RAIPUR: Speculations are rife about a possible rift between two Congress stalwarts in Chhattisgarh – Chief Minister Bhupesh Baghel and state health minister TS Singh Deo.
Deo, a senior member of the party in the state, on Monday, visited the Hasdeo Arand area in the Surguja district in support of the locals who are opposing coal mine projects saying that he will be the first to take a bullet if fired on the protestors, putting his own party in soup.
The remarks by the minister came just two days after Chief Minister Bhupesh Baghel said those protesting against coal mining in the district should first “switch off electricity” in their homes.
By going against the state government’s project, Deo, who has been at the loggerheads with Baghel for the last several months has indicated that all is not well in the state unit, with elections inching closer in the mineral-rich state.
According to party insiders, Deo might plan to switch to the emerging Aam Aadmi Party (AAP) or the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) in the state ahead of the state assembly polls scheduled at the end of next year as he has gone against the state government’s allocated mine projects.
He also said that he will apprise party leader Rahul Gandhi of the pain and demands of the people of the district in Delhi. The minister also assured the locals that he was with them in their fight.
Speaking in Hariharpur village in his assembly constituency of Surguja, Deo said, “If coal is required, the ground area should be taken instead of the forest land.”
He further stated that when we have 80 years of coal reserves and have decided that we will completely give up dependence on coal to generate electricity by 2030, why should we destroy the densely-forested and biodiversity-rich Hasdeo.
“I think this (mining) needs to be reconsidered. If we destroy the Hasdeo forest for electricity, it will have a great impact on our environment,” he said.
He did not stop here and also stated that if a bullet is fired at the protestors he will be the first to take the bullet.
“If a bullet is fired or a stick is raised (against the protesters), I will be the first to take a bullet and stick,” the Congress leader further said.
During his visit to Surguja, Deo, known as Baghel’s rival in the state Congress, visited Ghatbarra, Hariharpur, Salhi and Basan villages.
Meanwhile, several villagers from the same area demanded Deo for jobs at the mines.
In a video, at the same venue, when the senior Congress leader was meeting the people, several villagers demanded jobs at the mines as their lands had been acquired for the project.
“We are unemployed, we need employment, sir,” said one of the villagers to the Minister. The Minister, who also holds the portfolio of Panchayati Raj in the state, then asked them if their land has been acquired for the mines project to which they responded with yes.
The villager then complained to Deo that those who are outsiders are protesting against the mine project in the area.
The Minister then replied to the villagers I cannot speak on behalf of your land, so you talk about that. And let others decide for their land. In the video, the minister was also heard telling the people to let the people of other villages decide on their own.
The villager then informed the Congress leader that for the Parsa East project their lands have been acquired and they need jobs.
The state government had approved the Parsa mine and Parsa East Kente Basan (PEKB) phase II coal projects in March this year. The two mines were allotted to the Rajasthan Rajya Vidyut Utpadan Nigam Limited (RRVUNL) of the Congress-ruled Rajasthan.
The Government of India had allocated coal blocks of 15MTPA capacity in PEKB and of 5MTPA capacity in Parsa in Chhattisgarh in 2015.
In December last year, Rajasthan Chief Minister Ashok Gehlot had also written to Congress chief Sonia Gandhi, seeking her intervention to speed up clearances for coal production from blocks allotted to its power projects in another Congress-ruled state of Chhattisgarh.