India’s ancient tribes battle to save their forest home from mining – by Brian Cassey (The Guardian – February 10, 2020)

Laksmi Shankar Porte emerged from the forest. In his hands were an axe, a small scythe and a large crop of grass. Like many of the Gond people living in India’s Hasdeo Arand forest, he will use the grass to make ropes, brooms and mats.

The Hasdeo Arand is one of the largest contiguous stretches of dense forest in central India, covering about 170,000 hectares (420,080 acres) of the state of Chhattisgarh. It is rich in biodiversity, contains many threatened species and is home to elephants, leopards and sloth bears.

It is also home to the Gond, one of India’s Adivasis, the name given to the country’s original indigenous peoples. Unfortunately for Porte, the Gond and other Adivasis forest dwellers, the Hasdeo Arand sits on top of more than a billion metric tonnes of coal reserves.

Porte and his neighbours in the village of Ghatbarra are currently fighting a rearguard action against the mining giant Adani to protect their ancestral homelands and one of the sub-continent’s richest and most diverse regions. “If the coal mining comes we will lose everything,” he says.

Despite at one time being declared offlimits to mining, a new government in 2011 granted mining permission for the first coal blocks in Hasdeo Arand. By 2013 the Parsa East and Kante Basan open cast mine operated by Adani – and which adjoins Porte’s village – was a reality. It currently produces 15m tons of coal per annum.

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