Six days on, operations resume at iron ore mines in Chhattisgarh’s Bailadila

Adivasis protesting against mining at deposit-13 of the Bailadila Range, in Kirandul of Dantewada district of Chhattisgarh.   | Photo Credit: Sidharth Yadav

Operations resumed at five iron ore mines at the Bailadila Range of Dantewada district on Thursday, after remaining suspended for six days as adivasis picketed entry gates against proposed mining on a hill they consider sacred.

Joint venture

The 10-million-tonne-per-annum (MTPA) deposit-13 on the hill, abode of tribal Goddess Pithor Rani, is being developed by NCL, a joint venture of the National Mineral Development Corporation (NMDC) and the Chhattisgarh Mineral Development Corporation (CMDC), and was contracted to Adani Enterprises Limited (AEL) in December last year.

On June 7, as more than 7,000 adivasis from 200 villages in Dantewada, Bijapur and Sukma districts gathered at the mining town of Kirandul under the aegis of Sanyukt Panchayat Jan Sangharsh Samiti, the Chhattisgarh government stalled mining at three mines there. Later, the suspension was extended to two mines at Bacheli, 10 km away, as protesters staged a sit-in there.

Adivasis of Hiroli, one of the affected villages, allege false Gram Sabhas were held for their consent to mining at the hill, that had led to illicit felling of trees by the Forest Department.

On Thursday, protesters acceded to a 15-day window sought by the State government to inquire into the issues and called off the stir. Bastar MP Deepak Baij had led a delegation on Tuesday to Chief Minister Bhupesh Baghel to seek a resolution.

Committees formed

“The State government has decided to form a committee led by the local SDM (Sub-Divisional Magistrate) to look into the issue of the false Gram Sabha. Another three-member committee of the Forest Department will investigate the felling of trees, which the government believes has been illicit. A foolproof inquiry could take more than 15 days. Moreover, the government has decided to stop all pre-mining activities at the deposit and will approach the Centre to reconsider its decision to contract the mine to the AEL,” said Mr. Baij.

A member on the Forest Committee, along with the Additional Principal Chief Conservator of Forests (PCCF, land management) Atul Shukla and the Chief Conservator of Forests (CCF), Jagdalpur Circle, Divisional Forest Officer (DFO) R. K. Jangde, said they would visit the site after the protest subsides and send a report to the Chief Minister.

Workers’ unions — the All India Trade Union Congress (AITUC) and the Indian National Trade Union Congress (INTUC) — had joined the protest, demanding revocation of contract to the AEL.

“When the NMDC has been operating the mines here for 60 years, where is the need for a corporate entity?” asked Rajesh Sandhu, Secretary, AITUC Kirandul. “Adivasis are fighting for their faith, we are fighting for our existence. The NMDC’s cost of production per tonne of iron ore was ₹727 last year, and it’ll be ₹889 per tonne for AEL. This is a conspiracy to sell the mines to corporate entities.”

Come together

For the first time, adivasis and workers have come together for a cause. Several adivasi employees had felt their faith was in danger and took to the streets, said Alok Shukla, convenor, Chhattisgarh Bachao Andolan. “Deposit-13 is rich in biodiversity, too. In 2011, a Forest Advisory Committee had stalled clearance to mining there owing to the region’s undisturbed forests, rich biodiversity and hilly terrain. Yet, the Centre secured a clearance after three attempts,” he said.

Stating that the shrine of Pithor Rani would remain untouched once mining began at the deposit, V.S. Prabhakar, CEO, NCL, claimed there had been no illegal tree felling.

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Printable version | Oct 15, 2021 2:00:25 PM |

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