Adivasi Protests Highlight Conflicts Over Coal Mining and Forest Rights in India

Adivasi communities in India's Odisha and Chhattisgarh states protest against coal mining expansion, citing environmental and land rights concerns. Protests highlight conflicts between industry, conservation, and indigenous rights amidst climate change worries.

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Aqsa Younas Rana
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Adivasi Protests Highlight Conflicts Over Coal Mining and Forest Rights in India

Adivasi Protests Highlight Conflicts Over Coal Mining and Forest Rights in India

Adivasi communities in India's Odisha and Chhattisgarh states are protesting against the expansion of coal mining, highlighting the complex conflicts between industry, conservation efforts, and the rights of forest-dwelling communities to land and resources amidst growing concerns over climate change.

Why this matters: The struggle of Adivasi communities to protect their lands and resources has significant implications for the global fight against climate change, as it highlights the need to balance economic development with environmental conservation and indigenous rights. If not addressed, these conflicts could exacerbate the climate crisis and lead to further displacement and marginalization of indigenous communities.

In August 2018, activists from the Hemgiri Adivasi Ekta Sangathan (Hemgiri Association for the Unity of Adivasis) in Sundergarh, Odisha, protested against an expanding coal mine. Odisha, located in eastern India, has the third-largest population of Adivasi communities and 30% of its area is covered in forests. The state's economy heavily depends on extracting minerals like coal, iron, and bauxite. However, mining, timber smuggling, and poaching pose significant challenges to forest protection, leading to conflicts between industry, conservationists, and forest-dwelling communities.

In Chhattisgarh, Adivasi communities are opposing the expansion of a coal mine in the pristine Hasdeo Arand forests, known for their biodiversity and significant elephant reserves. This protest marks a shift in the Adivasi movement, as they begin to connect their local struggles for forest rights with the broader debate around climate change and the need to curb fossil fuel industries.

While Adivasi communities are primarily concerned with immediate issues like pollution, land acquisition, and deforestation, their struggles against extraction form an integral part of the legal action against climate change. The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change's 2022 report emphasizes the interconnectedness of the climate crisis with other environmental threats like pollution and biodiversity loss.

Adivasi communities, who have lived in and depended on forest areas for generations, have been excluded from accessing forest resources and land due to exclusionary conservation practices. The Jenu Kuruba community in Karnataka's Nagarhole forest is a prime example, where traditional honey collectors have been threatened with eviction since the forest was declared a tiger reserve in 1999.

As the climate crisis deepens, environmental lawyering becomes critical to ensure that forest-dwelling communities do not experience the double whammy of being adversely impacted by climate change and displaced from the forests. Arpitha Kodiveri, an environmental law and justice scholar, states, "Climate change is likely to disrupt the legal concept of sovereignty, so there is a need to move away from assertions of this as a strategy for accumulation towards frameworks of sovereignty that allow for regulatory networks of care and stewardship to thrive."

The right to self-determination and sovereignty, as articulated by Adivasi communities, involves developing a relationship with the formal Indian state that allows for locally led plans and resolutions. As the Adivasi protests in Odisha and Chhattisgarh continue, they serve as a stark reminder of the complex challenges in balancing economic development, environmental conservation, and the rights of indigenous communities in the face of a changing climate.

Key Takeaways

  • Adivasi communities in India's Odisha and Chhattisgarh states protest against coal mining expansion.
  • Conflicts arise between industry, conservation, and indigenous rights amidst climate change concerns.
  • Adivasi struggles for forest rights connect to the broader debate on climate change and fossil fuels.
  • Exclusionary conservation practices have denied Adivasi communities access to forest resources and land.
  • Environmental lawyering is crucial to ensure forest-dwelling communities' rights are protected amidst climate change.