40,000 trees felled in Talabira village of Odisha For a Mine!!!

Bhubaneswar: Felling of 40,000 trees in a village in Talabira, under Rengali forest range in Sambalpur district for a mine comes as a shock to many. The trees were felled by NLC India Limited for a coal mine.

The trees were felled amid tight security. Ten platoons of police forces were deployed in the villages to check any untoward incident.

Security Deployed
Credits: New Indian Express
Permissions and Reports: 

The Union Ministry of Environment, Forest and Climate Change gave Stage II clearance to divert 1,038.187 hectares of forest land for an opencast coal mining project.

Neyveli Lignite Corporation (NLC) India Ltd is starting this project in Jharsuguda and Sambalpur districts.

According to the report of the Chief Conservator of Forest, Sambalpur, 1,30,721 trees need to be cut down for the mine.

NLC had signed a mine development and operator contract with the Adani Group in 2018.

While the government has given the permission for the area to be diverted, the forest has been protected and conserved by forest dwellers in the Talabira village, along with five other hamlets in the area.

A Felled Tree
Credits: @Sushmitav1 via Twitter
Opinion Of the Villagers:

The village residents had formed an organisation called ‘Talabira Gramya Jungle Committee’, had appointed guards and were paying them 3 kgs of rice per family for protecting the forest.

The villagers have protected the forest and are dependent on it but, they have no titles under the Forest Rights Act, (FRA), 2006.

“We have protected this forest for more than 50 years. Around 3,000 people are dependent on this forest. which spreads to around 970 hectares in area. Now, these trees are being cut down by the government for coal,” , said a resident of Khinda hamlet.

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“We thought that this is our forest and no one can take it from us. We never thought that our forest could be taken away. Therefore, we never applied for rights under FRA,” he said.

The residents said they had gone to the district collector who said, “the forest belonged to the government and the villagers had no right or say regarding what the government did with it.”

Under Forest Rights Act, officials have a responsibility to create awareness among people but no such training has been given nor awareness created.

“The FRA rules, 2012, require that the concerned officials raise awareness about the Act and its provisions. This is especially important if no claims are forthcoming and can enable the process of filing claims,” said a researcher at Namati Environmental Justice Programme, Centre for Policy Research.

Allegations Galore:

The villagers said no awareness campaign had been  carried out by the officials.

It is noteworthy that huge amount of funds had been sanctioned under FRA to the Sambalpur and Jharsuguda forest departments, for FRA implementation.

Moreover, the villagers also claim that the district officials acquired a fake Gram Sabha consent for carrying out mining.

According to a July 30, 2009, MoEF&CC circular, Gram Sabha consent has to be acquired before forest diversion.

The Paper Work: 

“A letter from each of the concerned Gram Sabhas, indicating that all formalities / processes under the FRA have been carried out, and that they have given their consent to the proposed diversion and the compensatory and ameliorative measures if any, having understood the purposes and details of proposed diversion,” the circular says.

“We have written letters to both collectors and the secretary, stating they had not given their consent, and their rejection document was forged. But no action has been taken on it so far,” said another distraught villager.

Sambalpur Sadar Sub Collector said, “the felling of tree started from Talabira in the presence of villagers. No untoward incident has taken place during the felling of trees.”

(Inputs From: The New Indian Express & Down To Earth)

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