Tribals in Chhattisgarh have launched an indefinite protest opposing mining in a hill they claim is central to their religious beliefs. Situated in Bailadila Iron Ore Mining Area and belonging to the public sector National Mineral Development Corporation (NMDC), the Nandaraj hills, is closely tied to the religious beliefs of tribals in the state and is home to Pitod Rani, wife of nature god Nandaraja.
Tribals from some 200 villages of Dantewada, Sukma and Bijapur districts, under the aegis of the Sanyukt Panchayat Samiti, began the protest in front of NMDC's Kirandul facility, demanding that the PSE abandon plans to mine the hill. Tribals have gheraoed the hill, fearing any excavation of iron ore in the area will destroy the religious site.
On Friday, the National Mineral Development Corporation (NMDC), a public sector undertaking, said that it's developing the iron ore Deposit No 13 in Bailadila area in Dantewada through NMDC-CMDC Limited (NCL), a joint venture between NMDC and the state government-owned Chhattisgarh Mineral Development Corporation (CMDC). NCL is involved in mining of iron ores such as hematite, magnetite, limonite, siderite and taconite, which are used chiefly for iron production. The NCL is the owner of Deposit No 13 and the mining lease of Deposit 13 is registered with this joint venture company. NMDC has a 51 percent stake in NCL while CMDC has 49 percent. The mining site is estimated to contain 350 million tonnes of high quality iron ore deposit.
According to NMDC, the land required for this project will be acquired in the name of the JV company only and NCL shall only have the selling rights of iron ore produced from Deposit-13. A contract for excavation and mine development was awarded to Adani Enterprises Limited last year, officials said, adding that currently tree-cutting was underway to build an approach road to the site.
However, labour organisations and local tribals are vehemently opposing any private partnership in the development of the site. The religious importance of Kirandul, the town, where the deposit is located has further fuelled people's anger.
Mangal Kunjam, the leader of the local tribal community, said that the Deposit No 13, which has been given to Adani to mine and develop, had been at the centre of tribal faith while adding that they would make sure that no mining is allowed.
"On the call of Sanyukt Panchayat Jan Sangharsh Samiti, a protest-demonstration for an indefinite period would be carried on in the iron town of Kirandul from today," Kunjam added.
Raju Bhaskar, secretary of Sanyukt Panchayat Jan Sangharsh Samiti, said, "It will be an indefinite movement. Not only four blocks of Dantewada, but tribals are coming on their own from Sukma and Bijapur districts as well. The dharna demonstration has started at CISF barrack near the administrative office of NMDC in Kirandul.”
On 12 December, 2017, NMDC was given the permission for the transfer of super iron resource, Bailadila Deposit No. 13 along with CMDC, in favour of their joint venture company, NCL. After that, NCL announced a tender for a mine developer-cum-operator (MDO) of Deposit No. 13 in Bailadila.
After the Adani Enterprises emerged as the successful bidder to mine and develop the Bailadila iron ore deposit in Dantewada, the company incorporated a wholly owned subsidiary, Bailadila Iron Ore Mining Private Limited (BIOMPL) on 20 September, 2018.
"If we allow mining on the hill, the local people will have to bear the brunt. We will not allow NMDC or Adani to mine it. Besides, mining activities on the hill will also affect water resources and turn them dry, which will affect our lives," said Nandaram Sori, a Communist Party of India (CPI) leader and one of the protesters.
Manish Kunjam, National General Secretary of Adivasi Mahasabha and an ex MLA, said, "Both the Centre and the state went absolutely against the law to give this particular mine to Adani. As per the 5th Schedule, Panchayat Extension in Schedule Area Act (PESA) is implemented in the said area and the gram sabha is the highest authority here, it has all the rights. But no law is working here."
Bhimsen, a zila panchayat member, said, “The hill which is being dug now, is a hill for our deities. We invoke blessings from this deity before the initiation of any work."
Kora Mandavi, the Sarpanch, claims that the government has procured fake papers to award the tender of excavation to Adani. "When Congress was in opposition, they used to say, they won’t allow excavation but now its Congress government in the state. We demand interference of Congress in this matter,” he said.
Mandavi reveals there has been attempt to Nandaraj hills in the past as well.
Deepak Karma, a Congress leader, supporting the movement, said that NMDC has always cheated the locals. “We won’t let our holy place go. We will do anything for that. NMDC has deteriorated the future of people. They are not getting the medical, drinking water, educational, road or electricity facilities,” Karma said.
Soni Sori, a tribal leader and social activist, said, “This time we won’t quit by giving memo only. We will stand at the spot until our demands are fulfilled. This is a battle for jal, jungle and jameen (water, forest, land) of Bastar."
Security in the area has been tightened as some Maoist banners have also come up declaring support for the agitation, officials said.
"No permission has been taken for the protest though one has to the right to protest in a peaceful manner in a democracy. If law and order is disturbed, action will be taken," said Abhishek Pallava, Dantewada Superintendent of Police.
"People, mostly from interior areas, have joined the protest due to Maoist pressure. Maoists have put up pamphlets in support of the protest. If any person having links with Naxals is seen among the protesters, then he or she will be arrested," Pallava added.
"We are keeping a close watch from the Maoist point of view, as they may try to trigger violence in the garb of protests," he said.
Pallava also claimed that the whole movement is planted by Naxalites and they are inciting the villagers.
Speaking to PTI, VS Prabhakar, Chief Executive Officer (CEO), NCL, said, "The NCL is the owner of Deposit No. 13 and its mining lease is registered with the joint venture company. Mining lease will not be transferred to Adani or to anyone else at any point of time."
"The work was awarded to Adani by inviting open tenders through a transparent process. Any propaganda in this regard is condemned," he said, adding that mining activities were yet to start at the site.
"Even after mining starts, the tribals can offer prayers there. Their religious rights will not be affected," Prabhakar stressed.
With inputs from PTI and Vandana Agarwal and Tameshwar Sinha of 101Reporters.com
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Updated Date: Jun 08, 2019 10:54:24 IST