Critics of mining first switch off power at own house, says Bhupesh Baghel


Those who are opposing mining should first switch off power at their own houses, chief minister Bhupesh Baghel said on Saturday while slamming the critics of the two ongoing mining projects of the Hasdeo-Arand region in Chhattisgarh’s Surguja division. Baghel was addressing a press conference in Bhanupratappur in Kanker district during his visit there as part of his constituency-wise public interaction drive, Bhent Mulaqat.

When asked about continued protests by activists against the permission granted for mining in two coal mines allotted to Rajasthan Rajya Vidyut Utpadan Nigam Limited, Baghel said, “If they don’t do it (protest) they will cease to exist. Those who are protesting should first switch off power at their house.”

Baghel further said that his government has established the Lemru Elephant Corridor in the area to protect the environment.

“How many hydel projects are there in the country? Even the power generation through wind mills is limited. We have solar power as its substitute but it also has limitations. The day when there will be some alternate arrangement for power generation the dependency on thermal based power plants will be reduced. But at present we are dependent largely on thermal plants for which coal is required,” he said. He further asserted that only as much coal will be mined as is needed.

Reacting on Baghel’s statement, activists claimed that the chief minister is trying to demean the decade-long struggle to save Hasdeo Forest.

“It is very unfortunate that CM Bhupesh Baghel is trying to demean the decade-long struggle to save Hasdeo. The Congress party itself declared that they stand by this resistance of the Gram Sabha of Hasdeo against coal mining before elections and the CM himself alleged the MDO (Mine Developer and Operator) model as the biggest coal scam in the country. Now when the party is in power, they changed their sides and approved destruction of Hasdeo forest for narrow corporate interests,” said Alok Shukla, the convenor of Chhattisgarh Bachaao Andolan. Shukla further said that labeling a community movement to save ‘jal jangal jameen’ as politics is awful and if so, he is proud of doing such politics which is all about protection of constitutional and democratic rights.

Recently, Congress leader Rahul Gandhi, answering a question during an interaction with Cambridge students, said that he is of the view that the protest against the mining projects in Hasdeo Arayna is ‘justified in some ways.’

“I’m working on it…I see the protest…I know that the protest is going on and I think in some ways the protest is justified,” Rahul Gandhi said.

In March-April, Bhupesh Baghel-led Congress government gave the final approval for mining in Parsa East and Kente Basan (PEKB) mine and Parsa open-cast mine in Chhattisgarh’s Hasdeo Arand forests. The total area of PEKB is 1136.32 hectare while Parsa is about 841.53 hectare and both the mining projects were allotted to RajasthanRajya Vidhut Udpadan Nigam ( RRVUL). According to local activists, around 4.5 to 5 lakh trees are to be logged down for the two mining projects in Hasdeo area. Tribals in Chhattisgarh’s Hasdeo Arand area have been protesting the mining activities in the region for the last one decade.

Activists in Chhattisgarh believe that the situation on ground is tense as hundreds of people are continuously protesting the grant of final approval by the state government to PEKB and Parsa coal block. Activists claimed that the affected people are also facing extreme pressure from local administration to go ahead with the deforestation and now another coal block Kente extension is up for public hearing on June 13 for environment clearance.

Hasdeo Arand is one of the largest contiguous stretches of very dense forest in central India spanning 170,000 hectares and has 23 coal blocks. In 2009, the environment ministry had categorised Hasdeo Arand to be a “No-Go” zone for mining because of its rich forest cover but opened it again to mining because the policy hadn’t been finalised.

Elephants have a significant presence here throughout the year and it is an important part of a large migratory corridor. Hasdeo Aranya forests are the catchment of Hasdeo River, the largest tributary of Mahanadi, and are critical for perennial river flow. It is also the watershed of Hasdeo Bango reservoir and thus critical for irrigation of 3 lakh hectare double-cropped land in the “rice-bowl” state of Chhattisgarh.

(Except for the headline and the pictorial description, this story has not been edited by THE DEN staff and is published from a syndicated feed.)