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Tribals in Hasdeo Aranya protest against the double standards of the Congress government in Chhattisgarh: Ground Report

Congress leaders, including Rahul Gandhi, had made lofty promises to protect the forests in Hasdeo Aranya if they were to be elected to power in Chhattisgarh. Now, months after coming to power, the Congress government has turned a blind eye to the demands of the locals and carried on with awarding mining contracts in the region.

To find answers to the Congress party’s hypocritical standards, one should go to Hariharpur village, which is located in the woods of the Sarguja district, Chhattisgarh. An OpIndia team visited Hariharpur and spoke to tribals in Hasdeo Aranya to evaluate the difference between Congress’ promises and deeds.

This area is also called Hasdeo Aranya. Even in the month of September, some villagers were sitting under a thatched roof in the middle of the fields. Not in the hope that the Bhupesh Baghel government will take care of them, but fearing that the administrative staff might come to cut the trees. To save themselves, they were lodged here since 02 March 2022. Villagers claim that so far, more than 430 trees have been cut, but no administrative action has been taken yet.

Many tribals in villages such as Hariharpur, Salhi, Fatehpur, Ghatbarra, Charpada, and Madanpur have been on a dharna since March against the Chhattisgarh Congress government and the Adani group under the banner ‘Save Hasdeo.’ They are opposed to the new mining permit in this protected region. According to villagers, authorization to mine in Parsa was obtained by arranging fake village panchayats. They allege that the mining resulted in the destruction of 4.5 lakh trees.

Hasdeo Aranya
Tribals protesting in rain.

The residents sitting on dharna are concerned that mining would destroy their villages. “My maternal home is in Kete,” Sampatiya from Hariharpur told OpIndia. “All of the trees and vegetation were taken down when the mine started there. All the families got scattered. We shall not be leaving this village and settlement now. We ask Adani not to seize our land. We shall not abandon it. We will not leave this spot even if we lose our lives. We will not let the forest be destroyed,” she further added.

One cause for their dissatisfaction with the Congress administration is Rahul Gandhi’s promise in 2015. Rahul Gandhi addressed a gathering in Madanpur, around 15 kilometres from Hariharpur, in June 2015. During this time, the villagers were guaranteed that mining would be prohibited in this region if the Congress government was formed in the state. He gave the assurance that the government will prevent the destruction of the villages. On the premise of this commitment, they supported Congress in the 2018 local assembly elections. The Congress party won in the state as well, but this commitment was forgotten by Rahul Gandhi.

Hasdeo Aranya
Rahul Gandhi addressed the gathering.

To remind the promise, some 300 people began a padayatra on October 4, 2021. It arrived in Raipur on October 11th. It was to remind the Bhupesh Baghel government of Rahul Gandhi’s pledge. They received assurance, but nothing happened following that. After this, a delegation of locals travelled to Delhi and met with Rahul Gandhi. He apparently also comforted them but no action was taken. The villagers then staged a dharna under the banner of the ‘Hasdeo Aranya Bachao Sangharsh Samiti.’ Interestingly, the Chhattisgarh Parsa coal block has been assigned to Rajasthan Rajya Vidyut Utpadan Nigam Limited. Adani Group has been awarded a mining contract by the Rajasthan government. 

Bhuneshwar Singh Porte of Fatehpur village is also associated with ‘Hasdeo Aranya Bachao Sangharsh Samiti’. He told OpIndia, “It has been around 190 days since we sat on the dharna. But till date, no person from the administration has come to look after us.” “The licence issued by the government for mining on the basis of fake gram panchayat was annulled by the NGT in 2014,” said Ram Lal Singh Kariyam of Salhi village. “However, this government is going forward. We walked all the way to Raipur and the governor also ordered an investigation into the fake panchayat, however, the district administration is deafeningly mute.”

“With the Congress administration coming to Chhattisgarh, we believed that when it talks about Narva, Garua, and Ghurva, it will rescind the mining allotment,” Nandram of Salhi told OpIndia. ” Instead, this regime is decimating Narva and Ghurva. We can lose our lives, but we will not abandon the forest. We will continue to fight. The administration should not believe we are helpless. We are not helpless. Today, people from all over Chhattisgarh are uniting behind our cause,” he further added.

Hasdeo Aranya
Board outside Hariharpur.

The question isn’t only whether mining should take place there or not. It is if the approach used for this is valid or not. A democratically elected government must interact with its citizens. The Congress government has shown no interest in the Hasdeo Bachao Andolan. On the contrary, several people have had criminal charges against them for protesting against the move.

The most absurd aspect is that the Sarguja unit of Congress itself supports the movement. TS Singhdev, a Baghel government minister from the same district, also had come to the protest site to express his personal support for the agitators. The state government has the option of withdrawing the mining order, but this is unlikely since the protestations of Hasdeo and its tribal children appear inconsequential to Congress, Rahul Gandhi, and the individuals involved in the ‘Bharat Jodo Yatra’.

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