Gold rush sparks tribal backlash in Jharkhand

A month after the government auctioned off the gold block to a company for mining, the local people are up in arms against the project.
Image used for representational purpose.  (Reuters)
Image used for representational purpose. (Reuters)

RANCHI: Apocryphal reports of gold deposits being present in soil deep beneath their homes and farmland had made generations of primitive tribals of Tamar feel proud of their hillside villages. They were gladly vindicated when exploration confirmed the presence of gold five years ago. But now, a month after the Jharkhand government auctioned off the gold block to a company for mining, the local people are up in arms against the project.

“We grow paddy and eat rice to live. We will not part with our farmland and homes for the fleeting lure of gold,” said Sudam Munda, 44, a father of two in Parasi panchayat, where the gold deposits are located. Like him, thousands of tribal residents of Parasi and several nearby villages in Tamar, some 50 km from Ranchi, have been staging protests and vowing not to let gold mining start in the area.

Hailing mostly from the Munda tribe, the villagers are aggrieved that the Raghubar Das-led BJP government did not seek the local gram sabha’s consent before it auctioned off the Parasi gold block to Rungta Mines for mining on November 1. The villagers are worried about losing their homes in the sylvan surroundings and their ancient traditions.

The auction of the Parasi gold block, announced with fanfare on the final day of the global summit on mines and minerals in Ranchi, was a major success for the government. Efforts to auction the block through global tenders had failed twice in last two years as no more than three bidders turned up. This time, only Rungta Mines and Vedanta participated in the online auction, and Rungta Mines got the block.
The auction will fetch the Jharkhand government about `1,280 crore, said state industries and mines secretary Sunil Kumar Barnwal. According to Mineral Exploration Corporation Limited, the 69.24 hectare are holds eight million tonnes of gold reserves. Excavation of a tonne of ore is expected to yield at least one gram of gold.

Even as the protests intensify, the state government is watching the developments. “The protests are caused by a mix of ignorance and suspicion. The mining lease is yet to be executed. The company will then apply for mandatory clearances. The government will ensure the project takes off peacefully,” said state mines commissioner Abu Bakr Siddique.

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The New Indian Express