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Silence of the Falling Trees: Can Anyone Hear the Hasdeo Tribals?

Ten thousand tribals, species of 170 trees, 82 birds and countless butterflies are in danger, where will the elephants and tigers go from Hasdeo forest?

We have the right on water, forest and land, do not cut the trees here for coal to generate electricity, it is not good for you too.” This is the cry of the tribals of save Hasdeo movement, but it seems as if the government has turned a deaf ear.

Despite increasing urbanization, India still has vast forest areas left. One of these is the forest of Surguja district of Chhattisgarh – Hasdeo. Hasdeo is also called the lung of Central India which can be seen from its ecological importance.

This forest area is spread over an area of ​​one lakh 70 thousand hectares on the banks of Hasdeo river. About 10 thousand tribals of Gond and other various tribes live in this area. The livelihood of these people is based on medicinal plants and other forest resources, but in the last few years Hasdeo forest has come into limelight. The reason is the ongoing public movement demanding large-scale felling of trees for coal mines and stopping this destruction.

This movement now seems to be taking a violent form. But, this is not a recent conflict. This struggle of the tribals is almost a decade old. It started around the year 2010 when a large number of forests started being cut at the government level.

The then state government had sent a proposal to the Center to allow felling of trees in the Hasdeo forest. The Center had also approved it, but then some social workers and tribals together knocked on the door of the ‘Union Ministry of Forest Environment and Climate’. Hence, felling of trees was stopped and the entire Hasdeo forest area was declared a ‘no go zone’.

Governments come and go and during this time every incoming government is opposed in the name of approving deforestation. On the other hand, the tradition of opposing the opposition also continues. But the work of those cutting forests does not stop.

At present, coal mining work is going on in two areas of this forest, ‘Parsa East’ and ‘Kanta Basan’ and this work is being supervised by Adani Group. It is being said that the coal coming out of this mine will be used for electricity generation in Rajasthan. Today people need electricity and if electricity is needed then it is necessary to extract coal from the mine. Some leaders say that they have no option.

It is said that more than 15,000 trees have been cut for this purpose and it is estimated that this number will increase to two lakh in the future.

This excavation will disrupt the life of local tribals in the forest. Besides, the lives of wild animals will also be in danger and their numbers will decrease.

There are 82 species of birds and about 170 types of plants in this forest. Some species of butterflies are on the verge of extinction. Hasdeo forest is famous for elephants and tigers. Due to cutting of trees, animal and bird species in the forest are also in danger.

In the year 2021, a 300 km walk was undertaken to save the forest. Even then the movement was ended by giving empty assurances by the government and immediately after that the cutting of trees started again.

hasdeo jungle women
Women in Hasdeo try to save trees like Chipko movement. Courtesy: X/@savehasdeo

People associated with this movement say that for mining in forest areas, it is necessary to take permission from the Gram Panchayat before mining. But, without taking permission from them, trees are being cut on the basis of fake documents.

At the place in the forest where trees are to be cut, a large number of police forces are deployed, turning it into a cantonment and the local protesters who took the initiative in the movement are arrested and kept in the police post until the that trees should not be cut.

Women are also not behind in this movement to save Hasdeo. The women here had launched a movement on the lines of ‘Chipko’ to save their forests, which was crushed by the government with the help of police force.

A recent incident has come to light where when a woman protested against cutting of trees around her house, the police threw her out of the house.

Although the government has announced employment for the local project affected tribals, the forests are the identity of the local people. If electricity is needed then the government could also implement solar power generation projects. Therefore the question being asked is what is the need to destroy the forest and endanger the local culture?

Before deforestation, 60 to 70 percent of the livelihood of the tribals there depended on the forest. There are not many educational facilities in this forest area. This is the reason that the level of education among the local people is low, hence the government guarantees employment, there this uneducated class does not get a chance. This means that due to the government action they will have to stay at the same place where they were living till now as owners. As a result their existence is in danger.

The question is not just against any one industrialist, any one party or government, but the question is about the nature of power, whenever power comes, it does its own thing.

“Our forest is our pride, our culture. We know each other. This is our means of survival.” The question is who will listen to the tribals, who say this?


It is a translation of the article published in Hindi.

शिरीष खरे

शिरीष पिछले दो दशकों से भारतीय गांवों और हाशिये पर छूटे भारत की तस्वीर बयां कर रहे हैं, इन दिनों इनकी पुस्तक 'एक देश बारह दुनिया' चर्चा में है

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