Nearly 10,000 tribals staged a protest in Chhattisgarh’s Bastar on Friday against an iron ore mine allotted to NMDC in Bailadila hills. The protest could become a huge land conflict like the Niyamgiri movement, which made headlines some years ago when the tribals in Odisha’s villages opposed a mining project, leading to its cancellation.
In Dantewada district of Maoist-infested Bastar, NMDC was allotted Bailadila Deposit-13. The state-run iron ore miner operates two other mechanised mines in the area.
A major part of Bailadila hills, endowed with world-class iron ore reserves, has been under a strong influence of Maoists.
NMDC formed a joint venture with Chhattisgarh Mineral Development Corporation (CMDC) in 2008. The new entity NCL (NMDC-CMDC) got the environment clearance in 2015 to mine 10 million tonnes (mt) of iron ore from the mine spread over the lease area of 413.74 hectares. Deposit-13 has a huge reserve of 326 mt of high-grade steel-making raw material.
NCL floated a global tender, inviting proposals from private players to develop and operate the mine. Of the 10 companies that participated in the bid, Adani Enterprises (AEL) was selected as the successful bidder and appointed as the mining contractor in December 2018.
The NMDC trade union has been opposing the deal, saying the company was privatising the operation. Soon, local tribals joined the protest, saying they would not allow mining as the Deposit-13 houses their deity, Pithod Rani and Nandaraj.
Nearly 10,000 tribals reached Kirandul-Bailadila and sat on an indefinite dharna on Friday.
NMDC on Friday said Deposit-13 is being developed under a JV, while making it clear that its mining lease will not be transferred to AEL which is a mine-developer-cum-operator for the project. AEL also said NCL owns the mines.
NCL CEO V S Prabhakar said the lease holder for Deposit-13 is NCL and except for NCL, none can transfer the lease to anyone. “But some people having vested interest are spreading propaganda that the lease has been transferred to Adani Enterprises for a period of 25 years which is not true,” he told PTI over phone.
AEL also said NCL owns the mines. “AEL only provides the support as an experienced and responsible mining contractor,” the company said in a statement. The company was selected as successful bidder through transparent reverse bidding process, it added.
The possibility of Maoists spearheading the movement was not ruled out. “We have strong evidence that Maoists are involved in the agitation,” said Dantewada Superintendent of Police Abhishek Pallava.
The police had recovered Maoist pamphlets asking villagers to oppose the mining and support the agitation, he said, adding that the organisers had not taken permission from the administration.
With inputs from PTI