Economic gain over Indigenous rights . . .
Earlier this year, the Chhattisgarh state government approved the controversial expansion of the Parsa East-Kete Basan (PEKB) coal mining project in the Hasdeo Arand forest, known for its rich biodiversity and coal deposits. Home to thousands of Gond and Oraon Adivasi (Indigenous people) and Dalits (a caste minority), the forest dwellers have been protesting deforestation and mining activities for years. The Indigenous people in India, formally recognized as ‘Scheduled Tribes’ (ST) and locally referred to as ‘tribals’ or Adivasis, are primarily forest dwellers. The PEKB mine was allocated to Rajasthan state in 2010 and is run by Adani Enterprises, one of India’s largest energy companies, through a joint venture. Chhattisgarh state greenlit the project after a request from Rajasthan, which argued it needed the expansion to avert a severe power crisis.
Coal mining collides with net-zero plans . . .
Chhattisgarh is rich in minerals, making the state a prime location for the mining industry. Despite ongoing debates and court hearings on whether to prioritize biodiversity or mining potential, the state government’s recommendation for diverting more than 4,000 acres of forest land to the PEKB project in 2010 paved the way for Chhattisgarh’s mining industry. Irrespective of the significant documented environmental impacts from mining in Chhattisgarh, the government justified its approval by stating that the mining fields did not disrupt the endangered biodiversity and benefit local communities. The Indian coal mining industry is a complicated web of politics and economics and accounts for 55 per cent of the country’s current energy mix. It remains to be seen if Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s government will deliver on its promise to turn the majority of India’s energy green by 2030.
Being Indigenous in India . . .
Most of the 8.6 per cent of Indians who identify as Scheduled Tribes live either in the northeast Indian states or the central belt stretching from Rajasthan to West Bengal. The Indian Constitution recognizes Indigenous peoples’ rights to land and self-governance, but there is a significant lack of implementation of related laws. Despite affirmative action in the form of employment and education quotas, Indigenous people in India remain economically and socially disadvantaged. In recent years, Indigenous identity and rights have also been under pressure from various interest groups – including right-wing activist groups – pushing the central government to de-list people from the ST list for converting to religions other than Hinduism.
- The Guardian: India plans to fell ancient forest to create 40 new coalfields
- The Indian Express: Explained: The battle over mining in Chhattisgarh’s Hasdeo forest
- The Times of India: Tension rises in coal mining area as tribal protest turns violent