When tribals in Chhattisgarh staged a peaceful protest to protect their 'jal, jungle, zameen' … the govt gave in

In June, around 10,000 tribals from Dantewada, Sukma and Bijapur districts in Chhattisgarh gathered at NMDC complex in Kirandul village. The state-owned miner was planning to develop a large mine. The Bailadila hills where mining was to take place also housed the local deity of these tribals. The tribals staged a peaceful protest for five days. In the end, the government gave in. This was a massive victory for the tribals

Mangal KunjamMangal Kunjam   9 Aug 2019 12:31 PM GMT

When tribals in Chhattisgarh staged a peaceful protest to protect their

Something unusual happened in June this year. Around 10,000 tribals from Dantewada, Sukma and Bijapur districts in Chhattisgarh gathered in Kirandul village, 400 kms from state capital Raipur.

While some came from nearby villages, others walked over 60 kilometers to participate in a peaceful protest. They had packed ration for a week, because they knew the battle would be long as it was against some very powerful names.

The site of the protest was NMDC complex in Kirandul village. The state-owned miner was planning to develop a large mine in joint venture with Chhattisgarh Mineral Development Corporation (CMDC). NMDC, which supplies ore to a number of steel plants, had appointed Adani Enterprises as mining developer and operator (MDO) for the mine in December 2018.

The bone of contention between the tribals and the authorities was the local deity housed on the Nandraj Hill of Bailadila, which the tribals were trying to protect. What makes this unusual is that the five-day protest prompted the Chhattisgarh government to halt all work and review various permissions granted to the project. A big win for these tribals.


The deal

Bailadila depository number 13 (Deposit-13) has potential iron ore reserves equaling 25 crore tonnes. NMDC formed a joint venture with CMDC in 2008. The new entity NCL (NMDC-CMDC) got the environment clearance in 2015 to mine 10 million tonnes of iron ore. Deposit-13 has a huge reserve of 326 million tonne of high-grade steel-making raw material.

NCL floated a global tender, inviting proposals from private players to develop and operate the mine. Of the 10 companies that participated in the bid, Adani Enterprises (AEL) was selected as the successful bidder and appointed as the mining contractor in December 2018.

The fake gram sabha

Since the Bailadila hill range is a part of Schedule V of the Constitution, it is governed by the provisions of Panchayats (Extension to Scheduled Areas) Act 1996, which makes the consent of the Gram Sabha mandatory for any development activity.

On paper, NMDC conducted Gram Sabhas between 2010 and 2014, availed environment clearance in 2015 and forest clearance in January 2017. The NoC, which was given by the Gram Sabha of Hiroli village, was alleged to be bogus by protestors.

Under the banner of Sarv Adivasi Samaj, thousands of villagers staged a protest in front of Ma Danteshwari's (a local deity) temple with slogans like 'Jal, Jungle, Zameen hamara hai! and 'Kendra Sarkar Hosh Mein Aao!

The protesting villagers demanded absolute withdrawal of the lease permitting mining on Deposit-13 despite state government's immediate stay on Deposit-13 and order of a probe into the matter of a bogus Gram Sabha.Their main demand was that their village be incorporated in the related Gram Sabha and legal action be taken against the erring government official with immediate termination of MOU.


Sarv Adivasi Samaj 's legal advisor, Satyanarayan Karma had said, "We have submitted a memorandum to the chief minister by way of a symbolic rally demanding two things. Regarding Forest Rights Act 2006 the Supreme Court gives another hearing so in view of their demand of protection and preservation of fundamental rights, the state and central governments must act conscientiously."

He added: "Our second memo is regarding the Union government's proposal to all state governments to amend Indian Forest Act 1927 through a letter dated March 7. All states are to respond by August 7. If this proposal becomes law it will entitle forest department to shoot and their shooting if proven legal shall give them criminal immunity. To ask government for a constructive approach, we have given a memo to the state government."

Under the banner of Sarv Adivasi Samaj all the local people of Dantewada gathered in Medka Dobra. There they discussed the issue concerning Forest Rights Act 2006 Amendment. It was told that Supreme Court's hearing will be on 24 July. If the ruling runs in favour of the government it would result in the eviction of thousands of tribal villagers and indigenous communities of the forest area. Post eviction they will also have to face livelihood and other such problems. Instead of ensuring rights of people government seeks to force them out of their land and traditional forest rights. This injustice moves the tribal community to protest and dissent.


The missing official

It was only after much persuasion and entreaty could the villagers be placated to end their protests. Thereafter a team was supposed to come in order to review the situation,but couldn't. This infuriated the villagers and they put the blame on the government.

The villagers cried foul over this and declared the inability of the Gram Sabha Secretary, who they believe to have forged all papers and documents, to come to village a deliberate move. Their main demand was that their village be incorporated in the related Gram Sabha and legal action be taken against the erring government official with immediate termination of MOU. Besides this the Gram Sabha was to be investigated within 15 days.

Tribal leader Manish Kunjam said: "Security was not an issue. If all these officers could come why couldn't the secretary? How is a probe possible without the Secretary?"

The villagers blamed the administration for deliberately shielding the secretary. They wanted the secretary to testify before the entire village. They seek the re-convention of the Gram Sabha by the Administration wherein the Secretary testified. They believe the administration to be aware of the fact that the entire paperwork was fake.

Deal cancelled

Five days into a massive protest by tribals, the Chhattisgarh government decided to halt all ongoing activities, including felling of forests for mining operations.

The government said it will probe allegations that the Gram Sabha decisions was faked to get villager's consent. The Adani Group, in a statement, said that Adani Enterprises will initiate any activity "only after all mandatory requirements are met by owners NMDC, CMDC and the Adani was not involved in obtaining clearances".


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