Modi Govt to Let Adani Group Mine In ‘No-Go’ Chhattisgarh Forest, Gram Sabha Consent Allegedly Forged
Hasdeo Arand is one of India’s largest contiguous stretches of forest cover, spanning around 170,000 hectares.
The Union Environment Ministry had categorised Chhattisgarh’s Hasdeo Arand forest region as a “no-go” area for mining in 2009. Yet, a decade later, the Narendra Modi-led Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) government has now given environmental clearance to an Adani group firm to mine for coal in the dense forest area.
A Hindustan Times report by Jayashree Nandi noted that this decision could have “far-reaching consequences” for forest cover conservation in India. As per the report, Hasdeo Arand is one of India’s largest contiguous stretches of forest cover, spanning around 170,000 hectares. Parsa, owned by the Rajasthan Rajya Vidyut Utpadan Nigam Ltd (RVUNL), is one of the 30 coal blocks in Hasdeo Arand. The mine reportedly will be operated by Rajasthan Collieries Limited (RCL), a unit of Adani Enterprises Limited.
HT reported that the mining project had received stage one forest clearance in February this year. Minutes of a forest advisory committee meeting, however, highlight that a section of the 841 hectares to be diverted for the mine lies in very dense forest. In multiple earlier meetings, the matter was reportedly discussed.
In the February 15, 2018 meeting, the EAC had asked for the State Tribal Welfare Department’s comments on the status of gram sabha consent for the project and the impact on tribal populations, and it also sought the opinion of the state wildlife board regarding the possible impact of mining on the elephant corridor that runs through the forest.
The HT report adds that the minutes of theJuly 24, 2018 meeting suggest the RVUNL submitted information on these two queries in September 2018 but there are no details on whether gram sabha consent was taken. The EAC also asked if there were pending legal cases pertaining to coal mining in Hasdeo Arand.
Per the report, the two cases pending in the Supreme Court are: 1) a petition by Chhattisgarh-based lawyer Sudiep Shrivastava seeking de-allocation of RVUNL’s Parsa-Kente Extension coal block and cancellation of the joint venture and coal delivery agreement with Adani Enterprises Limited; 2) a petition by RVUNL seeking relaxation of the National Green Tribunal’s direction restricting mining in certain forest areas of Chhattisgarh.
The forest advisory committee sought the opinion of the additional solicitor general (ASG) on the matter, who observed that “the pending case has no bearing with the Parsa coal block as such.” The forest advisory committee then went ahead with giving in-principle forest clearance to the mine. However, the minutes of EAC’s meeting on February 21, states that environmental clearance granted to Parsa mine is subject to matters pending in the Supreme Court and Chhattisgarh high court on coal mining in the state, reported HT.
On February 20, the Chhattisgarh Bachao Andolan reportedly wrote to the EAC on environmental and legal concerns related to the project and said that two villages in north Chhattisgarh’s Surguja district complained to the district collector that gram sabha consent was allegedly forged.
“Apart from pending legal issues and procedural lapses, the grant of approval (for open cast mining at Parsa) completely goes against the precautionary principle that is the need of the hour. Initiating mining will fragment one of the last remaining contiguous forest patches in central India, violate forest rights and increase human-wildlife conflict,” Kanchi Kohli, a legal researcher at the Centre for Policy Research (CPR) in Delhi told HT.
An Adani Group spokesperson told HT, “The Adani Group is a responsible corporate citizen and it is evident from our care for the environment and communities. Besides mining responsibly, Adani Group has interests in solar power, city gas distribution and road construction, among others, in the state of Chhattisgarh. We are committed to the people and ecology of Chhattisgarh and the country’s energy security in all our endeavours.”