In recent days, the Chhattisgarh police has been claiming that Maoists are behind any protest against the Rowghat mines leased to the Bhilai Steel Plant, and has been arresting and intimidating activists and villagers.
Consider the following ten facts to understand what is really going on, and who is really violating the law.
1. The Rowghat Iron Ore Mine, according to the Company’s own maps, falls entirely within the Rowghat Hills of the Matla Reserved Forest. Yet the application for forest clearance to the Environment Ministry, says “there is no reserved forest in the project area”.
2. The project is right at the centre of an extensive wildlife corridor stretching from South Eastern Maharashtra to North Western Orissa. There are 8 wildlife sanctuaries, parks and reserves in this area. The Rapid Environmental Impact Assessment (REIA) itself admits that the building of a railway line and conveyer belt for the mining will stop wildlife migrations.
3. The REIA describes this as a fragile ecosystem, with at least 26 rare and endangered species of Vascular plants which are on India’s Red List.
4. Forest Clearance has been granted only for 883.22 ha when the total mining area is 2028.797 ha. There is no environmental or forest clearance for the remaining area.
5. No forest rights have been settled under the provisions of the Scheduled Tribes and Other Traditional Forestdwellers (Recognition of Rights) Act known popularly as the Forest Rights Act.
6. Fake and identical gram sabha certificates state that there is nothing of cultural or religious significance in the area. In fact, the Rao (pictured as mounted on a horse) after whom Rowghat is named is of religious significance to a large area beyond Narayanpur district. Many hills
are the sites of clan festivals. This area is at least as culturally and religiously significant as Niyamgiri.
7. The proposed overburden dumps could destroy the drainage of the entire valley.
8. The company claims zero loss to oustees, and also that there are no affected villages within 5 km of the mines. Google maps show this is blatantly untrue.
9. Villagers were at the time of the EIA/EMP unaware of what was happening. Now they are opposing the mines and railway lines en masse and know that they will lead to their annihilation. They are opposing the fraudulent "NOCs" that were forcefully taken from them..
10. There is a proposal of 22 BSF and CRPF companies to ring the area.
About six camps have been constructed so far. The Bhilai Steel Plant/SAIL has signed an agreement with the government to fund and train the paramilitary forces. The forces would be stationed in Rowghat area for the entire life of the mine. Chattisgarh Bachao Andolan activists trying to hold meetings on the forest rights act have been prevented, and their mobiles seized. Schools are occupied by these forces, in violation of the Supreme Court’s orders.
The tribals, however, are in no mood to be intimidated into giving up their lands and their religious areas and despite tremendous repression have prepared to dig their heels in for a long battle.