Dr. Charandas Mahant Urges Governor to Halt Illegal Deforestation in Hasdeo Aranya

Dr. Charandas Mahant, Leader of the Opposition in the Chhattisgarh Legislative Assembly, has called on Governor Bishwabhushan Harichandan to take immediate action against illegal deforestation activities in the Hasdeo Aranya coal field. He criticized the state government’s prioritization of coal mining over the rights of tribal communities and biodiversity, pointing out the disregard for the protests from local forest dwellers. Dr. Mahant emphasized that illegal logging continues despite existing prohibitions.

Dr. Mahant urged the Governor to halt all mining and deforestation activities in the Hasdeo Aranya coal blocks. He also requested that criminal charges be filed against those involved in fraudulent activities related to the coal mining permits.

In his letter, Dr. Mahant detailed the findings of the Chhattisgarh State Scheduled Tribes Commission’s investigation into allegations by locals that fake Gram Sabha resolutions were used to secure mining permits for the Parsa coal block. The Commission confirmed the validity of these allegations and ordered a halt to all mining activities in the Parsa coal block on May 30, 2024.

The fraudulent actions included fabricating the passing of resolutions without real Gram Sabha meetings, which led to the central government granting coal block allocation permissions on February 2, 2022, for an area covering 1136 hectares in Parsa and Kete villages.

Dr. Mahant also referenced a letter from former Governor Anusuiya Uikey to the Chief Secretary of Chhattisgarh dated October 23, 2021. This letter directed an investigation into the fraudulent Gram Sabha proceedings and a halt to all mining activities in the Parsa coal block until the investigation was completed.

On July 26, 2022, the Chhattisgarh Legislative Assembly unanimously passed a resolution to cancel all coal block allocations in the Hasdeo Aranya region. The Hasdeo Aranya coal field, including the Parsa coal block, falls under the Fifth Schedule of the Constitution, making the Panchayats (Extension to Scheduled Areas) Act, 1996 (PESA) applicable. According to Section 4(d) of PESA, all plans and projects in the area require the approval of each Gram Sabha, which was not obtained in this case. Additionally, Section 4(j), concerning land acquisition and resettlement of affected persons, was also not followed.

The National Green Tribunal in New Delhi and the Supreme Court had directed the state government to conduct a Biodiversity Assessment Study of the Hasdeo Aranya coal field. This study, carried out by the Indian Council of Forestry Research and Education (ICFRE) Dehradun and the Wildlife Institute of India, was submitted to the state government in 2022 but has been ignored.

Dr. Mahant highlighted an incident on December 11, 2023, after the Chhattisgarh Legislative Assembly election results but before the new government was formed. Officials unauthorizedly permitted the cutting down of 15,307 trees across 91.130 hectares in the Hasdeo Aranya coal field, which is illegal.

He pointed out that the state government is disregarding the Constitution, the Assembly’s resolution, the interests of the Scheduled Tribes, PESA provisions, and biodiversity concerns. Dr. Mahant criticized the government’s apparent priority on enabling coal mining for the benefit of an external company, ignoring the opposition from local forest dwellers.

Dr. Mahant called on Governor Harichandan to intervene immediately and use his special powers to stop all coal mining and deforestation activities in the Hasdeo Aranya coal blocks. He also requested criminal charges against those responsible for the fraudulent Gram Sabha proceedings.

Manish Tiwari

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