By Ejaz Kaiser  |

Tribal persons, farmers, women took out a protest rally against holding of “Gram Sabha” seeking “consent” for diverting their land for coal mine activities in Raigarh district of Chhattisgarh. | Express photos

RAIPUR: Tribal people, farmers and women from 15 villages of Chhattisgarh marched Friday opposing a government order that coerces them into giving consent to coal mining in forest land in Tamnar block of Raigarh district.

The official circular directs these 15 village panchayats to hold gram sabhas and get villagers to sign on the dotted line. That will allow the Maharashtra State Power Generation Company (Mahagenco) to set up the Gare Palma sector-2 coal mine in forest land in Tamnar.

The circular was issued by the sub-divisional magistrate (SDM) of Tamnar.

While the gram sabha is a mandatory condition to secure the consent of villagers, the people say it virtually asks them to write away their claims and entitlements to individual and community rights vested in them by the Forest Rights Act (FRA).

They alleged that there is pressure from the administration to leave their habitats to make room for Mahagenco.

The sarpanch of Kunjemura village, Umesh Singh Kedar told New Indian Express that the official notification has an attached printed proforma that has to be signed by the villagers. It speaks only of giving consent and does not spell out the terms. “It is misleading,” said Kedar.

The form, accessed by New Indian Express, requires the gram panchayat to ccertify that no tribals live on the land in question. “In the proposed forest land to be diverted, no tribal and non-traditional forest dwellers are living, (or are) engaged in agriculture or other traditional activities. There is no entitlement of any individual or community rights distributed under the FRA in the given area.” Or else, the panchayat is told to “Submit the names of those who have acquired land deeds under the FRA.”

Activist Rinchin, who is fighting for the villagers’ rights in Raigarh, said the administration is being “deliberately ambiguous”. “The format demands for consent without giving any scope for dissent or objection,” she said.

However sub-divisional magistrate S Jayvardhan said the administration has not interfered with the rights of the gram sabha. “I believe there is some miscommunication. Yes, we have asked them to convene gram sabhas but didn’t issue any directive to pursue a particular line of action. They are free to take a decision,” he said.

The villagers are nevertheless unconvinced. “We have asserted our rights under the FRA, Panchayats (extension to Scheduled Areas (PESA) and submitted our memorandum to the Ministry of Coal, the governor, the chief minister and the collector. We have registered our protest against the proposed project as the region is already bearing the brunt of other ongoing coal mining activities,” said Shivpal Bhagat, the sarpanch of Kodampalli panchayat.