram sabha consent” before start of mining. The Government has argued that consent is not required under Coal Bearing Areas Act and has thus issued notifications for acquisition of land for Madanpur South, Gidhmudi Paturiya, Kete Extension and Parsa even before any clearances or consultations. Further, all coal blocks have also been kept out of proposed Lemru elephant reserve despite the government seeking Gram Sabha consents for elephant reserve from the same villages in Oct 2020.

Unfortunately, even the Congress-led state government appears to have gone back on its promise (made via Rahul Gandhi, Bhupesh Baghel, other senior leaders, and manifesto when in opposition) of supporting the rights and struggle of gram sabhas, and protecting the region. When Rahul Gandhi visited the region in June 2015, he along with the entire state Congress leadership team had assured their support to the struggle of Hasdeo Aranya gram sabhas. They had promised to not let the beautiful forests of Hasdeo Aranya get destroyed and stand with the legal and constitutional rights of the adivasis. However, in power, the state government seems to be singing a different tune.

As the Modi Government has proceeded with land acquisition under the Coal Bearing Areas Act, the state Government has not only been a mute spectator but an active participant in acquiring lands without consent or consultations. For the Parsa coal block, the Forest Clearance has been issued based on some forged consent/letter based on wide collusion of district administration with the company. When the community members became aware of this, they have been protesting this clearance and have been asking for penal action and FIR against the officials who were responsible for the fake consent letter. The entire affected community also sat on a 75-day strike/dharna in Dec 2019 asking the state government to take cognizance of the matter and take action. They even met the Chief Minister and gave elaborate documents and representation on this issue. However, despite assurance from the CM, no action has yet been taken on this complaint. On the other hand, the state government is actively helping the company acquire lands and start mining.

Sammelan and Padyatra

The gram sabhas and adivasi forest dwellers of Hasdeo Aranya are committed to save their jal-jangal –zameen and their life, livelihood and identity dependent on these forests using all possible constitutional means and non-violent methods of resistance.

On 2nd October Gandhi Jayanti, in memory of Bapu’s dreams of the role of “village” in India, we will renew our pledge to save the role of “village” and “gram sabha” in India’s democracy.

Post that, on 4th October, we will initiate our long March to Raipur (around 330 km distance) from Fatehpur village.

We appeal to all constitutionalists, environment lovers, and sensitive citizens to support our Sammelan and Padyatra, and make it a success.

Our Demands

  • Immediate cancellation of all coal mining projects in Hasdeo Aranya region
  • All land acquisition proceedings carried under Coal Bearing-Areas Act 1957 without taking prior consent from Gram Sabhas be immediately withdrawn
  • Cancellation of EC/FC of Parsa coal block; immediate FIR and action against company and officials for “forged gram sabha consent”
  • Implementation of “free prior informed consent” from gram sabhas before land acquisition and allocation of any mining or other projects in Schedule 5 areas
  • Restoration of the Community Forest Rights title of Ghatbarra village which has been illegally cancelled; recognition all Community Forest Resource Rights and Individual Forest Rights titles across Hasdeo Aranya
  • Implementation of all the provisions of PESA Act 1996