RAIPUR: Authorities began cutting down trees in Chhattisgarh’s Hasdeo Aranya forests on Monday for the second phase of the Parsa East and Kente Basan (PEKB) coal mining project, but had to stop the exercise after hundreds of villagers showed up to protest the deforestation in Ghatbarra village , said people at the height of the matter.
“We stopped cutting down trees to prevent any situation of law and order since hundreds of villagers have gathered. We will now talk to the villagers and make them aware that everything is done according to the law,” said Vivek Shukla, extra police superintendent of Surguja district (Addl SP).
The PKEB project was approved by the Chhattisgarh government on March 22, 2022. Fourteen days later, on April 6, the state government also gave final approval to the adjacent Parsa Coal Block where tree cutting began on April 26.
The PEKB second phase project was awarded to Rajasthan Rajya Vidyut Utpadan Nigam Limited (RRVUNL). Mining in the first phase over 762 hectares Parsa East and Kente Basan (PEKB) block, also assigned to Rajasthan’s state-run power company, was started in 2013 and completed in March 2022.
The second phase of PEKB occupies 1,136,328 hectares.
Activists claim that it is necessary to cut down 2,42,670 trees in the Hasdeo Arayna forest in Surguja district.
“About 250 trees were uprooted on Monday, after which thousands of villagers began protesting. About 3.5 lakhs are to be damaged for the PEKB project,” said Alok Shukla, meeting of Chhattisgarh Bachao Andolan, who works for forestry in the area.
The exercise was stopped to ensure that the situation did not get out of hand.
Activists claim that cutting down trees in the village of Ghatbarra was illegal.
The Ghatbarra Forest was granted Community Forest Resource (CFR) rights in 2011. Later, the CFR rights were annulled, but there is no provision to annul such rights under the Forest Rights Act 2006. The annulment was challenged in the “High fiscal policy is still pending. Therefore, cutting down trees is illegal because the CFR issue has not yet been finalized,” said Sudeip Shrivastava, who challenged the repeal of CFR rights.
“It is unfortunate that even after Rahul Gandhi’s statement in Cambridge indicated his disapproval of the state government’s decision to allow mining in Hasdeo Aranya, the deforestation began,” said Bipasha Paul, an activist working in Chhattisgarh .
She added that the mining allowed in PEKB (phase ll) by the central government is also in demand despite legal issues pending in this case in the Supreme Court and Ghatbarra’s Community Forest Resource (CFR) directed cancellation case in the High Court.
Paul said the Phase 2 mining project was approved by the government, although the first phase ran out of coal much before the set period.
A biodiversity study in the Hasdeo Arand coal field by the Indian Council of Forestry Research and Education (ICFRE) last year recommended that mining should not be done in 14 of the 23 coal fields to preserve the relatively densely moist-dry deciduous forest areas that supply home forest for elephants.
Hasdeo Arand is one of the largest adjacent pieces of very dense forest in central India, spanning 170,000 hectares and has 23 coal blocks. In 2009, the Ministry of Environment categorized Hasdeo Arand as a “No-Go” zone for mining because of its rich forest cover, but eventually reopened it for mining because the policy was not finalized.
Elephants have an important presence throughout the year, and are an important part of a large migration corridor. Hasdeo Aranya forests are the catchment area of Hasdeo River – Mahanadi’s largest tributary – which is critical for perennial river flow. It is also the watershed of the Hasdeo Bango reservoir and thus critical to the irrigation of 3 lakh acres of double arable land in the “rice-bowl” state of Chhattisgarh.