NMDC's new mine project put on hold in Chhattisgarh after protests

Tribals outside the NMDC check post, blocking the entry of employees | Photo: Business Standard
Chhattisgarh government has stalled the work of developing Bailadila iron-ore deposit that was allotted to state-run National Mineral Development Corporation (NMDC) in state’s restive Dantewada district.

The development comes after thousands of tribals resorted to an indefinite strike in NMDC’s Bacheli-Kirandul complexes on Friday, under the banner of Sanyukta Panchayat Samiti. They objected to mining in the hill (reserve) that houses their deity.

The agitators blocked the check-post of NMDC and denied entry to its employees, badly hitting the company’s production in the last five days. NMDC operates two complexes with a capacity of 25 million tonnes per annum (mtpa) in Dantewada.

The movement, regarded as a rerun of Odisha’s Niyamgiri agitation, took another twist after police claimed Maoist links. Even, political parties jumped into the fray to score over rivals. Former Chief Minister Ajit Jogi visited the protest spot and accused the state government of ignoring tribals’ interests.

Congress MP from Bastar, Deepak Baij, met villagers on Monday and assured that he would discuss the matter with Chief Minister Bhupesh Baghel.  “The state government has issued an order to immediately halt actions related to project (Bailadila deposit no.13) for now,” state government spokesperson said after Baij held a meeting with Baghel along with a delegation Tuesday morning.

Besides, the government has stopped deforestation of the affected areas and has initiated a probe into illegal felling of trees. It would also examine the alleged fake 'gram sabha' held in 2014 that gave villagers’ nod to the project. The state government is also expected to initiate discussions with Centre, on the issue, the spokesperson added.

The state government is also a partner in the project. The NMDC formed a joint venture with Chhattisgarh Mineral Development Corporation (CMDC) in 2008 for developing and operating the mine. The new entity NCL (NMDC-CMDC) received environmental clearances in 2015 and was subsequently granted a mining lease by the state government.

The deposit has a huge reserve of 326 mt of high-grade iron-ore and the company was granted permission to mine 2 mtpa, initially. Adani Enterprises Limited (AEL) was appointed as the mining contractor in December 2018 after it won the global bid.

AEL did not initiate any work at the site as the NCL was completing the formalities. “Following the government order, all works related to the project would be immediately stopped,” NCL officials said.

The NMDC had planned to feed its upcoming 3-mtpa Nagarnaar steel plant from the deposit. The company officials said it could easily manage raw material for the plant with its available resources.

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