It was probably a regular morning for most other people, but for a bunch of us armed with tiger props and an agenda to meet Minister Sriprakash Jaiswal, it was a roaring success!
I am referring to the morning Greenpeace activists blocked the entrance to the coal ministry's office with eighteen life size tigers chained from one end of the gate to the other. To add to the party were three tiger mascots with a message for our coal minister, 'Our Forests are a No Go for coal'. But they didn't stop with that. They also carried the 1, 20,000 petitions from people across the country saying the same and asking the coal minister NOT to destroy our forests.
A few minutes after blocking the gate we called the coal ministry's office to meet the minister and deliver the petitions. Our agenda was simple; tell the coal minister that his ambitious plans to convert lakhs of acres of forest land into coal mines was unacceptable. The coal ministry officials told us to drop the petitions at the security counter and leave. It seemed like they didn't care, at least initially.
However, this changed when we refused to budge from the blockade. An hour passed by. Angry car drivers who were honking at us first, now looked at us with curiosity. Soon a huge crowd of very keen and interested people gathered around the blockade. The security guards at the gate were trying to negotiate with us. There was however no news from the ministry.
A little after an hour the crowd around us had increased. Curious onlookers who found out what the protest was for were then talking about it to people who had just joined the onlookers. The cars still honked but the tigers stood unperturbed. All of a sudden, there were a few guards telling us that we were being invited inside by the coal minister.
Things happened so quickly after that. Four of us, including the tiger mascot Sheroo, were escorted to the coal minister's office. We first handed over a brilliant collage, made of the pictures of eyes uploaded by our supporters, which said, 'Minister Jaiswal, We are watching.' We then gave him all the petitions and a stuffed tiger that was placed neatly on his table.
The minister went through our reports of coal mining impacts in Singrauli and Chandrapur. He informed us that he was also concerned about the issue and that he would like to talk to us in detail next week. Along with few representatives of wildlife and forest dependent communities, we will be meeting the minister soon to discuss this issue in detail.
Our last glance at his office was the wonderful sight of the stuffed tiger placed on the minister's table facing him, with a placard on its neck that said, 'You mine, we die'.
We had also met the Minister for Environment and Forests, Jayanti Natarajan a week before this activity. She broke into a smile when she saw the Republic of Junglistan passport and said that there is a need for more people to come out in support of forests.
So far, lakhs of people have joined this fight to save the forests. There are people who support communities that depend on forests and there are people who are there for the tigers and other wildlife. There are those who are concerned about trees being cut, about the wildlife and there are those who think coal is NOT the energy solution. But all of them, all the lakhs and lakhs of them, believe that destruction of these forests is unacceptable and have vowed to save these forests from coal mining.
Minister Jaiswal and the rest of the Group of Ministers, are you listening?
Eyes Petition: © Greenpeace / Lochan Baratakke. Images: © Greenpeace / Sudhanshu Malhotra