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'Destroying This Hill Means Our Decimation': 5 Days & Counting, Tribals on Warpath Against Mining Project in South Bastar

Thousands of tribals marched up to a Central Industrial Security Force (CISF) manned check-post of the iron ore mine allotted under the National Mineral Development Corporation (NMDC). Several of them are now camping out near the Bailadila Iron Ore Deposit Number 13.

Raunak Shivhare | News18

Updated:June 11, 2019, 10:11 AM IST
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'Destroying This Hill Means Our Decimation': 5 Days & Counting, Tribals on Warpath Against Mining Project in South Bastar
Over 10,000 tribals have been protesting against the mining activity in South Bastar's Kirandul Area.
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Kirandul (Dantewada): Thousands of tribals have been camping out in South Bastar's Kirandul area in protest against the mining activity slated to begin in the hilly area.

Friday saw thousands of tribals march up to a Central Industrial Security Force (CISF) manned check-post of the iron ore mine allotted under the National Mineral Development Corporation (NMDC).

According to one estimate, up to 10,000 tribals marched to the spot in protest.

As of today between 2,500 to 3000 tribals had been camping out on the spot, living and cooking in small tenements.

Local Congress MP Deepak Baij, also visited the protestors and assured them of his support.

Dressed in their traditional attire and armed with weapons, the tribals from 60 nearby villages of Dantewada and Bijapur districts, the tribal are fighting against the mining activity in Bailadila Iron Ore Deposit Number 13.

The NDMC had granted the contract for excavation and mine development to Adani Enterprises.

Spread across hundreds of hectares, development activities in this area has created a furore as the locals say that existing mines have already caused huge environmental devastation in the state and lead to the forceful displacement of tribals.

"The sort of development they've done has led to the destruction of our ecology. This area, which used to be lush green, has been turning into a desert because of the mining companies. The constant blasts, cutting of thousands of trees, has upset the ecological balance of this region. Here in Kirandul rivers and rivulets are drying up. Thanks to mining companies we are looking at a possible drought here," said Ramesh Kunjam, who hails from Gumiyapal village.

Moreover, another dimension of this outrage has been the result of the mine being situated in and around the Nandraj hill, a sacred spot for the tribals. The hill has been an ancient place of worship of their deities Pitorameta mama and Nandaraj.

"Our sacred Nandraj hill is located in deposit number 13. To protect its sanctity is our duty. Our hundreds of years of traditions and identity is connected to this hill. Destroying this hill will mean our destruction, which is why we are trying our best to save it," said Nandaram Kunjam, member of a panchayat that has been at the forefront of the protests.

Reported to bear a semblance with the initial anti-mining protests in the Niyamgiri hills, these protests have now become convoluted with Naxals issuing pamphlets in its support.

Despite this, the protests have only gained momentum with tribal leaders like Kawasi Lakhma, who is also a state cabinet minister, and former Chief Minister Ajit Jogi pledging their support.

Human rights activists like Soni Sori, who is also a part of the protest, said that police has made a habit of viewing all protests in the area as Naxal-sponsored events.

"This fight is about the right of adivasis, to live as they want to and not die of starvation or poisoning or thirst. We are carrying out this protest peacefully," she told News18.

Locals here allege that the mining lease was awarded to NMDC without seeking the approval of the local Gram Sabha. According to them, the issue of approval not being sought had even been flagged six months ago.

Meanwhile, NMDC's executive director, VS Prabhakar, told News18 that the work on tree felling had started in the area but was stopped due to agitation. "We will discuss the issues internally and speak to the tribals and then decide on our course of action," he said.

Other problems that villagers, particularly those from Lohagram, raised pertained to the earmarked areas blocking the route villagers use to get their groceries and medicines.

"If the mine closes these hills, the distance from our village to Kirandul town will increase by 25 km, getting medicines, groceries and other essentials will become next to impossible.” a villager said.

Protestors here have threatened the state that they would expand the agitation and block railway lines and roads if mining in this area is not stopped.

Meanwhile, NMDC has issued a statement claiming that the contract for mining and development in this area, which was given to Adani, had been done in a transparent and fair manner.

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