An action by the Enforcement Directorate’s (ED) against senior officials, controversial coal mining clearance in Hasdeo Arand and the tribal quota issue kept the Congress government in Chhattisgarh on its toes in 2022, but it also consolidated its position ahead of next year’s Assembly elections by winning two bypolls.
Disgruntled minister T S Singh Deo’s decision to quit one of his portfolios created a stir, but it did not quite rock the boat for Chief Minister Bhupesh Baghel.
The security forces appeared to have had the upper hand against the Maoists. No major incident of violence was reported from the state’s insurgency-affected areas during the year.
The rescue of an 11-year-old boy from an unused borewell after a 104-hour-long operation and the crash of a state helicopter also made headlines.
In April, the state government granted permission for `non-forestry’ use of forest land for the Parsa mine (spread in Surguja and Surajpur districts) and Parsa East Kente Basan phase-II mine (in Surguja) in Hasdeo Arand region of north Chhattisgarh.
The decision was taken after the Chief Minister of Congress-ruled Rajasthan, Ashok Gehlot, met Baghel seeking to clear hurdles in the development of these coal blocks which have been allotted to the Rajasthan Rajya Vidyut Utpadan Nigam Ltd (RRVUNL).
But the clearance triggered a massive protest by local villagers who thwarted the forest department’s attempts to cut the trees for the project.
Health Minister Singh Deo who represents Surguja constituency and who is Baghel’s rival in the state Congress, came out in support of the protest.
Congress leader Rahul Gandhi also stated that he had a “problem” with the decision to allow mining in Hasdeo Arand.
CM Baghel initially took a combative stand, saying that the opponents of the project should first turn off the power supply at their homes.
But in July, the Chhattisgarh Assembly passed a resolution urging the Centre to cancel all coal blocks in the Hasdeo area.
The ED’s action in an alleged `coal levy’ scam put the state government in a spot towards the end of the year.
The central agency alleged that a cartel of senior bureaucrats, businessmen, politicians and middlemen were extorting a `levy’ of Rs 25 per tonne from coal transporters.
The ED has so far arrested five persons including IAS officer Sameer Vishnoi and Deputy Secretary in the CM’s office Soumya Chaurasia in the case.
Chaurasia is considered to be an influential bureaucrat.
Chief Minister Baghel termed the ED action as “vendetta politics”.
The Chhattisgarh High Court in September set aside the previous BJP government’s 2012 decision to raise the overall quota in government jobs and admissions to educational institutions to 58 per cent as it exceeded the 50 per cent ceiling.
The ruling led to protests, in particular by tribal communities as the reservations for Scheduled Tribes (ST) category was reduced to 20 percent from 32 percent following the order.
A two-day special session of the Assembly in December passed amendment bills which took the overall quota in the state to 76 percent, overriding the HC ruling.
But that created a flashpoint between Governor Anusuiya Uikey and the state government. Uikey has said that she will give her assent to the bills only after the government explains how it is going to defend the 76 percent quota if challenged in the courts.
The power tussle between Singh Deo and CM Baghel took a new turn when Singh Deo resigned from the Panchayat and Rural development department in July, hinting that he was being sidelined in the government, though he continued to hold his other four portfolios.
The minister recently said he will decide his future course of action ahead of next year’s assembly elections.
The state was also under the spotlight when Congress MLAs from Haryana and ruling UPA legislators from Jharkhand were shifted to Chhattisgarh in June and August, respectively, to protect them from BJP’s alleged poaching bids.
The MLAs from Haryana were shifted amid fears of cross-voting in June 10 Rajya Sabha Polls.
The political uncertainty in Jharkhand following the Election Commission’s decision over a petition by the BJP seeking Chief Minister Hemant Soren’s disqualification from the Assembly in an `office of profit’ case prompted the ruling UPA to shift its MLAs to the neighbouring state.
The ruling Congress in Chhattisgarh, meanwhile, managed to win Assembly by-elections to Khairagarh (April) and Bhanupratappur (December). It has so far won five by-elections since Baghel became CM in 2018.
The year began with a fresh COVID-19 scare as cases started surging in January, prompting the government to impose night curfews. But the numbers declined gradually and the active caseload as of December 20 was zero.
The main opposition Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) made several changes in the state organisation in view of the 2023 elections.
Om Mathur from Rajasthan was appointed as new in-charge, replacing D Purandeswari, while MP Arun Sao was made new state unit chief.
Leader of Opposition Dharamlal Kaushik was replaced with senior MLA Narayan Chandel.
Rules enacted under the Panchayats (Extension to Scheduled Areas) Act (PESA) and arrest of senior IPS officer G P Singh in a disproportionate assets case also made news during the year.
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(This story has not been edited by News18 staff and is published from a syndicated news agency feed)