As the train sped through the forest in Vidharbha, Maharashtra, I looked out of the window barely able to take my eyes away from the rich green that engulfed me. At that moment, I just had one thought in my mind- in a short while, if the Coal ministry has its way, these forests would vanish forever!
I was on my way to Delhi. We had come to know that the Group of Ministers (GoM) meeting to discuss the ‘No Go’ zones was going to be held on the 17th of February. The Group, headed by Finance Minister Pranab Mukherjee, was going to decide the fate of these forests. The GoM should not be deciding the fate of these forests on their own, so we wanted to meet Mr Mukherjee and handover the petitions that our online activists had signed, telling him the same. On the 17th, they were scheduled to meet by 4 in the evening.
Greenpeace climate campaigner Preethi Herman delivered 34,000 petition signatures to GoM head and finance minister Pranab Mukherhjee's office. A couple of hours after the GoM meeting got over, Greenpeace received a call from the Finance minister's office asking them to fix a meeting with Mr Mukherjee.
It has been shocking to see the immense pressure that has been coming from various quarters to reduce the No Go forest zones to allow coal mining. The Ministry of Environment and Forests (MoEF) has been succumbing to the pressure from the various ministries and has drastically reduced the areas demarcated as No Go zones from 320,684 hectares to 140,311 hectares.
This move to open up more forest areas for coal mining is happening with no proper public consultation or consideration for the immense biodiversity and livelihood loss and displacement this decision will cause. Almost 15 lakh acres of forests in central and eastern India are at stake.
On the morning of that eventful day we got busy faxing out letters to all members of the GoM, informing them about the petition signed by thousands of our online activists. By lunchtime when we were ready to leave for the Finance Ministry’s office, we had signatures from over 34,000 people supporting the forests.
With uncertainty on the response from the minister’s office, we walked up to the gate of the Finance Ministry. We were holding two bundles of the 34,000 petition signatures and an open letter signed by 27 organisations – all demanding a transparent process to debate the issue. We weren’t sure if they would let us in, though all we wanted to do was to handover the petitions at the FM’s office. Quite predictably, we were told that we won’t be allowed beyond the reception because all the officers in the ministry were too busy. When we insisted, they sent down one of their colleagues to pick up the petitions and the letter from us.
Post the GoM meeting, a couple of hours later, we got a call from the Finance Minister's office. They informed us that they had seen the petitions and read the letter, and asked us to fix a meeting with Mr. Mukherjee early next month! We also got to know that in the GoM meeting, the environment ministry had been asked to submit a report to the GoM on its views on diverting the No Go zones to mining.
The next meeting is likely to be in mid-March. Things couldn’t be more clear- the next few weeks are of crucial importance. The No Go zones need all the support we can gather. Every petition, every voice that supports the No Go classification will be speaking up for not just the forests in Vidharbha, but all the 15 lakh acres of forests in central and eastern India that stand on the verge of being wiped out because of coal mining.
Sign the petition: http://www.greenpeace.org/india/en/What-We-Do/Stop-Climate-Change/Quit-Coal/public-consultation-on-forests/