Adivasi Tribe Fights to Save Indian Forest From Mining
In India, the land of an indigenous community is under threat from a mining company. A huge area of forest is going to be destroyed due to the proposed mine. This is despite the fact that the indigenous Adivasi community’s rights in the forest are enshrined in Indian law. The proposed mine is showing once more the threat posed to the world’s last remaining tribal societies by large corporations in India and elsewhere.
There are plans to open a massive open pit mine at Parsa in Hasdeo Arand , which is an unspoiled forested area in the central Indian state of Chhattisgarh. Quartz reports “though the forest sits atop an estimated 5,500 million tons of coal it has been left largely untouched.” The forest is home to many species of animals such as elephants, leopards, birds, and sloth bears. It also has many rare plants, but it is a very fragile environment.
The Hasdeo river and the forest in the background (part of the Adivasi tribe’s home), which is near to Adani’s Parsa coal mine in Chhattisgarh , India. (Raj112887 / CC BY-SA )
Home to Tribal People
It is also home to some of India’s many indigenous communities, who are known officially as Adivasi. They are regarded as the original inhabitants of the Indian sub-continent, but for millennia have been pushed onto marginal land and forest. They are largely tribal people who have suffered a great deal of discrimination under the caste system, despite having a population of up to 100 million people. Many belong to so-called scheduled tribes and have some official recognition.
The Adivasi, among whom are the Gond people, who inhabit Hasdeo Arand and still live a traditional lifestyle. They have developed a sustainable society, based on the resources provided by the forest. The Guardian reports that “every feature of the forest has some spiritual significance” for the Gond people. They and other communities live in small villages in and around the forest.
Smiling Adivasi women and child from Chhattisgarh, India. (Ekta Parishad / CC BY-SA)
The Hasdeo Arand was legally protected until 2009 and mining was forbidden in this forested area. A new Indian government permitted the opening of a new mine, which opened in 2013. This has resulted in a new railway being built, and it has had a negative impact on the environment and has also resulted in more elephant and human conflicts. Moreover, despite promises from the mining company, the sacred grove forest has been threatened by the development. Quartz quotes Sai, an indigenous woman as saying that “now the company is saying it will cut down our trees.”
The government of Narendi Modi is committed to opening more open-cast mines in the area, in a bid to increase India’s energy security. Therefore, it gave permission for a new mine in Hasdeo Arand in 2019. The Guardian quotes Biphasa Paul who works with an NGO that supports indigenous people as saying that “an estimated 80% of the entire forest area and up to 30 villages - may be lost” if the mine goes ahead.
If the project proceeds it would also deprive the Gond and other tribal people of the forests upon which they depend and also force them to leave the area, which means they will probably end up in the slums of teeming cities. Biphasa Paul states that “losing the forest would mean losing their entire culture,” reports Quartz.
Death of a Culture
The Guardian quotes Bhual Singh, a local man, as saying that “mining will be our death.” It could also lead to an environmental disaster and have implications for forest conservation in India. In many other areas of the country, forests and jungles are at risk because of commercial developments.
The mine was officially sanctioned after the agreement of the indigenous people, which is required by law. However, they deny this, and reports of their consent are false. The new mine will be operated by Adani, which is owned by one of India’s richest men. The company claims that it can legally develop the mine, even without the tribes' consent. The company is quoted by The Guardian as saying that they have benefited the local community by “working closely to improve education and healthcare facilities” in the area.
The Gond tribe of Hasdeo Arand, the largest and oldest stretch of forest land in central India, is on the verge of losing its home in the face of coal mining https://t.co/9lyki2aZAj
— The Ecologist (@the_ecologist) January 21, 2020
Seizure of Indigenous People’s Lands Across the Globe
Adani is also involved in a similarly controversial mining project in Australia. The Queensland government in September 2019 revoked the legal right of Aboriginal Australians to lands in Wangan and Jagalingou county, and they gave it to Adani. The new coal mine could result in indigenous people being forcibly moved from their ancestral home by the state government. The area is sacred to the local community, and they are also angered by the fact that the government is subsidizing the entire Adani venture. The parallels between the Indian and the Australian case are striking.
Protests against Adani coal mining in Australia. (Stop Adani / CC BY 2.0 )
The indigenous community in Hasdeo Arand is trying to fight back, and they have staged protests. They are demanding that the government rescind their decision, which they believe is illegal. India’s government is offering them compensation and resettlement. However, Bhual Singh states that “we need much more than money to survive. We need nature to be with us,” according to The Guardian .
Previous attempts to resettle the Adivasi have ended in disaster, as they have not been able to cope with the modern world and many promises made were never delivered.
Top image: Representation of an open pit mine to show what the Adivasi tribe are trying to fight against in their home. Source: Parilov / Adobe stock
By Ed Whelan