Voice of Gadchiroli

Gadchiroli, a backward    district in Maharashtra with predominantly tribal population is back in the news. This time it is not for Naxalite insurgency. Adivasis---tribals are protesting peacefully against mining giants and government authorities to protect their land and forests. Maoists have a substantial presence in this area. Many of their activists are behind bars because of their campaign against the authorities to save the lives and livelihoods of tribal population of Gadchiroli. For one thing one of the noted political prisoners Prof Sai Baba who has been in jail for long without proper trial and treatment was charged with a case in relation to ‘Gadchiroli movement’. The arrest of 21 tribal protesters on November 20, 2023 is a matter of great concern. They may be branded as naxalites anytime to terrorise the poor tribal people and incarcerate them under notorious detention laws.

The voices of the defenders of the forests are being suppressed using tools of police harassment and violence. For a long time now, Adivasi villagers have been resisting mining operations in Gadchiroli that threaten their sacred forests and nature-based livelihoods.

In March 2023, the Madia-GondAdivasi community under the banners of ‘DamkondawahiBachaoSangharshSamiti’ and ‘Surjagarh Patti ParamparikGotulSamiti’ initiated anti-mining agitation that continued on a daily basis. In June 2023, 6 new mines, spanning 4,684 hectares, were proposed and leased to five companies: Omsairam Steels and Alloys Private Limited, JSW Steels Limited, Sunflag Iron and Steel Company Limited, Universal Industrial Equipment and Technical Services Private Limited, and Natural Resources Energy Private Limited. These mines fall within boundaries of traditional forest use and livelihoods. The existing and planned mines profoundly disrupt the Madia-Gond way of life that is deeply rooted in nature and livelihoods that are sustained by the forests and rivers.

In 2007, Lloyds Metals and Energy Private Limited were given clearance to begin mining for iron ore over an area of 348.09 hectares in Gadchiroli. The time period for mining was extended from 20 years to 50 years. These mining activities of Lloyds will have disastrous impact on the environment, including water pollution in nearby villages. A poignant image from within these villages is of rivers turning red from mining effluents. Water that was once drinkable can now no longer be used. Contamination in agricultural fields and waterways has raised health hazards in the villages. People have been reported to develop frequent swollen eyes, fever, and body aches as mining activity has commenced. The persons in power don’t bother about the survival of the Madia-Gond community. They are interested in minting money.

Environmental and democratic movements and rights organisations from across India are demanding that the proposed 6 mines in Surjagarh as well as other proposed mines in the region are scrapped without delay. The approved crushing and processing Lloyd plant and mining lease expansion granted to Lloyds Metals and Energy Private Limited must also be cancelled immediately.

What is urgently needed is to force the police to drop all the false cases foisted against the Adivasi protesters and their right to democratic protest be upheld. The left parties do hardly raise the issue in Parliament, legislative assembly or any other forum to expose the dubious design of the saffron government. What the citizens’ groups are doing to highlight the plight of tribals is not enough.

 The Forest Rights Act (FRA) and the Panchayats Extension to Scheduled Areas Act (PESA) must be fully implemented in the region and there must be no project approvals and work in violation of these laws and the rights of Gram Sabhas in the Schedule V Adivasi areas.

As the world moves away from fossil fuels and extractive industries, revealing their disastrous implications, it is concerning that various state governments of India are unable to envision a better future that is possibly already here if they listen to the people. Voice of Gadchiroli must be heard.

Back to Home Page

Vol 56, No. 26, Dec 24 - 30, 2023