The debate between the State’s desire to harvest its mineral wealth by displacing its people—development versus conservation—has been an old one. We have been here umpteen times before; each time a mining project or power plant is sanctioned or when forests and aboriginal habitats are sacrificed for infrastructure development. And, each time this debate begins afresh, the State moves calamitously close to pushing its people over the precipice.
Coming on the back of his aggressive push for making India atmanirbhar—self-sufficient—Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s recent decision to open up 41 coal blocks across the country for commercial mining threatens to settle this debate firmly in favour of the State and a handful of industrialists who stand to profit from the move. The coal blocks, 11 of them in Madhya Pradesh, nine each in Jharkhand, Chhattisgarh and Odisha and three in Maharashtra, are located within dense forest areas that are home to heavy concentrations of tribal populations and are a natural habitat for a wide range of flora and fauna.