Along with the brutal tree cutting of 50,000 trees within three days, repressive action and arrests have been made against the members of the local organization Hasdeo Aranya Bachao Sangharsh Samiti in Chhattisgarh protesting the coal mines by Adani group. Similarly in Odisha, several arrests and detentions have been made to intimidate the local resistance movements and forceful consent to the bauxite mining project of Vedanta.
In a press meeting held in Delhi, while discussing the ongoing police repression and coercion on the affected adivasi community in both regions, Chhattisgarh Bachao Andolan highlighted its demands to stop the ongoing destruction of forests, seek necessary consent from the affected adivasi community and immediately halt the attack on the democratic rights of the adivasi community.
2 January 2024, 3 PM
Press Club of India, New Delhi
In context of large-scale tree-cutting in Hasdeo Aranya forests for coal mining amid heavy police protection in Chhattisgarh and organisation of forceful gram sabhas in Sijimali area of Odisha for bauxite mining, as well as heavy repression of adivasi activists and community in both regions.
Chhattisgarh Bachao Andolan (CBA), which is a joint forum of various people’s movements of Chhattisgarh, is organizing a special press conference and public meeting on 2nd January 2024 at the Press Club of India, New Delhi from 3 PM. This meeting is being organised in the context of cutting of thousands of trees under heavy police protection, and arrest and repression of adivasi protestors on 21st, 22nd and 23rd December in the forests of Hasdeo Aranya of Sarguja district in Chhattisgarh. Simultaneously, since December there has been heavy police deployment in the Sijimali area of Odisha to forcibly wrest consent from villagers for forest diversion for the bauxite mining project of Vedanta. Different mountains in the Kalahandi and Rayagada districts of Odisha have been given to different corporations for bauxite mining like Vedanta and Adani.
The press conference was attended by Thawar Chand Meena (MLA, Dhariawad, Rajasthan), Alok Shukla from Chhattisgarh Bachao Andolan, Umeshwar Singh Armo from Hasdeo Aranya Bachao Sangharsh Samiti, Sudiep Shrivastava (Advocate Chhattisgarh High Court), Prashant Bhushan (Advocate Supreme Court), Prafulla Samantray (Activist, Odisha), Paranjoy Guha Thakurta (Journalist) and Nandini Sundar (Professor, University of Delhi).
Thawar Chand Meena, who is a MLA from Dhariawad, Rajasthan from Bharat Adivasi Party, highlighted how irrespective of the party in power, adivasi community has always suffered at the hands of corporates. Adivasi people across the country, from Rajasthan, Gujarat to Chhattisgarh and Odisha, have been excluded from all benefits of progress while have paid the greatest cost for the development schemes, sometimes in the name of Statue of Unity and other times in the name of development projects.
Alok Shukla spoke about the 10 years long movement to save the forests of Hasdeo and highlighted the multi-dimensional destruction of the environment, adivasi culture and the ecosystem. He mentioned how by organising fake gram sabhas, the seven coal blocks have been allocated to corporates like Adani. He said “Hasdeo forests are being cut for corporate profit and not to meet demand for coal”.
Umeshawar Singh Armo, a leader of the movement and a member of the Hasdeo Aranya Bachao Sangharsh Samiti highlighted the brutal treatment of adivasis protesting the destruction of Hasdeo forests. Seven persons active in the movement have been charged under fake cases in the FIRs filed against them. “If these forests are not saved, people will lose all confidence in the government” he said.
Prashant Bhushan (Advocate Supreme Court) highted how all rules and regulations related to mining, environmental protections, adivasi rights and all other constitutional guarantees are being flouted, violated and overlooked to benefit one single entity, the Adani corporate house. He also mentioned how cases in the Supreme Court have been going on for years without any substantial redressal being given to the affected persons.
Sudiep Shrivastava (Advocate Chhattisgarh High Court) talked about how the Hasdeo forests are being cut for the benefit of one person alone: Adani. He highlighted how ever since 2014, Hasdeo forests had been declared a no-go zone but time and again this has been overlooked.
Prafulla Samantray (Activist, Odisha) highlighted how in 2013 the Supreme Court judgement talked about the importance of Adivasi consent for any development policies including mining projects. He mentioned the importance of the Samta judgement which is effectively being violated today. He further said how mining and environmental laws have been amended to benefit corporations. He said “from Hasdeo to Odisha, we have to fight for the rights of people in opposition to the corporations”. He talked about the recent protests in Sijimali as well as the organisation of fake gram sabhas in order to take illegal consent from the affected adivasi community from bauxite mining given to Vedanta company. There have been multiple cases with charges of UAPA on the protesting people.
Paranjoy Guha Thakurta (Journalist) talked about how from food products like cooking oil to mining operations, Adani has virtually assumed monopoly control over substantial parts of the economy. He highlighted how ten years ago, Adani was only a small diamond merchant in the Zaveri Bazar of Bombay with miniscule business clout and yet along with the rise of the BJP to power, Adani has assumed substantial economic importance and sky-rocketing profit numbers for its own corporation.
Nandini Sundar (Professor, University of Delhi) highlighted how the issue of the adivasi community, be it in Chhattisgarh or Odisha, is as much an issue of all people since it raises a fundamental problem of climate change. She talked about various protests in different places in Bastar, starting from Silger, a movement that started two and a half years ago, has been raising its voice against the violations of PESA and other constitutional guarantees for the adivasi community. She talked about how the increasing militarisation in Bastar has been done to protect and secure mining operations and not meant for the protection of the adivasi community. She also highlighted how adivasi faith in their mountains, rivers and trees has been sacrificed in the name of development repeatedly, while the current government claims to be a protector of faith.
In pursuit of a “development” agenda, from Odisha to Chhattisgarh, the adivasi community is being displaced and their protests criminalized. There has been abdication of all due process of law related to land acquisition and mining as well as violation of constitutional rights. As soon as the BJP government came to power in Chhattisgarh, it started looting resources and suppressing the adivasi community for its favourite corporate Adani. The forests of Hasdeo Aranya fall in the Parsa East Kete Basin coal block which has been allotted to Adani for coal mining. Further, most recently, the Odisha government has leased out the Sijimali and Kutrumali hills for bauxite mining, while attempts are being made to begin the process in Majhingmali. On 8th December 2023 heavy presence of armed police forces were deployed across villages in Sijimali hills to assist the district administration of Rayagada and Kalahandi to forcefully hold “Gram Sabhas” to validate these mining leases.
Both these regions fall within the Fifth Schedule and none of the Gram Sabhas in the affected villages have given their consent or permission for mining, as required by law. These developments leading towards initiation of coal mining operations in Chhattisgarh or coercive measures to illicit consent from Gram Sabhas in Odisha are a direct violation of the Forest Rights Act, PESA Act and Land Acquisition Act and fundamental constitutional guarantees.
Along with the brutal tree cutting of 50,000 trees within three days, repressive action and arrests have been made against the members of the local organization Hasdeo Aranya Bachao Sangharsh Samiti and other members of the affected adivasi community protesting the coal mines. Similarly in Odisha, several arrests and detentions have been made to intimidate the local resistance movements and forceful consent to the mining project. In this meeting, while discussing the ongoing tree felling in the forests of Hasdeo Aranya and police repression on the affected tribal community and the coercion of the adivasi community of the Sigimali area, Chhattisgarh Bachao Andolan highlighted its demands to stop the ongoing destruction of forests, seek necessary consent from the affected adivasi community and immediately halt the attack on the democratic rights of the adivasi community.
Chhattisgarh Bachao Andolan