05 June 2014

Resident of Amelia Village in India © Udit kulshrestha / Greenpeace


Not far away from the dusty town of Waidhan, the forests of Mahan envelope you in a cloak of ease with the buzz of insects, a gentle breeze and the play of light and shadow. Joy becomes simple. It's in the spotting of a brilliantly-hued bird flying off a tree. It's soaking in the silence that strips you of the tightness you aren't even aware that you carry around. It's in the slower and deeper breaths you take as you sense the air filling your lungs. It's a great day to be in the forest. Today is World Environment Day. But why am I not talking about industries and their effects, policy or climate change? It's finding a deeply personal thread to connect to current issues that ensures that commemorative days to bring about awareness do not lose their relevance.

05 June 2014

Resident of Amelia Village in India © Udit kulshrestha / Greenpeace


The splendour and immensity of the forests of Mahan is humbling. At 1200 hectares, it is the last unfragmented forest in central India and one of the oldest and largest sal forests in Asia. This assumes even greater importance considering that Madhya Pradesh, where Mahan is located, is fast losing its dense forest cover [1]. Home to a host of animals such as the sloth bear, leopard and hyena, endangered birds and over 164 plant species, the forest is central to the lives of the people in the region. Festivals, weddings and rituals are all planned keeping seasons of the forest in mind. The villagers pick tendu leaves from the forest to be dried and sold. Delightfully sweet tendu fruit is picked off the ground and eaten. The mahua tree births flowers that go into laddoos, biscuits and to brew liquor. Leading inherently sustainable lives, there is no place for waste and excess in the lives of the people of Mahan. They grow the vegetables and grains they need, rear livestock and live off the land. It's this deep connection with the land, forests and animals that make this movement against the proposed coal mine in Mahan so deeply personal for them. There is no place for apathy.

05 June 2014

Resident of Amelia Village in India © Udit kulshrestha / Greenpeace


No matter which tolah (neighbourhood) or which village, time and again I hear men and women echo the refrain, 'We refuse to entertain even the notion of compensation. We want our land and our forests left alone.' One of the villagers told me how compensation would be a short term benefit that would exclude their future generations and deprive them of a livelihood and lifestyle that is familiar to them. Another Mahan Sangharsh Samiti (MSS) member declared that agreeing to compensation in exchange for forest land would be akin to selling his mother for money.

The proposed coal mine in Mahan's forests will have a domino effect ecologically. It will open the door for other mining projects in the region and could also lead to increased human-animal conflicts since it is part of an elephant corridor. Being a catchment area for the Rihand reservoir, Mahan's forests help make the soil fertile and prevent erosion. Destroying these forests will set off changes to the climate that will be irreversible. Besides, the forests of Mahan are integral to the livelihoods of over 50,000 people from 54 villages in the region. Destroying these forests will uproot a whole ecosystem of people, wildlife, plants, and more for short-sighted goals.

05 June 2014

During Mahua collection


This begs the question - why should any of us bother about what happens to Mahan? The proposed coal mine in Mahan is indicative of a deeply disturbing trend in our country. Data acquired through RTI by a group of environmentalists (which only counts projects which seek more than 40 hectares of area) states that India is losing 135 hectares of forest daily [2]. Take a moment to let this number sink in. It's the kind of number that boggles the mind and brings with it images of wanton destruction. Painting an even darker picture, another report says that the UPA alliance was so generous in handing over forests to industry that it has opened up an unprecedented 702,000 hectares - nearly five times the size of Delhi - for destruction [3].

The theme for this year's World Environment Day happens to be impacts of climate change. It's time to make this day deeply personal. Chaos theory states that something as small as the flutter of a butterfly's wing can ultimately cause a typhoon halfway around the world. Making that deep connection to the future of forests can turn each one of us into people who are forest heroes. We are not short of examples of people who have done exactly that. Besides each brave forest warrior who is a member of Mahan Sangharsh Samiti, there is the tenacity of Saalumarada Thimmakka who planted and nurtured over 284 banyan trees along a dusty, barren 3 km stretch of highway in Karnataka [4]. Then there is the astounding story of Jadav 'Molai' Payeng [5]. He single-handedly turned a barren sandbar near his home in Assam into a sprawling 1,360 acre forest, home to several thousands of varieties of trees and an astounding diversity of wildlife. It is now named Molai after him. Abdul Kareem who created a 32 acre forest on a previous barren hill in Kerala is another example [6].

05 June 2014

Sunset in the village


The way forward is to start where each of us is right now. Begin by making a difference where you are. Raise your voice to support forests and take a stand. Sign up to support Junglistan, the movement to save Mahan. As the inimitable Jane Goodall said, 'You cannot get through a single day without having an impact on the world around you. What you do makes a difference, and you have to decide what kind of difference you want to make.'


[1] Madhya Pradesh's forest cover shrinking, March 21, 2014


[2] India losing 135 hectares forest daily: RTI, June 11, 2013


[3] Modi faces a jungle of pending forest clearances, June 3, 2014


[4] Thimmakka's Green Crusade Transforms Heat-And-Dust Hulikal, May 3, 1999


[5] The Man Who Made A Forest, April 1, 2012


[6] Living In A Forest Of His Own, March 26, 2005


Sridevi is a content writer at Greenpeace India.