The Mahan forest that is spread over 1182.35 hectares, and that close to 60 villages are dependent on, will be largely destroyed due to allocation of various coal blocks within the forest. In Amelia village if you swivel your head, you will see the Mahan forest that covers the hills on three sides, and the Essar thermal power plant on the fourth.
The Essar plant is not operational yet- the coal to power it being unavailable thus far. A coal block has been allotted to Mahan Coal Ltd. which is a joint venture of Hindalco and Essar. The coal from this mine will be used for the Hindalco Aluminum Plant and the Essar Thermal Power Plant. This, however, is not the only coal block being allocated in the forest.
Apart from destroying large portions of the Mahan forest, the operation of these mines will lead to vast displacement. Mr Chouhan, the Chief Minister of Madhya Pradesh, however, felt that the region was suffering adversely because the slow clearance process. He decided to sit on a hunger strike on Feburary 2011 for (amongst other “causes”), the “cause” of mining the Mahan forest.
The villages of Amelia and Suhira are the ones where the overburden from the Mahan Coal block will be dumped. These villages comprise 4000 residents each. About twenty people gathered in Amelia village on the July 24 2013, about the need for a formal coalition. Since then, they've been planning a yatra in nearby villages that will culminate in a public meeting.
The yatra is to expand the Mahan Sangarsh Samiti-a coalition of hundreds of people from Ammelia, Budher, Suhira, Bandhaura and Barwantola that have organised themselves over three years to preserve the Mahan forest.
The meetings have given rise to other issues including the scandalous Gram Sabha meeting that was held on March 6, 2013 in Amelia village. The register which comprises the minutes of the meeting and was signed by the tehsildar and the other officials claims that the village is in favour of the mines. The MSS filed a RTI through which they found that the names and signatures of 941 people were forged. Now the samiti is planning on taking action against those officials involved. Kripa Nath, whose name and signature is amongst those that were forged states, “We weren’t there at the meeting. In fact the register states that those who have been deceased for years attended the meeting. Since Essar seems to have magical powers of bringing back people from the dead. I request them to bring back my dead relatives.”
Last year when Kripa Nath along with five others went to a hotel nearby to visit some Greenpeace employees for assistance in drafting a letter to the Forest Rights Committee, company goons found the room that they were in, barged in, threatened them and asked them to leave. Kripa Nath was amongst the two who decided to leave. On leaving, the goons made them get into the car, forcefully made them drink alcohol, and asked them to sign a complaint stating that Greenpeace employees were creating a nuisance in their village. They refused to do so despite being repeatedly threatened. After being kept in the Mahan Coal office, they were let off after two hours.
Harassment and being bribed is routine for members of the samiti. Radhakalli, says, “They harass me every day. Sometimes they say they’ll take me to the police station, sometimes they tell me that they will kill me, sometimes they say they will hit me with an iron rod.
This is not just to me, but everyone part of the Samiti.” However, since they have organised themselves, the members of the Samiti have been able to confront the dalals and the goons and their hold over the village has reduced drastically.
Radhakalli belongs to Dhuliabuda Tola of Amelia village which is adjacent to the Essar power plant which came up in around 2007-2008. At least 3000 people were displaced when the plant was built. In her village, at least 30 percent of people are landless, all of whom earn their livelihoods almost solely by selling forest produce. They collect forest produce for food, fuel, medicine, and several other uses.
On being asked about the whether she hopes to get a job in the Essar factory or Mahan mines, Radhakalli states,” Kya Job milega mujhe factory aur mines mein? Job to badebade logon ko milta hai. Mujhe or mere bachhon ko koi job nahi milne waala.” (What job will I get in factories or mines? Only big people get jobs. My children and I will not get jobs).
Photos © Neha Nautiyal/Greenpeace
Gopika works with the coal campaign team at Greenpeace India.